Peter Dutton GetUp
Federal member for Dickson Peter Dutton speaking to supporters (Image:AAP/Glenn Hunt)

In the wake of Saturday’s election, a triumphant Coalition has doubled down in its war on left-wing group GetUp, prompting Australia to ask: again?

The activist group spent $10 million targeting high profile hard-right candidates in this election. The only one to lose their seat was Tony Abbott in Warringah, where many other factors were at play. 

Now, newly re-elected member for Dickson Peter Dutton is supporting yet another attempt to classify the group as an associated political entity. This would tie GetUp to Labor and the Greens and delegitimise its claim to independence, while senior Liberal figures are promoting changes to AEC rules restricting campaigners at polling booths to volunteers of registered parties and candidates.

This attempt to wedge GetUp as both political and not-political-enough tracks with the Coalition’s ad hoc history fighting the group, but may also backfire as it directly threatens freedom of communication for campaigners of all persuasions.

What is GetUp, really?

Launched in 2005 as progressive campaign response to the Howard government’s sweep of the Senate, GetUp has evolved from a non-profit with a combination of Greens, Liberal and union board members — including, briefly, AWU’s Bill Shorten — to a group that currently boasts more than a million members. According to its apparently transparent accounts and real-time statistics, it raked-in $13,631,453 in donations in the last year.

The grassroots movement campaigns primarily across climate action and human-rights issues, such as offshore detention and marriage equality, and has outlasted three unsuccessful government inquiries into its political status. It has also endured multiple conservative imitators — including the extremely gross Captain GetUp.

GetUp itself has seen its fair share of bad news stories — from a fraught campaign to deny rapper and convicted abuser Chris Brown an Australian visa, to a cringeworthy interview in which national director Paul Oosting was confronted with the group’s promotion of false claims. Then there was the controversial ad invoking climate denial with lifesaver Tony Abbott ignoring a drowning person.

Now the target of its far-right hit-list and an election-day skywriting campaign, Peter Dutton, has called out the group for “deceptive”, “undemocratic” and “unrepresentative” conduct. Oosting has since claimed that GetUp’s attacks against Dutton at least helped keep Dickson marginal with a relatively-reduced swing of 2.6%. The Home Affairs Minister has since dismissed this as desperate, and labelled their $1 million campaign in the seat a failure.

What does the Coalition even want here?

Other than just kind of going away, it doesn’t seem like the Coalition knows what it wants from GetUp.

The group has survived every attempt to classify it as an associate of Labor and the Greens. The AEC’s most recent review into the 2016 election work found that while GetUp distributed How To Vote cards preferencing members of those parties, the group does not donate to either party. Furthermore the cards were not consistent across either party, and distributing them was not the group’s sole activity, which included door-knocking and other advertising.

Even if a fourth review was successful, and there’s nothing to suggest it would be, the relative freedom of associated entities like unions mean the Coalition’s win would largely count as symbolic. Likewise, legislative changes to the AEC rules banning volunteers from non-political parties outside polling booths have been slammed as genuinely undemocratic even by conservative arch-rival Advance Australia.

Labor for its part isn’t exactly happy with GetUp either, arguing the group turned moderate voters away, but has flagged advertising caps against its own big-target adversary: Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, which spent roughly six times as much as GetUp.

Fed up with GetUp? Think the group needs to push harder? Send us your thoughts at [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be considered for publication.