GetUp Ruling to Protect Issues-based Advocacy by Charities
Wednesday, 20th February 2019 at 5:21 pm
An Australian Electoral Commission ruling affirming the independence of activist group GetUp has set an important legal precedent protecting charities’ rights to engage in issues-based advocacy, community leaders say.
The AEC announced on Monday that GetUp was not an associated entity of a political party, despite claims from several Coalition members that the left-wing advocacy group was linked to Labor or the Greens.
The ruling noted GetUp’s campaigns were primarily issues-based and said even though the group advocated an agenda on one side of the political spectrum, this did not mean it was operating for the benefit of a particular party.
— Amy Remeikis (@AmyRemeikis) February 18, 2019
GetUp national director Paul Oosting said this was a landmark decision that showed there was an important place for everyday people in Australia’s democracy.
He said this was the third time “hard right politicians” had forced the AEC to investigate GetUp’s independence and the third time the commission had ruled in the group’s favour.
“The Australian Electoral Commission has strongly rejected the push by the hard right faction of the Coalition to shut everyday people out of politics,” Oosting said.
“You don’t make our democracy stronger by penalising a grassroots organisation for talking to voters.”
Oosting told Pro Bono News this was a win for community organisations engaged in issues-based advocacy,
“The AEC’s decision sets an important legal precedent for what independent campaigning looks like in Australia. It looks like all of us, working together to fight for the world we want to see,” he said.
Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie agreed with Oosting. He said the AEC had very clearly stated that issues-based advocacy did not mean an organisation was acting in support of a political party – even if this advocacy highlighted the inadequacy of a particular party’s policies.
“This ruling means charities should feel more comfortable advocating for their issues knowing the AEC is unlikely to see them as acting for or like a political party,” Crosbie told Pro Bono News.
The AEC investigation followed concerns raised by Liberal MP Ben Morton about GetUp’s how-to-vote cards distributed during the 2016 election on issues of climate change and Medicare that directed voters to preference Labor and the Greens.
The Australian Electoral Commission has declared left-wing activist group GetUp has no association with Labor.
Liberal MP Ben Morton: We don't need the AEC to tell us what we know. We know GetUp is there to support Labor and the Greens.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) February 19, 2019
The AEC ruling said handing out how-to-vote-cards was only a small part of GetUp’s activities overall and not the sole basis to judge whether the group was an associated entity.
Crosbie said this was reassuring to charities involved in issues-based advocacy as part of a broader range of activities.
“If the activities such as handing out issues rankings of political parties at a polling booth during election times constitute a very small part of the organisation’s overall activities, the organisation is unlikely to be seen as acting in a political way,” he said.
“I think the important point here is that charities should feel slightly more relaxed about engaging in issues-based advocacy without fearing over-reach from the AEC to restrict community voices, especially during elections.”
GetUp has thrown its resources behind a campaign to unseat prominent conservative MPs such as Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews at this year’s federal election.
Conservative Liberal senator Eric Abetz expressed disappointment at the AEC’s decision.
“GetUp is a highly partisan extreme left-wing front, established by Bill Shorten and trade union funds… [that] continues to attack the Liberal Party and Liberal parliamentarians,” Abetz said.
“I will continue to expose GetUp’s dubious, disappointing and hypocritical activities.”