Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated he will give the right of his party another thing they want: a crackdown on GetUp.
For months after the election, right-wing Coalition politicians have been screaming from the rooftops about GetUp’s influence in Australian politics. The witch-hunt had originally been focused on whether or not GetUp had charity status and whether it should be revoked — it doesn’t and it can’t — but the focus now has been on whether GetUp’s agenda is determined by rich overseas backers. In a bizarre 17-minute rant in Parliament in September, Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz (who appears to blame the group for several of his colleagues being voted out at the last election) tried to import US right-wing conspiracy theories by suggesting GetUp was all about American multibillionaire currency speculator George Soros — with very little evidence to back this up. GetUp denies Soros is its shadowy leader.
But Turnbull appears to have bought into the complaints from his backbench, and in his National Press Club speech yesterday, the PM suggested that foreign donations could be banned for political parties and activist groups.
“I believe Australians expect us to ensure that only Australians and Australian businesses can seek to influence Australian elections, whether via a political party, an activist group like GetUp or an association or a union,” he said.
For its part, GetUp agrees on banning overseas corporations and individuals from taking foreign donations, but at the same time it has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign donations itself. In the last three financial years, GetUp has taken $63,693 from Oak Foundation, $42,960 from Campact, and $99,985 from the Avaaz Foundation, according to the organisation’s disclosure page. It is Avaaz that right-wing websites claim is funneling money from Soros, but GetUp national director Paul Oosting said in a parliamentary committee hearing late last year that even if Avaaz had taken money from Soros (in addition to many others), GetUp was guided by what its members wanted the group to campaign on, rather than the donors.
Oosting defended the group taking foreign donations, stating that GetUp was operating within the system it was also seeking to change:
“We play by the current rules and we want those rules improved. That is why we are here. That is what campaigners do. We at the moment do accept funds from around the world. Many of our members are often abroad when they are making donations. So it is necessary that they use PayPal when they are doing so because we have in place measures to protect people that are donating. So it is necessary that we provide that infrastructure.”
Coalition members of the committee accused Oosting of “rank hypocrisy” for refusing to lead by example and rejecting overseas donations in their campaign to stop political parties from taking overseas donations.
Banning foreign donations appears to be a bipartisan issue. In Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s speech to the National Press Club the day before the Prime Minister’s, he also said Labor would “clamp down on foreign donations”, and reduce the threshold — for all political parties and associated entities — where donations have to be publicly declared from $13,200 to $1000. The Labor Party already discloses all donations above $1000.