The hypocrisy of GetUp!

When it comes to political parties, activist group GetUp! favours strictly regulating donations. Its principles include:

* Only individuals should be allowed to donate to political parties.
* Increase transparency requirements.
* Cap individual donations at a reasonable limit [they suggest $1,000 a year]

But when it comes to donations to GetUp! things seem to be rather different, as the SMH reported yesterday:

The union movement has emerged as a key financial backer of the advocacy group GetUp!, with six unions pouring more than a million dollars into its election purse in the past three weeks alone.

GetUp! has splashed nearly $1.5 million on TV advertising since the campaign began, meaning the unions have effectively supplied two-thirds of its advertising budget.

The organisation’s director, Simon Sheikh, refused to name the six unions yesterday, saying they wanted their identities kept secret until after donor returns are filed with the Australian Electoral Commission.

So this arrangement breaches all of GetUp!’s three principles: the donations are from organisations, they are not transparent, and they are uncapped. And by relying on just six donors to finance most of its campaign spending GetUp! is far more reliant on a small group of powerful donors than either of the main political parties.

Perhaps the distinction is that GetUp! cannot directly make government decisions, it can only influence them. But the ban on organisations and the caps on them seem aimed at limiting the political influence of big money, and in this context the distinctions between financing an activist group and financing a political party are not necessarily very important. They are both means of achieving political goals.

Right from the start of GetUp!, I have seen them as an entrepreneurial venture profiting from politics. There is a large group of people who want to feel that they are making a political statement and contributing to a political cause. Simon Sheikh and his senior colleagues are presumably well paid for delivering these services.

But it means we should be very cynical about GetUp!’s campaign to strictly regulate and limit its political party competitors for political donations, while hypocritically not applying the same principles to its own operations.

14 thoughts on “The hypocrisy of GetUp!

  1. Great post Andrew!
    Thanks for sharing this gem, even despite this though I accept both the actions and desired outcomes of GetUp! Revealing an incongruity in my own beliefs.

    I think it’s because I think they deserve a fair playing field in the fight to stem political distortions. You wouldn’t choose to hop whilst everyone else was running.

    Maybe implementing a gradual scale down, terrible analogy but like the diminishing nuclear arms stocks, between all political bodies would facilitate the move to more appropriate funding structures.

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  2. Hmmm…. I see transparency as an issue, but I don’t think the donations in and of themselves as being hypocritical.

    Why shouldn’t unions be able to organise to voice their political concerns? Isn’t that the core of the implied right to political speech? Should the miners be banned from advertising? Should the AMA be banned from having press conferences? It doesn’t make sense.

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  3. Lommo, Norty’s not sayin organisations can’t donate, he’s just sayin that Getup! is contravening its own principles.
    That said, I reckon unions should be banned as terrorist organisations. Seriously, they’ve done more damage to this country than al-queda ever has….to now.

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  4. Makes sense to play by the existing rules even if you want to change them to something better. It’s a competitive world, so if you follow your principles before they are legislated, you’re just handicapping your team while the other side of politics can do whatever they like.

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  5. Baz is right – I am a critic of plans to regulate ‘third parties’ like GetUp! The issue is the double standards, not the donations or the secrecy.

    Robert – On the other hand, Labor is voluntarily disclosing all donations above $1,000 when the legal threshold is over $10,000. Though they are not doing so promptly, as pro-regulation critics of electoral law propose.

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  6. The difficulty for me is the laziness of the forth estate in Australia. I read this article too and I read your blog; but how many others would be aware of this connection? Very few are informed and by implication making informed decisions.

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  7. It’s a rather cynical and I’d say unfair suggestion that Sheikh and others are simply in it for the entrepreneurial benefit. The same slur could be made of the IPA, CIS, or Lowy given some make decent salaries out of them. However I think these organisations should be encouraged and make an important contribution to Australian politics. Likewise the line between an activist group and the many Business Councils in this country is rather thin.

    However none of these groups could not survive if only tied to individual donations (though I’d say Get Up comes closest of the organisations I’ve mentioned) nor with a $1000 limit (Given they have no alternate source of funding un-like most political parties).

    Finally transparency is perhaps the most important issue at stake, but while I’m not too fond of Get Up, if their funding partners will come out at the same time as everyone else via the AEC, then transparency is at work. We might like all donations to be instantly made public, but that’s not Get Up’s position and they havn’t clearly broken their principles.

    You might not like Get Up (I’m no fan), but your two assumptions that they are cynical profit seeking enterprises who (somewhat contradictory) ought to be treated identically to political parties don’t really stand.

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  8. Andrew – I generally support a very lightly regulated approach to these things. One reason for opposing greater regulation of political parties is that it flows through to third parties, and you end up with a very serious attack on political freedom.

    One area where I largely agree with the pro-regulation group is that if you have transparency it needs to be quick. This is particularly the case with third-party campaigns, because by the time the AEC releases donor data it is pretty much irrelevant. If the unions are funding GetUp!’s campaigns it matters now while we are judging those campaigns, not months or even years later when the campaigns are over and forgotten.

    It’s not a slur to say that something is a business (obviously, from my perspective). Believe it or not, even people in for-profit businesses care about their product as well has hoping to make money from it. It is just to note that we cannnot assume that people are disinterested. Indeed, I have taken an interest in this issue because I fear that trends in electoral law could undermine my political activities, which I do both because I believe in them and because in some instances I am paid to do so.

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  9. Also, for another two cents, why are union people always so ugly. That Paul Howes, why is he talking about the economy? What is he qualified to speak about. But if he’s going to talk, why does he have look like a modern day frankenstein…..And then there’s Sharon ‘Wobat down a’ Burrow. And there are their clothes…shockin. But then, anyone who does happen to resemble normality – aka Billy Shorto, they wanna make em Prime Minister. Craziness.

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  10. If revealing the union’s identities didn’t imperil the donations themselves, I think they should reveal them. But if revealing the identity meant they wouldn’t get the money, I don’t think they are hypocrites for following rules others don’t yet have to follow.

    If GetUp are entrepreneurs they can’t be making much money. I know one guy who works there who makes much less than he could elsewhere. Admittedly starting at the bottom.

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  11. Bill Shorten resembling normality? My mother was right; there is someone for all of us, Baz, 😉

    Shame on me, and him in working for better services for those of us handicapped.

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  12. Bit confused Martha. The comments over the dress sense and general tardiness of union reps had nothing to do with disadvantged people.
    In fact, I don’t mind Billy’s work for the disadvantaged. You’d probably be hard pressed to find a better advocate.
    But for the avoidance of confusion, you should feel proud, not ashamed, for working for the disadvantaged. These people deserve help. Indeed, I genuinely save my sympathies for disadvantaged people working to get by, whilst I have none for general welfare bludgers.

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  13. I am more with Robert Wiblim here, and would pose the following analogous question to Andrew. Is it hypocritical to advocate multilateral disarmament while retaining one’s own arms until that time?

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  14. Tom – Though as I responded to Robert, the ALP is voluntarily adhering to tougher rules than the law requires. Unlike the political parties, GetUp! isn’t really in direct competition with anyone else. Who would they fall behind if they met the standards they propose? And surely gesture politics is part of GetUp!’s business?

    What GetUp! should really be thinking about here is whether there is something wrong with their basic argument. If tougher political donations regulation would mean that they faced a significant obstacle to their political activity, isn’t that a problem?

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