Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Get Up: wins and losses in the Australian political landscape

I've written before about the Australian independent political lobby group GetUp, which, with 370,000 members, is probably the largest grassroots political action group in the country. My wife helped to run the GetUp office for a few years and so I have some grasp of the breadth of work they do and the wide variety of issues they have successfully (and unsuccessfully) campaigned on. On the whole, I think they frequently do good work trying to change the wind of social conscience and discourse as well as faciliating real steps that strengthen the political process and outcomes. A good example of the latter was the recent High Court victory that enabled 100,000 voters to register who would have otherwise been excluded by an unconstitutional change to electoral regulations introduced by the Howard Government prior to the 2007 election (see first video). Whomever these 100,000 people may vote for, having such a large body excluded from the election process unnecessarily breeds frustration, cynicism and apathy.

However, sometimes GetUp campaigns don't hit the mark. Despite being their most heavily supported campaign yet (in terms of donations to put the ad on the air), their latest effort doesn't raise the bar of political discourse, is personality-driven and is too partisan. I have written to them saying as much. Go and watch the ad and if you feel the same, then you can do likewise here.


Anthony Douglas said...

I'll be interested to hear whether they bother to reply to you. I've occasionally called them on things and got no response. Particularly annoying was one campaign where they'd raised the money for the (worthy) cause, yet kept sending out the appeal (because it was a money-spinner).

Also striking about them is that, in spite of their stated commitments ("We use new technology to empower Australians to have their say on important national issues"), they only ever empower you to agree with their position. If they were really about increasing political engagement, they'd assist you to express your own opinion.

The contrast with a recent Amnesty campaign was interesting: Amnesty enabled you to simultaneously email three party leaders, and while they suggested a text, you were free to edit it as you liked. That seems to me a better service...

Jonathan said...

It doesn't really look like what you'd expect from an "indepedent" group, does it?

The inclusion of all the extra voters is a good outcome, but I have a lot of trouble seeing how the court might have justified it. Of course, not even GetUp are suggesting it is the ideal result for this particular election - it helps the optimistic, not those who knew the deadline and assumed they wouldn't get it in in time.

In any case, it would make more sense to me to have the the cut-off dates defined in terms of the election date, not the issue of the writs.

David Palmer said...

As the Ad demonstrates Get UP is a left political lobby group.

Christians to the left will identify with some of their positions, Christians to the right will struggle to find much of their agenda to identify with.

byron smith said...

Anthony - I don't think not bothering to reply is the issue. I know many of the people who work in the office and they care deeply about what members think. It is simply that an office of 10 people can't respond to all the comments and suggestions from a membership of 370,000 people.

Also, only some of their campaigns are simply petitions or ads where you either opt in or not to a prefabricated message (TV ads and petitions by their nature are prefabricated, though sometimes there have been member votes on which ads to use). Many campaigns involve encouragement and opportunity to write to political leaders in your own words, or to take other creative actions.

Jonathan - GetUp are genuinely independent and their constant criticism of the Rudd government on a range of issues shows this (and Gillard for that matter). So no need for scare quotes. Independent doesn't mean they have no positions or opinions, just that they are not aligned to any particular party.

The high court justified the decision through returning to the standard week-long deadline that has been the norm for decades before the Howard government shortened it to a week. This move was ruled unconstitutional (I haven't looked into the detail of why).

It is a fact that many people don't think about their enrollment until the election is called. While this year may primarily help the optimistic (as you put it), this decision will continue to have a big influence on participation rates in future elections, esp amongst younger voters who are more likely to not be registered or to have moved.

As an example, Jess and I are overseas voters, who are quite motivated and knowledgeable (in my estimate) of the Australian political system and yet even we ended up being close to the cut off point in getting our details updated because there are so many other distractions and we've kept putting off the paperwork. When you add in the post delay, then registering before the cut off date became a challenge when we suddenly realised the election was about to be called (after the Gillard-Rudd thing).

David - yes, no surprises there. They are a self-proclaimed progressive group, but they are not aligned to or funded by any party and have been quite critical of all parties (here is another example in which they are more critical of ALP than Libs). As a Christian who is neither left nor right, I find plenty to support in their agenda (and some things to reject as well, of course).

But I'm surprised that you think some Christians can't find much to support in their agenda. Is it a bad thing that more Australians will be able to vote as a result of GetUp's recent high court victory? That GetUp encourage people to be thoughtful in their vote and to vote not just for narrow self-interest? Is it a bad thing that they have worked for greater understanding and respect between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians? Can Christians find any common ground with those who care about "economic fairness, social justice and the environment"? Might not such Christians find it in their heart to care about the plight of children in detention centres and the mentally ill? Or to oppose government corruption? Some might even think that paid parental leave to encourage families to spend time together, or encouraging the Australian government to speak up about international human rights abuses, or to prevent media monopolies or to address the 20 year life-expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians might be good ideas. Do you reject all of these David?

byron smith said...

PS Anthony - for instance, while writing the above response, I received a GetUp email inviting me to a rally organised by another group and to a candidates' forum for all candidates in an electorate of national interest.

Which campaign were you referring to in your first paragraph?

Anthony Douglas said...

I'm not sure...I think I must have done it via a web form. But my strong hunch is that it was the Tony Abbott surfing auction - they kept the books open on that one long after they'd reached their target. And you could still donate to it after the auction had taken place.

I'll have to take your word for it that they've enabled DIY emails in the past; I can't recall it happening, and I've been on their list for a while.

Perhaps 'not bothered' was a bit strong, but I haven't seen any change. If anything, the emails that they send have become ever more self-assured that they're on the side of the angels - or perhaps I've simply grown tired of it. I really wish they'd try to make their case by simply laying out the reasons, rather than using lousy marketing-to-the-converted.

All that being said, most of the time they are doing good stuff. I just wish Simon didn't sound so smug about it.

byron smith said...

I agree three has been a change of tone (and not always for the better) since Brett (and Jess!) left.

byron smith said...

PS A couple of examples of letter writing drives from a quick scan of old emails (not aiming at being comprehensive here and not all emails go to all members):
• 4th Nov 2007
• 22nd Nov 2007
• 7th July 2008
• 22nd March 2009

David Palmer said...

But I'm surprised that you think some Christians can't find much to support in their agenda. Is it a bad thing that more Australians will be able to vote as a result of GetUp's recent high court victory?

Steady on Byron.

Who says it is a bad thing that more Australians get the right to vote. I don't remember saying any such thing.

I have to say Getup may have a zillion members and staff workers but until the recent consultation on an Australian Bill/Charter of Rights when they organised thousands of identical postcards to the Brennan enquiry in support of a Charter (a fact used by Brennan in support of a supposed majority of Australians supporting a Charter), I hadn't heard of them or if I had they had n't registered.

But then I'm a conservative, not a progressive.

BTW, I hope its OK to come on this blog to say I am a conservative (in a Roger Scruton kind of way).

Jonathan said...

Byron, I guess I don't find quotes as scary as most. I comletely agree that independent does not mean not having a view. I just (perhaps naively) associate independence with staying away from the partisan, personality-driven discourse which you are complaining about.

As for enrolling itself, I know I haven't always updated my details within the official 49-52 day limit, but when in that situation I wouldn't want to argue in court that it was the change to the regulations which stopped me from voting! The court's reasons haven't been published yet, but if we arguing for being allowed to enrol once there is an election called, I'd still prefer something less arbitrary than even the old regulations.

For anyone who might be going overseas in the future, I'd say the easiest way is to notify the AEC (up to 3 months) before you leave, and not bother with general postal voter status, so you don't have to bother about any moves while overseas. Of course, that works best if you're near the embassy, and if we're only talking about practicalities, you'll more often than not get away with not notifying them at all.

byron smith said...

David - First you said "Christians to the right will struggle to find much of their agenda to identify with" and then you admit that you don't know what they've been doing (outside of one campaign). Was your first comment just a guess?

So my question stands, do you think (now that you've heard more about some of their agenda) that you would struggle to support some of the issues I mentioned above?

I have never said that I support all their campaigns nor do they assume all their members will support every effort. It is strictly an "opt in" kind of movement where people can select which campaigns they think are worth supporting.

I am neither progressive nor conservative (or, perhaps you could say I am both in different ways) and I've never made a single political ideology the measure of who is allowed to comment (indeed, I've been thinking that a formal comments policy might be a good idea).

As for hearing about GetUp, here are links to about 900 stories in the mainstream media over the last five years (since GetUp was launched) that mention them. I'm not saying you should have noticed them amidst the probably hundreds of thousands of stories during that time, just that they haven't been keeping their head down.

Jonathan - Yes, that is precisely why I wrote this post, because I felt this campaign didn't live up to their aim (which they are generally fairly good at) of being non-partisan. Though given that they've also launched another ad recently mocking Gillard, I think the personality-driven aspect is more important.

David Palmer said...

I guess I've become more aware of Getup in past year as a result of their high profile Charter of Rights campaign and appearences this year of their spokesman on ABC 7 pm news sprouting support for left wing (progressive - though I would say regressive) policies.

So yes, I stand behind both my comments.

I'm not surprised that you could not support all their campaigns. I think at a worldview level you are probably poles apart, but nevertheless can find common cause with them on a range of topics.

byron smith said...

So what you're saying (when you say you stand by your initial comments that you'd "struggle to find much of their agenda to identify with") is that you don't think the things I listed are worthwhile or things that Christians can support? Or that they are things that only certain kinds of Christians can support?

As for being poles apart from their worldview, see here, where I explain that Christians are a significant distance from the ideologies of both "left" and "right".

byron smith said...

GetUp decisively show they are not ALP partisans. This is another mistake.

byron smith said...

Chaser on GetUp.

byron smith said...

GetUp and union funding. Not in general, but a one-off donation for the very ad I was critical of. I think both the ad and accepting the donation was a mistake, but they have been upfront about it and no other donation comes close. The claim that they are an ALP front is silly if you just look at the history of their campaigns.

byron smith said...

Onion: Unmissable.