The online activist group GetUp has been approached by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), in an extraordinary move that appear to be prompted by the accusation that it has been helping the Labor Party and the Greens.
In a letter received last Friday, GetUp has been asked to hand over financial details by this coming Friday.
GetUp has refused to comply and hand over details of who donates money, what it is spent on. Under the existing electoral law, it is illegal for an organisation to contribute funds to political parties unless it is registered as an Associated Entity.
Legal counsel for GetUp, Paul Oosting has replied by saying that “GetUp is an independent movement, we’ve existed for 12 years to hold powerbrokers to account, whether that’s corporations, political parties or governments”.
GetUp has already been investigated over the same accusation twice before, in 2005 and 2010 and both cases, the evidence to make to make the accusation stick was missing.
The latest round of attack has come from the government’s direction and has been led by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Senator Eric Abetz, both of who are carrying on a crusade against what they consider a spoiler, getting in the way of applying government policies.
GetUp’s real crime is that it has been successful in picking up public concern and making it effective.
Investigating an organisation three times within a relatively short time span is unusual and not what is usually considered fair and reasonable. This lends credibility to the accusation that the government has been pressuring the AEC, as a part of its campaign to silence what it sees as an effective critic.
Given that GetUp is reliant on the many small donations being contributed online by ordinary people, many of who do not wish to have their personal details handed over to the authorities, being forced to do so, would put the organisation’s ongoing existence in jeopardy.
Possibly the most insidious part of the whole thing is that the accusation is not based on the claim that money has been handed over to political parties, but that the activities the money was spent on was of benefit to certain political parties.
An extremely broad brush like this, covers just about any activity that could be imagined. The danger is that if this apparent loophole in the law is cemented by precedent, it can easily be applied to many other organisations.
For GetUp this amounts to pressure to formally register as an Associated Entity.
Doing so would, according to Paul Oosting, would “threaten the GetUp movement, but it would have stark implications for other activist groups and members of civil society that want to engage in our public debate”.
Given this, people can be excused if they regard this as a clear cut case of victimization, aimed at consolidating the government’s power and censoring alternative voices.
If the claim top defending the law was genuine, the relationship between companies supplying big amounts of money to political parties, especially those of the government, would be pursued just as diligently. The fact that this is not what is happening and this is the best testimony to what is really going on.
Meet the people who power GetUp
Video from GetUp! Australia