Eric Abetz GetUp

Coalition politicians from the Prime Minister down have retreated to a common refrain this week: the real issue is what prompted the Australian Federal Police raid in the first place; the donation in 2006 by the Australian Workers’ Union (then headed by now-Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, also a board member) to left-wing activists GetUp as they were starting out.

As Fairfax reported on Monday, before this latest scandal erupted, GetUp is readying for a “costly legal battle” around whether it is a “front” for the Greens or the Labor party. GetUp has long been a target for the right wing, and, in particular, one long-time representative of the the harder right. Let’s take a look:

2005

Eric Abetz, then special minister of state, first made the accusation that GetUp was a front group for the Labor Party. He referred them both to the Australian Electoral Commission regrading their funding sources, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regarding what they did with their donations. The AEC concluded:

“[T]he currently available information does not show a real or actual benefit to any party or parties, nor does it show a sufficiently direct link between the entities and any political party or parties. As a result, the AEC has insufficient grounds on which to undertake a formal investigation under the Act.”

Well, we’re sure Abetz would be satisfied with that and … oh who are we kidding?

2010

Eric Abetz had another crack (along with other opposition senators), using the “associated entity” argument, referring GetUp once again to the AEC. And what did the AEC say this time?

Exactly the same thing:

“The results of this review are that there is still no information or available evidence to show that GetUp meets any of the six grounds set out in the definition of an “associated entity” contained in subsection 287(1) of the Electoral Act.”

2016

In 2016 there was a flurry of attacks against GetUp, led by, well, you can probably guess. Forget the ALP or Greens, now Abetz used a 17-minute speech to Parliament to peddle his theory that GetUp was nothing more than the Australian franchise of American billionaire — and favorite target of the conspiratorial hard right — George Soros.

But wait, no, maybe it isn’t Soros. Maybe it’s the Greens! 

Abetz loaded the guns (again), this time releasing a statement after The Australian reported that Sarah Maddison, a GetUp chairwoman, had campaigned for the Greens during that year’s federal election:

“GetUp’s so-called independence has always been laughable but this latest revelation just further exposes this grubby organisation for its cynical dishonesty.

“Ms Maddison has brazenly backed ultra-left wing candidates and even supported the Greens taking seats around a Labor government’s cabinet table while laughingly claiming that GetUp is independent.” 

This followed the GetUp campaign that unseated Abetz’s Tasmanian Lib buddy Andrew Nikolic in the seat of Bass. Still feeling raw about it, Abetz stepped up his pressure, targeting the organisation’s charity status, telling a local radio station

“If an organisation becomes involved in the political debates, they shouldn’t be allowed to get charitable donations — which means tax-deductibility — in circumstances where the political party against which they are campaigning cannot get that sort of tax-deductibility and charity status for their donation.”

This could have crippled GetUp if not for the tiny detail that they are not, in fact, a charity.

2017

While the previously attempts to establish a direct link between GetUp and any political party have been unsuccessful, Paul Oosting said in a Facebook post on Monday “this time it’s different. The AEC’s preliminary review seems stacked against us, with cherry-picked facts and twisted legal interpretations. They’ve refused to meet with us, refused to answer essential questions and refused to engage with our robust response.”

Crikey will watch the next steps with interest, but one suspects as long as Eric Abetz is in the Senate, GetUp will be facing these kinds of questions.

Peter Fray

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