GetUp! is now anticipating an Australia Federal Police raid on its Sydney offices, as the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) investigates allegations that it is an “associated entity” of the ALP and the Greens.
The online activist organisation, which claims more than one million supporters, has defied an AEC October 20 deadline request to declare itself an associated entity or risk a criminal investigation for non-disclosure.
In meeting its compliance obligations under the Australian Electoral Act, GetUp!, has consistently declared that it is independent and not “associated” with any political party.
Any breach of the disclosure requirements for an “associated entity” is a criminal offence.
GetUp! national director Paul Oosting on Wednesday warned supporters that his organisation could expect a police raid if, as seemed likely, the AEC did not accept GetUp!’s declaration that it had no political affiliations.
In any criminal investigation, evidence pointing to a direct financial or in-kind relationship between GetUp!, the ALP or the Greens could be probative, (tending to prove) an association.
Since its formation, GetUp! has used its online subscribers to organise marginal-seat, door-knock and how-to-vote election-day rallies targeted against Liberal and National MPs and candidates, usually over refugee, marriage equality or environmental issues like stopping the Adani coal mine and protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
In correspondence sighted by The New Daily, the AEC has drawn attention to these increased activities and the Act’s definition of “associated entity”.
The AEC has questioned the apparent alignment of GetUp! campaigns, such as protecting Medicare, clean energy future and brighter budget with the ALP.
It also alleges that $10 million GetUp! spent on political activities in the financial year to June 30, 2016 (covering the last federal election), appeared to be directed to the benefit of the ALP and the Greens.
The AEC correspondence drew attention to GetUp!’s targeted campaign against Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in his Queensland electorate as particularly benefiting the ALP and told GetUp! it had 16 weeks from June 30 this year to declare it is an associated entity.
Such a self-declaration would remove the risk of GetUp! being referred for criminal investigation.
That deadline was last Friday, October 20.
‘Greatest threat grassroots movement has faced’
The perception of political independence appears to be crucial to GetUp!’s reputation as a progressive campaigner using the empowerment of instantaneous online “donate now” crowdfunding which has been transforming Australian politics.
In an email exchange with The New Daily, a GetUp! spokesperson said the AEC and the parliamentary electoral committee already had all GetUp!’s finances to the degree of detail required of associated entities and political parties.
In a message on Wednesday to GetUp! supporters seeking donations to fund a legal defence, Mr Oosting said the AEC had “cherry picked” examples of campaigns and “twisted” legal interpretations.
Mr Oosting claimed “this is the greatest threat our independent, grassroots movement has ever faced”.
“They’re trying to use the threat of criminal penalties to force GetUp! into becoming an ‘associated entity’ of Labor and the Greens, when not a single dollar has ever been exchanged between GetUp! and any political party.
“We can’t submit to their lie – even if it means facing off in court.”
The GetUp! confrontation with the AEC follows the federal police raids on Tuesday of Australian Workers Union offices in Sydney and Melbourne.
Former AWU federal secretary Bill Shorten, now Labor Opposition Leader, was a foundation board member of GetUp! from 2005 to 2007 before he entered parliament and the AWU has acknowledged it donated $100,000 to the organisation in 2005.
Under new disclosure rules, registered organisations such as trade unions have a compliance obligation to demonstrate authorisation of any expenditure of members’ funds.
The AFP raid, for which a search warrant was issued by a magistrate, was reported to have been triggered by information obtained by the newly established Registered Organisations Commission that relevant evidence might be destroyed. The AWU has vehemently denied this.
Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster and was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism.