GetUp Foreign Donation Questioned
14 January 2019 at 5:40 pm
The foreign donations controversy is continuing into the new year, with an overseas donation to grassroots advocacy group GetUp slammed by a Liberal senator, but sector experts say the organisation hasn’t done anything wrong.
The $92,000 donation from the European Climate Foundation (ECF) was declared by GetUp at the end of December, just before changes to the foreign donations bill came into play on 1 January.
GetUp national director Paul Oosting told Pro Bono News the money would be used to educate and improve Australians’ understanding of the climate crisis, its implications and how it could be solved.
“This is an exciting opportunity – the ECF is a world-leading philanthropic initiative to tackle climate change by fostering the development of a low-carbon society at the national, European and global level,” Oosting said.
But Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz slammed the organisation on Monday, saying the timing of the donation raised questions about how the money would actually be used.
“This latest donation raises red flags about GetUp’s real agenda, especially so close to a federal election,” Abetz said.
He also said the organisation accepting such a large foreign donation, despite running a campaign against foreign donations, uncovered its “shape-shifting” nature.
“This is the standard GetUp modus operandi, doing whatever it takes yet demanding a different standard of everybody else,” he said.
“If GetUp is to maintain any credibility, they should immediately return the donation.”
Under the Electoral Act, GetUp is classed as a “political campaigner”, because it spends more than $500,000 on “electoral expenditure”. Under the new laws it cannot receive any foreign donation above $1,000.
Krystian Seibert, industry fellow at the Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology, told Pro Bono News because the ban on foreign donations to “political campaigners” commenced on 1 January, the organisation was not doing anything wrong.
“There’s no legal obligation on them to return the funds as they received them before the ban kicked in,” Seibert said.
But he cautioned that as foreign donations could no longer be used for activities with a dominant purpose of influencing the way electors vote in an election, GetUp needed to ensure the money wasn’t used for that purpose.
David Crosbie, CEO of the Community Council Australia, said in comparison to the Liberal Party, GetUp was “incredibly transparent” about its funding sources and how it would be used.
“They are saying exactly how much was given and how it will be used. The Liberal Party do not provide this level of disclosure even though they seek to govern Australia,” Crosbie told Pro Bono News.
“That is why CCA supports stronger disclosure requirements on all political parties and associated entities.”
He also said Senator Abetz and others were selective over who they criticised, which remained an issue in Australia.
“One of the most influential figures in Australian politics is an American citizen based in the US who stands to make significant amounts of money if policies supportive of his business interests are pursued in Australia,” he said.
“I do not see Senator Abetz and others complaining about foreign influence when it involves Rupert Murdoch.”
Oosting added that in the 2017-18 financial year, less than 1.6 per cent of GetUp’s donations came from overseas.
“Less than 1.1 per cent of donations to GetUp have come from overseas across GetUp’s entire 13 year history,” Oosting said.