Dumped Canberra politician James Milligan denies utilizing voter lists to advertise enterprise
Thank you, goodbye, and send me your business – this was the message that liberal MLA James Milligan emailed his constituents two weeks after last year’s election.
- After James Milligan was fired as an MLA, he emailed supporters to let him know that he would be rebuilding his printing business
- Voter Greg Tannahill suspects that Mr. Milligan used details gathered through the electoral roll or the Liberal Party to promote his business
- Politicians are exempt from data protection laws, but can violate data protection principles by misusing information
“I’m in the process of rebuilding my business. JM Publishing specializes in publishing, printing, design and business consulting,” the email read.
“If you have any projects or recommendations that you believe will benefit from affordable, efficient, and expert business support, please do not hesitate to contact JM Publishing.”
Privacy advocates believe that the timing and use of data gathered in Mr. Milligan’s role as a politician to promote his business may have crossed a line.
But he defended the email, saying he didn’t do anything wrong.
Milligan makes money
Mr Milligan was elected to Yerrabi’s seat in 2016 and was defeated in the 2020 election.
During his tenure, Mr. Milligan emailed his constituents to keep them updated on his activities, priorities and community events.
Greg Tannahill was one of the recipients.
“It was all very reasonable and normal and I wasn’t too unhappy to be on that list,” he said.
But he said the October 30 goodbye email had crossed a line.
James Milligan emailed supporters to inform them that he was “rebuilding” his JM Publishing business.
“I found that a little strange because this was an inaugural mailing list for his work as an MLA, and this is James Milligan trying to make a dollar out of it,” Tannahill said.
“It would have been sensible to say, ‘I’m leaving office and here is this link to find out what I’m up to so far’. Just give a link and you can follow it if you want.
“”[But] It’s the same platform, it was the same list of people … to talk to them about his MLA work … [and] The same platform has now flogged a private company. “
Mr Tannahill wrote to Mr Milligan to express his concern, received no response and posted on social media, but then left the matter on hold.
“The matter was settled at the ballot box, I thought, so I left,” he said.
Greg Tannahill has complained to the Information Commissioner about an email Canberra Liberals MLA sent James Milligan after he was fired from the ACT Congregation.
ABC News: Greg Nelson
But the ballot box recently returned Mr Milligan to the Legislative Assembly after MLA Alistair Coe’s resignation sparked a countback.
This prompted Mr Tannahill to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner.
“I don’t think our politicians should use our information that way,” he said.
According to Milligan, the email list didn’t come from the electoral roll
A spokesman for Mr Milligan said the mailing list used was not from the electoral roll or the Liberal Party and was not the same list that he used for his congregation duties.
“It was sent to people who have had contact with Mr. Milligan over the years,” the spokesman said.
“The email was a thank you and goodbye to contacts after it became clear that Mr. Milligan would not be returning to the meeting and to inform those contacts of his next steps.”
The statement said Mr. Milligan had sought advice from the Congregation Ethics Advisor regarding his personal printing business during his last term in office.
“He heeded this advice.
“With all of the above, Mr. Milligan is confident that the intent and use of this email was appropriate in the circumstances.”
Portfolio material on the JM Publishing website indicates that the company acquired business from the Canberra Liberals during Mr. Milligan’s time as an MLA. (
Mr Tannahill said he could not remember or find evidence of any contact with Mr Milligan and believed he ended up on the mailing list after contacting other liberal politicians.
There is no evidence that Mr. Milligan promoted JM Publishing while serving as an MLA. However, product photos on the company’s website indicate that the Canberra Liberals were a customer of its printing services.
Mr. Milligan has entered the company on his MLA register of interests.
According to experts, Milligan may have breached data protection principles
Andrew McAlister, a data ethics specialist with the Australian Privacy Foundation, said the email may have violated data protection law, regardless of how Mr Milligan collected the information.
The 13 Australian Privacy Principles of the Act govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal data in Australia.
Principle 7 states: “An organization must not use or disclose any personal information it contains for direct marketing purposes unless an exception applies.”
Direct marketing involves the use of personal information to communicate directly with an individual and to advertise goods and services.
Political parties and politicians are exempt from data protection laws when engaging in political activities.
However, Mr. Milligan’s tenure ended on October 17th, the election result was announced on October 24th, and the email was sent on October 30th.
“The [Privacy] Act is very clear, you cannot use the information collected for one purpose for another [purpose] Without people’s express consent, so I don’t think this will even pass the pub test, “McAlister said.
“The purposes do not appear to be related at all to the original purposes for which the information was collected.
But Mr McAlister said it may not have been a violation of the law because it was a small business.
“You may not be legally liable as there is a sales threshold before the law applies,” he said.
Mr Tannahill said he wanted to see Mr Milligan publicly acknowledge that the news was inappropriate and apologize.
He also wants the matter referred to the ACT Legislative Assembly to be investigated as a possible violation of Members’ standards.