An emotive anti-same-sex marriage pamphlet featuring a young girl saying "I need my mum and dad" has been distributed in the once-safe rural seat of Indi – and other marginal seats – as the battle for the electorate continues to get nasty.
Indi is held by senior Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella, but independent Cathy McGowan has launched a major challenge to Ms Mirabella, who has held the seat since 2001.
Ms Mirabella currently enjoys a 9 per cent margin but party insiders predict a tight finish on Saturday.
Several high-profile Coalition frontbenchers have campaigned in the north-east Victorian seat.
The controversial pamphlet published by members of the Australian Family Association, shows a sad girl with text that says, "Cathy McGowan, Robyn Walsh (ALP) and the Greens ... support same-sex marriage. But man-woman marriage is special because 'I need my mum and dad'. When you vote ... put Cathy McGowan, Robyn Walsh and the Greens LAST."
Similar ads, with the same girl or babies, have appeared in other seats. Since this article was first published, voters in a number of seats have contacted Fairfax Media about similar pamphlets being distributed in their electorates. Seats include Bruce and Isaacs.
The Indi pamphlet is authorised by a Jim McCormack, from Beechworth. After dozens of calls on Tuesday, The Age was able to finally reach Mr McCormack on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr McCormack, a life-long member of the Democratic Labour Party, said the pamphlets were a campaign driven by the Australian Family Association.
Mr McCormack stood by the ads saying he and others were concerned about children in the future if same-sex marriage was legalised.
He said the pamphlets had nothing to do with the DLP or the Liberal party.
"I'm not a member of the Liberal party, never have been,'' Mr McCormack said.
The Association was founded in 1980 by B.A. Santamaria and its policies include that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Letters from Mr McCormack have also been published in the local newspaper, The Border Mail, criticising the role of independent MPs in the Federal Parliament and spruiking Ms Mirabella.
Ms Mirabella's office said the pamphlets were not from the Liberal Party.
“I had no knowledge of this. My longstanding view on gay marriage is well known," Ms Mirabella said.
She believes that marriage was "developed for the creation and raising of children" and there needs to be a definition to describe a relationship between a man and a woman.
Similar ads are being distributed across Australia. One featuring a crying baby urges voters in the Brisbane marginal seat of Moreton to put Labor incumbent Graham Perrett last because of his support of gay marriage.
Another in Ballarat, featuring the same girl from the Indi campaign, tells voters to put minister Catherine King last. Those ads were not authorised by the same people as in Indi.
The author of the Ballarat ads, Frederick Denton, said he was just an individual who did not agree with Ms King's views on gay marriage and abortion.
"There is no agenda, no political affiliation," Mr Denton said.
Asked why the ads were the same as those in Indi and in other seats, Mr Denton said "we are just a few people that know each other".
When the author of the Isaacs ad was twice contacted they hung up the phone during the reporters questions.
The Indi campaign has recently turned sour with reports of Ms McGowan's campaign placards vandalised and stolen off private property.
Ms McGowan has attracted high-profile endorsements – including former state Nationals MP Ken Jasper – as well as tens of thousands dollars in donations from outside the electorate.
Ms McGowan said one of the reasons she is running for office is because young people had told her their voice was not heard or taken seriously in rural Australia.
"This ad campaign further marginalises young people who are different from the norm. There is an assumption that the norm is a father and a mother and that is not the case; there is enormous diversity of how people have relationships and form families," Ms McGowan said.
"It is important to respect different people and not to kick them out but to make them belong."
Greens candidate Jenny O'Connor had no doubt Ms Mirabella and the Liberals were behind the pamphlets.
"This is the sort of stuff they do. The fact they use children in their campaign and use this issue is just disgusting," she said.