COSBOA, Bruce Billson and REIV brawl over “underhanded” political advertisements

The Council of Small Business of Australia, Small Business Minister Bruce Billson and the Real Estate Institute of Victoria are embroiled in a dispute ahead of this weekend’s Victorian election.

The dispute started after Victoria’s real estate industry body slammed a Liberal election commitment to end underquoting as “unnecessary” and an “election stunt”.

In a statement released last week, COSBOA executive director Peter Strong backed the REIV, claiming the state government had “made a mistake by supporting the biggest landlords in Australia against the interests of small businesses and consumers”.

The REIV then released advertisements accusing Victorian Premier Denis Napthine of jeopardising 60,000 jobs.

“The Liberals’ new real estate laws hurt small business and cost jobs,” the poster states.

“On November 29 vote them out.”

The poster includes the REIV, COSBOA and Real Estate Institute of Australia logo.

But COSBOA claims it never authorised the use of its logo despite Strong’s statement supporting the REIV’s campaign.

Billson, whose federal electorate of Dunkley includes the marginal state seat of Frankston, says he stepped in after seeing the advertisement.

“I was flabbergasted by the tone and blatantly partisan nature of the ad which had COSBOA’s logo attached to it, an organisation which has long held the view that it is apolitical and focuses on policy and doesn’t get into the blatant politicking displayed in the ad,” he told SmartCompany.

Billson contacted COSBOA’s then chairman, Robert Mallett, who he was surprised to learn “knew nothing of it” and claimed the use of COSBOA’s logo was “without any authorisation”.

“They were horrified and thought it was done in a quite underhanded way and risked extraordinary reputational damage for COSBOA,” he says.

“I feel sorry for the chair and the board of COSBOA; this is a controversy not of their making. I don’t know what led the REIV to think this was an appropriate way to push its singular issue when the small business interests of Victorian enterprise is a much broader discussion.” 

Mallett departed COSBOA yesterday and Paul Nielsen was appointed as chairman in his place.*

Nielsen issued a statement claiming the use of the COSBOA logo in the advertisements was placed unbeknown to COSBOA and without the authority of the COSBOA board.

“Any inference that these advertisements reflect the policy position of COSBOA is expressly denied,” Nielsen said.

Strong told SmartCompany despite his statement supporting the REIV he did not agree to the use of COSBOA’s logo on the posters.

“I would never try to tell people who to vote for,” he says.

Paul Bird, spokesperson for the REIV, says COSBOA’s claim it did not authorise the use of its logo is “an interesting approach”.

Bird says the REIV may comment further but at the time of publication no further response was available.  

SmartCompany also contacted the REIA but did not receive a response.

*This story was updated on 28 November to remove any inference that Mallett’s departure was linked to the dispute. A reference to the replacement of Amanda Lynch, COSBOA’s deputy chair and chief executive of the REIA, with Teresa Mitchell was also removed as Lynch stepped down as deputy chair over 12 months ago.  

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