The Department of Climate Change, Environment Energy and Water is investigating after posts in anti-wind farm Facebook groups offered giveaways and freebies in exchange for submissions against a proposed offshore wind zone off the coast of the Illawarra.
In a post in "The Illawarra Wind Farm chat" on October 6, a woman said she had shared a link to "vote" on the proposal to her 37,000 followers but said this had lead to only one person signing a petition.
To encourage people to express their opposition to the wind zone, she said she would "now do a competition and offer $1000 worth of services to the winner after they vote no".
The woman's Facebook profile links to a business that offers eyelash courses for people who want to work in beauty salons.
The next day, the woman said she was setting up a "competition" where the winner would receive $1100 in value "just by voting no".
Her post acknowledged the unethical nature of the competition.
"I realise this is blackmail I don't care at this stage," she said.
She linked to a post shared by her business Facebook account, which, offered the prize to those who make a submission against the wind farm proposal or sign a petition opposing the proposal.
The user offers three prizes, "your choice" of "online classic beginnings course or volume (world wide) value over $800" as well as in-person training worth $1400 or $1100 worth of "body sculpting services".
Along with the inducements, she posted doctored photos of the Illawarra horizon with wind turbines and digitally generated images of turbines spewing black smoke.
The post is promoted to anti-wind turbine pages as well as general community Facebook groups, however commenters cautioned that offering giveaways might not help the poster's cause.
"I know you're passionate, but I don't think this helps the 'optics' of those not wanting the turbines," one said.
"Even though it's coming from a place of passion for the cause, it could be used against it at a later date by making some of the signatures seem less credible if it's shown they only signed No to win a prize," another said.
"My thoughts, and someone with more legal knowledge might have better input, offering a prize for sharing the links and completing the survey probably okay, offering a prize for voting No possibly detrimental." (sic)
A spokesperson for climate change and energy minister Chris Bowen said the posts had been brought to the government's attention.
"The Government has been made aware of concerning and disappointing cases of financial and other inducements being made for submissions, as well as allegations of people sending multiple responses under fake email addresses," the spokesperson said.
"These consultations are designed for genuine engagement with communities - the Minister will consider each submission based on the merits of the issues raised."
When contacted by the Mercury, the woman said the inducements were "not really blackmail" but were driven by her response to the offshore wind farm proposal.
"I offered discounted services for people to vote."
In addition to offering inducements for anti-wind farm submissions and signatures, users in anti-wind farm groups widely share reports of mass whale beachings in the United States being caused by wind turbines.
This claim was recently amplified by Donald Trump, who told a campaign rally in September that "windmills" used to generate electricity are driving whales "crazy" and dead whales were washing ashore weekly.
A documentary by US journalist Michael Shellenberger named Thrown to the Wind is also shared repeatedly in the anti wind farm groups.
Mr Shellenberger has been accused of spreading misinformation on climate change and renewables, and the documentary has drawn criticism for its unfounded claims of offshore wind causing whale deaths and strandings. In addition, the documentary has been critiqued for relying on fossil fuel industry-backed sources.
On Monday, Cunningham MP Alison Byrnes announced an extension of the consultation period to November 15.
The proposal sets out a zone of 1461 square kilometres between 10 and 30 kilometres offshore between Wombarra and Gerringong as suitable for offshore wind development.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.