getup! Advance Australia
(Image: GetUp)

GetUp has understandably been in the crosshairs during the current election campaign. The activist group is, after all, targeting the most prominent conservative politicians. It’s also been a vociferous campaigner for changes in tax laws so that large companies pay more tax.

That latter point has recently made its financial statements — and tax-related disclosures contained in those financial statements — a target for closer examination by some academics, accountants, and now The Daily Tele. After looking through GetUp’s accounts, which were published online and lodged with the corporate regulator, the Tele revealed GetUp had no tax expense for the 2018 financial year and that this was the result of “non-assessable” income. No further information is provided in the accounts to clarify what makes up that line item.

GetUp has said that it has complied with tax rules and fulfilled its obligations. The group’s accounts have also been the subject of audit by accounting firm, Grant Thornton. Liberal Senator Eric Abetz has referred GetUp to the Australian Taxation Office for further investigation. That matter is now best left in the hands of the revenue authority.

Why GetUp is under attack for its financials

What has not been discussed, however, is that the only reason people are picking at GetUp’s numbers is because these accounts are made publicly available.

This is due to the fact that GetUp is a public company limited by guarantee and it must prepare financial statements for lodgement with the corporate regulator. These accounts are lodged within a specified timeframe with the corporate regulator, and are available on the GetUp website for free, or from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

In other words, GetUp is a sitting duck for its critics. Due to the legal structure it’s adopted, it is forced to lodge and make its annual report and financial statements publicly available.

The difference with political parties

This is not the case for Australian political parties. They have no requirement to lodge or publish financial statements, although parties running for election must comply with electoral rules related to reporting donations and expenses to access public funding. 

These numbers may be large and the disclosure statements may be public, but they do not resemble financial statements in the same way as GetUp — which are specifically prepared for public disclosure. You may not see a full picture of a political party’s assets and liabilities, but you can see aspects of this in the public accounts lodged by GetUp.

Visiting the websites of some of the major political parties is an interesting exercise. You will find that there is no comparable financial information available. Neither the Liberal Party nor the Labor Party have any financial statements that are publicly visible for existing members or potential members to peruse. The National Party’s website does not appear to have financial statements available for examination by punters either.

No law is broken here, but it’s certainly fascinating to see the differences.