This week Advance Australia finally grabbed some media attention, unveiling a new mascot. The bizarre, widely mocked Captain GetUp is a man in an orange superhero suit, who aims to expose left-wing lobby group GetUp’s alleged foreign funding and links with Labor and the Greens. With Advance Australia now back in the spotlight ahead of the election, Crikey looks beyond the lurid superhero costume. Yes Advance Australia has been raising money and attracting wealthy and influential supporters but can it really emerge as a serious rival to GetUp?
What does Advance Australia want?
Advance Australia pitches itself as standing up for “mainstream Australians”, a voice for the everyday punters with traditional values under siege from modernity and political correctness. More specifically, Advance Australia is clearly trying to position itself as the anti-GetUp. When the left-wing campaign organisation drew up a “hit-list” of conservative Liberals it was planning to target at the election (Peter Dutton came out on top), Advance Australia, promised to hit back. Currently, the organisation is focusing its attention on electorates like Tony Abbott’s Warringah and Dutton’s Dickson, hoping to keep conservatives in parliament.
While GetUp runs specific campaigns, including ones to bring asylum seekers onshore and to stop the Adani mine, Advance Australia is also trying to take action on the topics they care about. The organisation currently has two designated campaigns, to keep Australia Day on January 26, and against Labor’s franking policy. A key problem that has hamstrung previous conservative efforts to rival GetUp has been an inability to focus on issues that cut-through with the electorate. Advance may be no exception — the Australia Day debate remains something of a seasonal culture war issue, while a campaign against Labor’s franking changes has failed to really resonate.
Who is behind Advance Australia?
Advance Australia claims not to be affiliated with any political party. But let’s look a little deeper. National Director Gerard Benedet is a Liberal party lifer, who worked for Tony Abbott as an 18-year-old, and was most recently chief of staff to former Queensland Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls during his unsuccessful 2017 election campaign.
Its leadership also unsurprisingly draws heavily from the political right.
Businessman and former ABC chair Maurice Newman, who once claimed climate change was a UN-backed plot to create a new world order, sits on Advance Australia’s advisory council. He’s joined by David Adler, who presides over pro-Israel Australian Jewish Association, which last year extended an invitation to Canadian white supremacist Lauren Southern. Sam Kennard, the self-storage supremo and one-time Liberal Democrat candidate who publicly railed when his business fell foul of workplace gender equality laws, is also on board.
Can it match GetUp’s achievements?
GetUp have concerned the Australian right for years, and with good reason. The organisation raised over $10 million in the last year, mostly gathered through small donations, and boasts over 1 million members. Since its founding 14 years ago, it has had some big political successes — from winning a High Court case against the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) over constitutionality of electoral laws in 2010, to providing considerable support in the fight to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia.
Conservatives have often attacked GetUp’s influence as somehow unfair — on three separate occasions, most recently in 2019, the AEC has concluded that GetUp is independent of any political party. It is frequently accused, most recently by Captain GetUp himself, of being funded by foreign interests, including George Soros.
But imitation is the best form of flattery, and the right has, for many years, been desperate to create their own lobby group with similar clout. Advance Australia could be their best hope — since its founding in November, the group has raised $395,000, and amassed 27,500 members.
However, money alone may not be enough. GetUp still has the advantage in terms of membership and campaigning clout. Advance’s message meanwhile, is failing to gain traction in key marginal seats. Still, they’ve always got the man in the orange superhero suit.