All about GetUp’s dictatorial structure
The lemming mentality used by GetUp!
Brad Norington in today’s Weekend Australian provide a very in-depth legal explanation of GetUp’s corporate structure. Also exposed is the tactics GetUp uses to sway voters to their cause. However, apart from explaining GetUp’s potential power as a group it never gets mentioned that the voter has the ultimate power to place their vote how they choose, not how GetUp chooses. Every voter should know by now that campaign advertising is bristling with bullshit, even absolute lies and deceptions and nothing can be done about it. The laws believe it is the voter’s responsibility to decide for themselves and it is. Therefore, the solution to GetUp’s reported power is to ignore every word they proffer—it really is as simple as that. Do your homework!
When the GetUp activist group mobilises its army of volunteer supporters in next year’s election campaign, the plan is to target the seats of high-profile Coalition MPs such as Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton. It will not be the first time Abbott and Dutton have faced an aggressive GetUp onslaught. They survived in 2016, but some of their conservative colleagues did not.
Source: News Corp
GetUp’s nine deciding votes
GetUp’s growing success as a campaign machine comes from its ability to combine very effectively the new techniques of social media activism and old-fashioned boots on the ground.
Modelled on the Left-leaning US-based MoveOn, GetUp has strong links to international campaign organisations and has become a financial force: annual reports show revenue from donors reached $10 million in the year of the 2016 federal election.
Critical to GetUp’s credibility is how it promotes itself as a “fiercely independent”, “grassroots” and “democratic” activist organisation of one million members. These members, says GetUp, drive the organisation and determine what it does.
But is GetUp, while a formidable campaign operation, any of these things?
Those who pull the strings sit on a nine-member board. Of those nine, five are Labor Party members or historically active in the party. The rest lean towards the Greens as refugee, indigenous or climate change activists.
The dominant affiliation at the top — Labor — raises legitimate questions about GetUp’s claimed independence. GetUp denies it is a campaign arm of Labor or the Greens. It has fended off efforts by Tasmanian Liberal Eric Abetz since 2010 to have the group recognised by the Australian Electoral Commission as an “associated entity” of Labor in particular.
One thing GetUp can no longer deny is just how tightly controlled the organisation really is — and by whom. All of GetUp’s power is vested in its board because of the way the group is structured as a company limited by guarantee.
The only “full members” of GetUp are the nine board directors, increased last month from eight with the appointment of former Labor for Refugees activist and CFMEU official Karen Iles. A further three “founding members” have no role in running the organisation but are recognised in perpetuity for starting it in 2004.
There are no other members beyond these 12, apart from “any other class (of members) determined by the board from time to time”. GetUp’s board has not taken up the opportunity thus far. A further category of “ordinary members” was abolished by “GetUp Limited” in constitutional amendments submitted to the Australian Securities & Investments Commission in July.
Despite annual surveys that purportedly survey GetUp “members” for input and annual reports describing these people as “members”, the group’s supporters are not members. They are not mentioned in any membership register of any legal standing. They have no voting rights. They rate no mention in GetUp Limited’s corporate constitution. The board leadership takes all decisions with no obligation to give anyone outside its closed circle a say. When board members leave, they cease to be members and are replaced through a board vote. Annual general meetings of GetUp members are meetings of the board.
GetUp campaigns for transparency and accountability in politics, yet its own operation is opaque. The tightly controlled GetUp structure has become clearer because of a recent inspection of its membership register by a West Australian Liberal MP, Ben Morton, using his right to do so under the Corporations Act.
Despite past doubts expressed about GetUp as a democratic and grassroots entity, the inspection settled the issue by confirming the group’s membership was limited to one page of eight board members (now nine), and three founding members. It did not include a single person from the wider support base. GetUp supporters are no more than an email list of subscribers or donors.
John Wanna, professor of politics at Australian National University and Griffith University, says the GetUp corporate structure reflects a fundamental “disconnect” with its alleged members.
Wanna likens GetUp’s make-up to one that might shock some supporters. “It’s very like how Pauline Hanson originally set up her One Nation party,” he tells The Australian. “It (the One Nation structure) was initially ruled legitimate but later thrown out.”
GetUp’s structure seems to be at no risk of being “thrown out”. Indeed, the large batch of constitutional changes submitted to the ASIC in July would suggest control in the hands of few has been enhanced and consolidated.
Wanna says GetUp is not like companies such as BHP, where shareholders are able to vote out board members or have a direct impact such as stopping executive pay rises, as NAB shareholders did this week.
It is not unusual for some organisations to set themselves up as GetUp has done, according to Wanna. But he says the group cannot claim its operations are democratic. Nor can supporters legally regard themselves as members.
“The rest are subordinate supporters who have no say,” he says. “It does look to be a disjunction between the organisation’s democratic ideals and its structure.”
By deliberately restricting control to nine “full member” directors, Wanna suggests the purpose could be to “intentionally keep members at arm’s length”.
He adds: “It could be to disguise how Labor-oriented GetUp is because they may seem to be Labor-oriented. Sometimes this structure is also set up to stop fringe groups on the far Left or far Right taking over.”
GetUp sent volunteers to election booths to hand out how-to-vote cards favouring Labor or the Greens in 2016. It intends a repeat exercise next year, with more vigour and resources. This time Abbott is at serious risk of losing his seat as GetUp co-ordinates with local groups opposed to the former prime minister. Dutton’s position is even more precarious.
Wanna says the group is entitled not only to campaign in the field but station its supporters outside polling booths with how-to-vote cards — as long as it sticks to rules set by the AEC.
“Anyone from the public can hand out how-to-vote cards and put up banners, providing you stand a certain distance away from the polling booth and don’t interfere with voters or pester them,” he says.
AEC rules say “party workers” can assist electors by handing out how-to-vote cards provided the cards carry no misleading material about the voting process and are properly authorised. Campaigners must stand at least 6m from a polling booth entrance.
GetUp campaigns against Coalition candidates, never for them. The targeting of conservative MPs at the previous federal election was considered instrumental in removing Liberals Andrew Nikolic in Tasmania and Louise Markus in NSW.
GetUp was very active during the Longman by-election campaign that returned Labor’s Susan Lamb in July after she had fallen foul of citizenship provisions in the Constitution.
For the Wentworth by-election to choose Malcolm Turnbull’s successor in his previously safe Sydney seat, the evidence is strong that GetUp’s intense social media activity and other work in the final fortnight of the October campaign helped swing votes from Liberal candidate Dave Sharma to give independent Kerryn Phelps a close win on preferences. GetUp board member Daniel Stone even ran Phelps’s digital campaign through his company Principle Co.
The sitting chairman of GetUp’s board is Phil Ireland, a Labor member and recent convener of the party’s environmental action network in NSW.
Ireland campaigned in 2016 for Susan Templeman, Labor’s candidate in the western Sydney seat of Macquarie. He wore a party T-shirt with Templeman and her team on election day.
Stone, appointed to the GetUp board last year, also has a strong Labor pedigree as a party member and director of Labor’s digital campaigns for the 2016 federal and 2015 NSW elections. The ALP and individual party candidates rate among the main clients of Principle Co.
GetUp board member Stephen Monk, also appointed last year, has links to the Tasmanian ALP and social media connections to many Labor identities.
Board member Min Guo, a Melbourne barrister, started out as a Young Labor member in Adelaide. Later, living in Sydney and working as a business analyst, Min belonged to the ALP’s inner-west Erskineville branch. He switched to the Richmond branch in 2011 when he moved to Melbourne to work with Labor-aligned law firm Maurice Blackburn.
Karen Iles, GetUp’s latest board addition, is another with a strong ALP pedigree. She started out with Young Labor in Sydney. While working as a legal officer with the CFMEU in the early 2000s, and then the Australian Services Union, Iles was active in Labor for Refugees in the ALP’s NSW branch. A Sydney Morning Herald article reported senior Labor officials as saying she was among “potential leaders of the next generation of the party”. Since then her career as a human rights lawyer has taken a different turn, working for KPMG, Tata Consultancy and law firm Colin Biggers & Paisley.
Of the four other directors without a clear Labor history, board member Alex Rafalowicz has links to the Greens as a former adviser to Greens candidate and former GetUp national director Simon Sheikh. GetUp deputy chair Carla McGrath is an indigenous campaigner, Sara Saleh is a campaigner for Palestine and supporter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and Lyn Goldsworthy is a climate change activist.
Labor Party leader Bill Shorten was one of GetUp’s start-up directors and an early donor of funds from the Australian Workers Union when he was its leader. Shorten quit the board before entering parliament in 2007. The exact amount Shorten donated from his union is not clear because he has declined to say and the AWU will not reveal it, but The Australian has confirmed it was at least $100,000. GetUp’s biggest donation of $1.12 million came from the Labor-affiliated CFMEU in 2010, to help with that year’s election campaign.
GetUp volunteers who spoke to The Australian were in the dark about the group they supported. They did not know who controlled it but they also seemed largely untroubled.
Libby Boyd, 64, a former teacher from North Balgowlah in Abbott’s Warringah electorate, says she began donating to GetUp in 2016. Boyd has become more involved since Turnbull’s exit as prime minister in August.
She says she is unaware of the “specifics” of how the group is structured but believes “all volunteers automatically become members”. She has found her experience of volunteering with GetUp “extremely democratic”.
Lane Cove retiree and GetUp supporter Lyn Gale also says she is unsure of the group’s senior leadership structure but feels her input is heard.
“I imagine it’s a democratic structure, but I don’t know certainly,” she says. “They really have a social conscience, which I admire and respect. I think it works like a government — they take input and the decision-makers gauge a consensus and take a direction.”
Gale’s first involvement with GetUp was handing out leaflets in 2007 urging voters to oust John Howard. Now she’s doing the same for Abbott.
Morton, the Liberal MP who inspected GetUp’s membership register as a representative of the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Matters, says the one-page result shows it is really a small “club”.
Morton, who has used committee hearings to scrutinise GetUp’s leadership about whether its campaign scripts match annual surveys of supporters, says the group has promoted for a long time the “fiction” that it acts on the wishes of its claimed million members.
The reality, he says, is that the nine “full members” on the board call the shots. The total membership is 12, counting three founders: David Madden, Jeremy Heimans and Amanda Tattersall.
According to Morton, GetUp “is” the board. Its disregard for the will of supporters was demonstrated by how the group’s 2016 vision survey of the alleged membership was “ignored” or “misrepresented”.
Instead of campaigning on offshore detention of asylum-seekers, identified by supporters surveyed as their first or second priority for the 2016 federal election, the GetUp leadership campaigned on “mythical cuts to hospitals” that dovetailed with Labor’s election campaign.
GetUp behaved similarly in the Longman by-election, Morton says, by focusing on funding for the local hospital and schools. Again in Longman, he says, GetUp ran a campaign parallel to Labor’s own — removed from climate change or asylum-seekers that typically topped survey lists.
A spokeswoman for GetUp says any suggestion its supporters are not members is “playing with words” because the group’s model could not power its campaigns “without its members”.
“It’s built into our purpose in the constitution,” she tells The Australian. “We are governed by corporate rules like all other organisations.”
The spokeswoman says the group’s members are listed on its website, and Morton cannot be serious if he is suggesting that one million “members” must be on the board.
The group’s constitution says its objects are very broad: they seek to “advance progressive public policy” and make no reference to members. On its website, GetUp says its corporate structure makes every board member a “full member” of the GetUp company and mentions the three “founding members”. It then says these members are not to be confused with “GetUp members” who “empower our campaigns”.
GetUp’s spokeswoman says: “GetUp is our members. Without members signing petitions, contacting MPs, hitting the streets, knocking on doors and chipping in funds, there is no campaign.”
Morton says he is dismayed. He, while partisan, argues facts speak for themselves. He does not suggest all GetUp supporters should be on the board, only that it would be deceptive to call the group’s supporters members.
“They do not even appear on a membership register — they have no real say,” he says. “Members of the Liberal, Labor and Greens parties are actually members of their parties.”
Additional Reporting: Elias Visontay