Here's why former Liberal MP Craig Kelly can keep texting you, and no-one is going to stop him
Your phone buzzes in your pocket, the way it does for a proper text message.
This must be important, you think. Is it Mum? Only close friends and family send texts.
Nope. It is Craig Kelly. Who has auto-generated your number, as he spams much of the country with political advertising.
There are all sorts of laws in place restricting unsolicited communication like phone calls, emails, texts and instant messages.
But conveniently for the former Liberal MP and his new friends, the United Australia Party, politicians and political parties are exempt from pretty much all of them.
There are calls to change that — but it is pretty unlikely.
How can Craig Kelly do this?
Spam is almost universally hated, and so there is a lot that exists to prevent unsolicited marketing.
There is the "do not call" register, which stops telemarketers calling if you do not want to hear from them.
And there are laws requiring those who send things like emails and texts to first have your permission, and give you the chance to opt out.
Spam has to be selling you something — it has to contain advertising, an offer or promotion.
But politicians and political parties who do it are completely exempt, as are government bodies and charities.
Marketing expert Andrew Hughes, from the Australian National University, says that is not a loophole — it is by design.
"There is no law, and nothing to stop any political organisation candidate from sending you messages," he said.
"And that's the interesting thing — they have made themselves exempt."
One message being sent around directs recipients to a website that could fall foul of the Criminal Code, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration is investigating.
But even if the website winds up in trouble, the text messages are fine.
Mr Kelly accepts the messages might be annoying, but argues there are worse ways of getting attention.
"If people don't like a text message there, they're much less intrusive than the old method of cold telephone calls," he said.
"If someone doesn't like it, it's just a microsecond swipe of the finger and the message is gone."
Politicians have done this before, and a push to stop them failed
This is not the first time this issue has been raised.
The United Australia Party similarly bombarded Australians with text messages prior to the 2019 election, prompting more than 1,300 complaints to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
As is the case now, ACMA had no capacity to act on the complaints, as the texts were entirely legal.
But it prompted a bill from Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff, attempting to at least thin out the flow of unsolicited political texts.
The new laws would have allowed politicians and parties to keep their right to send texts, but at least give the recipient an opt-out option.
A Senate committee investigated the matter, but dismissed the idea on the basis it could have a detrimental impact for charities, who would also have been impacted.
Senator Griff does not buy the argument.
"It didn't succeed because the major parties didn't want any form of change," he said.
"All of them, every single one of them — Liberal, Labor, most of the independents — want that capability to effectively be able to get messages out very quickly to people."
He said he would happily reintroduce the bill, but does not sense much of an appetite amongst his colleagues.
"If the major parties came on board? Absolutely, I would," he said.
Senator Griff does have one unlikely ally: Craig Kelly himself.
Mr Kelly pointed out the major parties had also taken advantage of unsolicited text campaigns over the years.
Cheekily, the MP has used his spam messaging service to promise a ban on unsolicited text messages if elected.
"United Australia Party will ban unsolicited political text messages which Labor and Liberal have allowed," one of his messages reads.
Major parties say 'ignore' Craig Kelly texts
Both the government and Labor have criticised the messages, particularly those providing potentially misleading health messages during a pandemic.
But both have pointed to an implied constitutional right to freedom of political communication that has to be respected.
And some in political circles suggest they are reluctant to give the text messages any more attention, arguing that is precisely what those sending them are looking for.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said he was looking to see if any action could be taken.
"Sending unsolicited electronic messages containing misinformation or misleading health information during a pandemic is irresponsible," he said.
"I have asked my department to investigate this matter."
Labor's communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the messages were irritating and possibly harmful, and were best ignored.
"Exemptions for political parties are important in protecting implied constitutional freedom of political communication, but it's important these freedoms are not misused for nefarious purposes," she said.
"This misinformation and spam is particularly damaging at a time when all Australians are trying to do our best to work together to get through the pandemic.
"We should give this spam the attention it deserves, by ignoring it."