The head of GetUp! has launched a blistering attack on the integrity of the Australian Electoral Commission, declaring its preliminary review of the activist’s group’s independent status “seems stacked against us, with cherrypicked facts and twisted interpretations”.
The attack by GetUp! national director Paul Oosting was sent in an email to the group’s members that seeks donations for a potential legal battle with the AEC.
GetUp! is preparing for legal action as the AEC considers requests to change its declared status under electoral laws from independent to “associated entity”.
The AEC defines an associated entity as operating “wholly or to a significant extent to the benefit of one or more of the registered political parties”.
GetUp! appears desperate to avoid “associated entity” status because it would be forced to lodge financial disclosure returns with much stricter conditions. Source donors would be required to lodge returns as well.
Losing independent status could also affect GetUp’s branding, potentially undermining its broader support base if it was officially regarded as an arm of Labor or the Greens, or both.
The left-leaning activist group has successfully fought off two attempts to change its electoralstatus since 2005 based on Coalition claims it is really a “front”.
In last year’s federal election campaign, GetUp! issued how-tovote cards for the first time that were all directed against the Coalition. GetUp!’s chairman and a number of board members have strong Labor links, and Bill Shorten was one of its founding directors, and a big donor of union funds.
Mr Oosting has told members the group now faces “the greatest threat our independent grassroots movement as ever faced”. He insists GetUp! remains fully independent, and its disclosure of donor information is already far above legal requirements for a non-aligned issues-based campaign organisation. GetUp! refused to meet a deadline of last Friday to submit full financial accounts as requested by the AEC, and faces possible penalties.
Asked yesterday by The Australian if he lacked confidence in the AEC‘s impartiality, Mr Oosting did not repeat his criticism, instead shifting his attack to the Coalition.
“It’s distressing that the hard right of the Liberal Party would use an independent government entity to stop everyday Australians from holding the powerful to account,” he said.
The GetUp! assault on the AEC is unusual because all mainstream parties support it as an independent, impartial regulator of the electoral system.
Special Minister of State Scott Ryan said last night GetUp! should be “ashamed” of its attack on the AEC‘s independence.
“Electoral laws apply equally to all Australians, regardless of their political affiliations. I have complete faith in the AEC to conduct its reviews in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act,” he said.
Labor’s Don Farrell said: “Any review of GetUp! is entirely a matter for the Australian Electoral Commission, which is independent of government.” Liberal senator Eric Abetz, a trenchant GetUp! critic, said: “For GetUp! to suggest (the AEC) is somehow a part of a right-wing conspiracy is laughable.”