The Liberal High Command has totally underestimated GetUp! and I think you are doing the same, albeit to a lesser degree.
A low-level political statement [what I had claimed of GetUp!] does not involve TV ad campaigns, over 200,000 members on their email list and dedicated fundraising.
I think GetUp! is an innovative organisation and that clearly there is demand for the services it provides. I’ve never seen a three-party election ad before. It runs media-friendly stunts like putting political messages in fortune cookies. It’s using new technology to update old political tactics like petitions and letter-writing campaigns.
But unlike Matt (and commenter Spiros) I’m not yet convinced that GetUp! is a model well-adapted to shifting votes or influencing policies in Australia.
While it is issue-focused, it is not an issue movement as we usually think of them. The successful issue movements (eg environmentalist, feminist, gay, economic rationalist) engage in a sustained effort to put issues onto the political agenda, and to persuade the public and/or politicians that their concerns should be acted on.
GetUp!’s strategy is quite different. It doesn’t try to create new issues – everything they have tackled so far was already on the political agenda. It doesn’t really try to change people’s minds – the typical GetUp! statement is only a few paragraphs long and not seriously aimed at winning hearts or minds. Actual or implied threats are more their style than arguments (eg you’ll lose votes, ANZ’s customers will go elsewhere if it finances Gunns).
What GetUp! mainly does is activate a base of supporters who believe what it does to support a petition or give money. It targets the soft-left orthodoxy of the day to maximise the chances of involvement (and draws on the leftist sub-culture in which your political views and your character are linked; to be a ‘good’ person you need to hold, and show you hold, the correct views).
This strategy is better-suited to the United States, where there is voluntary voting and far-more-common use of plebiscites, than here. One reason American politics is more polarised than in Australia is that the parties have to concentrate on mobilising their ideological base. GetUp’s US model MoveOn is probably useful there in motivating left-leaning voters to act. Here, compulsory voting performs that role. Since Australian political parties can largely take the more ideological voters for granted, they concentrate on swinging voters.
That’s one reason why traditional bread-and-butter issues like health, education and tax cuts were the focus of the major parties for the 2007 election. Of GetUp!’s current campaigns, only climate change was also an issue in the election. But even on that, Labor was very cautious because while it knows the public believes in greenhouse, it also knows that the public does not accept the implications for their own lifestyles.
At this point, the one clear thing that GetUp! is achieving is making available low-cost and user-friendly activism for people who want to ‘do something’ about the issues that concern them. There is nothing wrong with that. But I don’t think it is important to our political system in the way that issue movements working in the long-term to shift opinion and political agendas are important, or the way political parties are important in using truly mass constituencies and persuasion to take control of governments and implement policies.