Having single-handedly destroyed the right wing of the Liberal Party (at least according to to Messrs Bernardi and Abetz) and inspired a right-wing competitor (that would Cory Berardi’s probably ill-fated Australian Conservatives), what is next for progressive not-charity GetUp?
Reforming the political donations system and superannuation concessions are top of the list, and they look to dominate the parliamentary agenda in coming weeks.
The organisation’s campaign director Paul Oosting told Crikey that GetUp wanted to shape the political landscape both in and outside of the election cycle.
“We’ll be pushing those politicians that are in marginal seats to hold them to account. We’re keeping a very close eye on politicians that have got elected, or are new to parliament to hold them to make sure they are actually representing their communities,” he said.
GetUp members in dozens of seats across the country, starting with the marginals, will be asked to write to their local MPs, now that Parliament has resumed. Then a group of them will be sent to the offices of their local MPs to outline their expectations. The GetUp members will then seek to get another meeting in a year’s time to present MPs with a scorecard on how they’re going with representing their constituents on those issues.
“This for us is about building our grassroots membership and political power so people will become more active across the country and make sure we’re holding our politicians to account so that they know by the next election if they are dragging Australia more towards the right, they could face the mobilisation of GetUp members in their area,” Oosting said.
GetUp itself will be split into four core areas, bringing together experienced campaigners and strategists into human rights, economic fairness, environmental justice and democratic reform.
Environmental justice is being headed up by Centre for Policy Development director Miriam Lyons. Oosting says her task will be, in part, to determine how to push governments at all levels to get to 100% renewable energy.
“That’s a massive task for Miriam, but she’s an expert in her policy areas,” he said.
GetUp claims success on several lawsuits against the Adani coal mine, using crowdfunding to get the cases off the ground. Healthcare, race and multiculturalism are also likely to be issues that dominate the next few years, with cuts to healthcare starting to bite, and the rise of One Nation into Parliament, Oosting says.
For human rights, GetUp is currently targeting the corporate backers of Australia’s offshore detention centres to attempt to shame them into discontinuing their services, and GetUp is looking to develop policies and more humane alternatives to offshore detention, to counter the “well, what’s your alternative?” response.
GetUp is also now helping to crowdfund the legal case being taken up by doctors who have worked in Australian immigration detention system to challenge the secrecy provisions contained in the Border Force Act.
“With the doctors we’ve been able to go in when they don’t have the financial support to challenge the coverups that are happening under our new legal arrangements and be able to provide them the support of having a movement behind them. The doctor’s case is something [GetUp members] can effectively do to move the issue.”
In the area of economic fairness, GetUp is working with tax experts from UTS to work out what equitable policies it can push, such as superannuation tax reforms, and closing tax loopholes. GetUp is still working out its approach to democratic reform, but a ban on foreign donations and more transparency over donations are “low-hanging fruit” (particularly now), as well as working for changes so people can enrol to vote right up until and on election day.
Oosting says GetUp is far from perfect, and the group needs to learn how to engage with its member base better. It claims more than 1 million active members, but it wants to get more — and to better engage the ones it has. He says GetUp is looking at places where groups have been able to grow (like in Spain against austerity) and where there have been some failures (like some elements of the Occupy movement).
“We just want a better system where their voices are heard and their vote is more effective [and we] hand over more agency and control to our members because I think that will be a key way of determining whether GetUp can grow from where we are now, and whether we can be more influential and winning on those issues our members care about.”
Goals are much less about the topline number and more about how many people take real action like volunteering to make calls, or door-knock. At the 2016 election, 3,500 GetUp volunteers had 45,000 conversations with voters. Oosting said he wants to double this by the next election at have close to 30,000 volunteers.
“I want us to be a large social movement who can wield real political influence. The right, despire the fact in the majority of cases the policies they push are not something the majority favour, are seeing many more successes on the policy front. I think the scale is a big challenge for us, how do we give more agency to people over who is selected in their local seat or the makeup of our parliament generally.”
That means having realistic goals, like knowing it is going to take at least a few years to change Australia’s approach to asylum seekers, and take on smaller targets for incremental change. It also means GetUp will partner with more organisations and won’t be actively visible in many campaigns.
“Increasingly to be effective, it has to be less about the organisation. We were approached by the Human Rights Law Centre to work on [Let Them Stay], and it became apparent that to reach the people who had shown a more humane response … to reach them was going to require the whole refugee sector,” he said.
“We didn’t really brand that campaign. We tried to provide as many different ways for our members to take action. A lot of work was done to ensure it was a good space for premiers, for church ministers, and others to get involved in a way that was appropriate for them and in that case it won’t be under the banner of GetUp.”