By Kyran O’Dwyer
There is a ‘to-do’ over GetUp and a pending stoush with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) as to whether they are an “associated entity”. As best as I can find out, GetUp is not currently listed as an “associated entity” with the AEC. The AEC have requested GetUp complete an “Associated Entity Disclosure Return” by 20th October or risk prosecution.
For the sake of the exercise, according to the AEC:
An associated entity under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (s287) means an entity:
• that is controlled by one or more registered political parties; or
• that operates wholly or to a significant extent for the benefit of one or more registered political parties; or
• that is a financial member of a registered political party; or
• on whose behalf another person is a financial member of a registered political party; or
• that has voting rights in a registered political party; or
• on whose behalf another person has voting rights in a registered political party.
Examples of associated entities include ‘500 clubs’, ‘think tanks’, registered clubs, service companies, trade unions and corporate party members.
Associated Entities are required to lodge an Associated Entity Disclosure Return by 20 October each year.
Presumably, the intent of the legislation is disclosure and transparency. That individuals, groups and corporations have to disclose if they are a partisan entity ‘operating wholly or to a significant extent for the benefit of one or more registered political parties.’
The 2015/16 Associated Entity Summary – Annual Returns is an interesting read. Whilst it is a veritable who’s who of Unions, and some companies, there are notable omissions. The Australian Bankers Association, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Hotels Association, the Institute of Public Affairs, the Australian Christian Lobby (the list would be endless) don’t get a mention.
All of these groups are ‘conservative’ entities that openly advocate for their member’s interests. Which is fair enough. Just like unions advocating for their member’s interests.
All of these groups are frequently cited in ‘supportive’ arguments for like-minded ‘conservative’ governments. Which is fair enough. Just like unions are often cited in ‘supportive’ arguments for like-minded ‘progressive’ governments.
All of these groups are active and vocal participants in our political arena. And they are unashamedly partisan. After all, they are beneficiaries of generous government consideration. But they are not “Associated Entities”. Their achievements include getting rid of the carbon levy, the mining tax, any suggestion of a Royal Commission into corporate malfeasance. And so on.
But none of these groups are “Associated Entities”. Most Unions are.
GetUp is an ‘associated entity’, according to the hapless Abetz.
From the GetUp website:
GetUp is an independent campaigning community made up of over one million everyday people working together to build a fair, flourishing, and just Australia.
We’re boldly progressive and people-powered to our very core.
We’re fiercely independent – we’re not linked to any political parties, we don’t have or want charity status, and we don’t accept any funding from Government.
Our independence is woven into our DNA – because this movement is powered by hundreds of thousands of amazing Australians who sign up, contact their politicians, and chip in to power campaigns.
When you support GetUp, you’re powering a million-strong, strategically savvy organisation that makes real change happen. And every dollar you donate to GetUp is used to build a more fair, flourishing, and just Australia.
OK, they state categorically they are not linked to any political parties and are not registered as a charity or in receipt of government funding. (As an aside, the IPA and ACL are registered charities).
And, from any reading of their ‘mission statement’ or any other literature they have produced, they are an ‘issues based’ organisation, campaigning for change on an issue by issue basis, as developed by their members.
“Our work is driven by our values, not party politics. GetUp is, and always has been, an independent organisation. GetUp members come from every walk of life and around a shared belief in fairness, compassion and courage. We campaign on issues that our members care about in the fields of Environmental Justice, Human Rights, Economic Fairness and Democracy.”
So, how did the ‘complaint’ arise? Well, just like in 2005 and 2010, LNP Senators complained to the AEC, who, in previous years, conducted enquiries as to whether GetUp was an ‘Associated Entity’. Back in 2010:
The AEC has examined the above additional information. The AEC has also considered the previous information in its possession and the lists of all the GetUp campaigns set out on its website. The AEC readily acknowledges that many of GetUp activities could be reasonably regarded as of some “benefit” to the ‘left’ parties (e.g. the anti-Coalition Senate campaign in the ACT prior to the 2007 election). However, the AEC also notes that many of the activities of GetUp appear to be solely issue based (e.g. climate change, human rights, indigenous homelands, close the gap, internet censorship, economic fairness, buy me a river, paid maternity leave, end mandatory detention, etc.) rather than supporting or advocating support for a particular registered party political.
Taking into account all of the activities undertaken by GetUp since 2006, the AEC has been unable to conclude that those activities which may reasonably be regarded as directly benefiting a particular political party comprise the whole or a significant proportion of all the activities undertaken by GetUp and are of benefit to a particular political party. The AEC is of the view that the present information and available evidence is unlikely to be sufficient to enable a Court in a criminal prosecution to find that GetUp is operating “wholly, or to a significant extent” for the benefit of either/both the Australian Labor Party and/or the Greens.
This time, when the Senator’s complained, the AEC seems to have bypassed any assessment as to whether GetUp is an ‘Associated Entity’, but issued a demand they complete an “Associated Entity Return”.
Does anyone else think that’s odd? An allegation is made against them and, without any assessment or analysis, a judgement is made and a demand is issued. The ABC gave Abetz a fair run.
The Guardian was a little more diligent:
Under electoral law an associated entity is one controlled by or “operates wholly or to a significant extent for the benefit” of a registered political party. Associated entities face more stringent reporting requirements, including disclosure of donations.
Guardian Australia understands the AEC wrote to GetUp noting it might have to submit an associated entity disclosure because its 2016 election activities benefited Labor and the Greens.
The AEC said it had not come to a final conclusion on whether GetUp was an associated entity, but said the organisation could risk prosecution if it did not complete the return by the deadline of last Friday.
GetUp refused to submit the return, arguing in lengthy submissions that it is independent of the political parties.
Another aspect of the Liberal ‘complaint’ is that GetUp recently appointed two new Directors to their Board, both of whom have ‘Labor ties’. The cross membership of the IPA and the Liberal party, not to mention the endless supply of IPA muppets in the media, is, apparently, no cause for concern.
But has the hapless Abetz scored an ‘own goal’ beyond his intention? By questioning GetUp’s independence, he has exposed the hypocrisy imbedded in the system. If GetUp can be subject to scrutiny, why can’t the IPA, ABA, AHA, ACL and all the other groups? If anyone can ask the AEC to investigate whether an entity is an ‘Associated Entity’ or not, GetUp have their next campaign mapped out, surely.
As with all things associated with disclosure and transparency in Australia, the ‘process’ is as clear as mud. It does seem, however, that the AEC is being used by politicians to pursue an agenda. This is now a common theme in Australia, the politicization of government agencies.
And, right on cue, the Australian Federal Police have conducted raids on Australian Workers Union offices in Melbourne and Sydney.
The investigation relates to whether donations made to activist group GetUp were authorised under union rules.
The AFP issued a statement confirming they were carrying out the raids on behalf of the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), the independent regulator of unions and employer associations.
Instead they’ve gone for the circus of involving the AFP — who are just doing their jobs — and executing a search warrant for documents that had they asked for, requested, or served the notice to produce, we would have willingly provided them.
This is an abuse of power, this is an abuse of process, you have not heard the end of this.
By using the AEC and AFP in what appears to be a political exercise underscores the need for the AEC to completely overhaul the whole mess. It also opens up the whole ‘political donations’ box. Another article in The Guardian makes reference to an inquiry into the whole system.
Senior members of the Liberal and Labor parties have admitted voter distrust of Australia’s political donations regime has become so pervasive that it is feeding a general disregard for democracy.
The paper will inform a review of Australia’s donations system, and a possible overhaul of the rules regulating donations and disclosure for political parties.
It draws attention to the role played by modern activist groups that fall outside the federal Electoral Act and are unregulated by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
Many Australians do not have sufficient faith in the integrity of Australia’s electoral processes, particularly in relation to donations and disclosure.
Whilst I still do not accept that a political problem is necessarily a sign of the demise of democracy, the paper, and the ensuing allegations against GetUp, may well have an unintended benefit. Ensuring democratic principles are established as precursors of political governance, not excuses for political abuse.
There is absolutely no prospect of this government doing anything. This is yet another example of a chaotic government lurching from one ‘own goal’ to another. Their mind numbing incompetence is, however, underscoring the need for fundamental and significant change to make sure that we, the people, cannot be exposed again to the damage caused by fools such as these. As to the use of government agencies for political purposes, does anyone still believe the Dutton/Pezzullo assurances that they will only use their new powers for good?
By way of disclosure, I have no affiliation whatsoever with GetUp, other than signing some of their petitions. I have no affiliation whatsoever with any political parties. All of the information used in this post was publicly sourced and no comments or enquiries were sought from or directed to any of the entities cited. I loathe Abetz, and those of his ilk.