NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Just how 'independent' is GetUp?
, September 28, 2013
GetUp! is an Australian online left-wing activist group. It claims to be “an independent, grass-roots community advocacy organisation which aims to build a more progressive Australia by giving everyday Australians the opportunity to get involved and hold politicians accountable on important issues”.
According to its website, “Since its inception seven years ago, the GetUp! community has grown to include over half a million members who are not afraid to stand up and have their say about important progressive political issues, helping shape the direction of Australian politics.”
Former GetUp! director and Greens candidate
Simon Sheikh, right, with Greens leader
The “half a million members” are people who have signed one of GetUp!’s many petitions. Its members do not have any rights of ownership over the organisation, never get to vote for its office-bearers, nor do they have any of the normal rights of membership — other than being cannon-fodder for GetUp!’s political campaigns.
Among the issues where GetUp! has claimed success are its campaigns 1) to ban live animal exports, 2) to halt coal exports (allegedly to save the Great Barrier Reef), 3) to bring David Hicks home from Guantanamo Bay, and 4) to legalise same-sex marriage.
In the recent federal election, GetUp! distributed a leaflet headed, “Where do they stand?”. It claimed: “GetUp! asked over 600,000 Australians which issues were most important to them at this election. Here’s how the parties stack up.”
What followed was GetUp!’s election guide, with ranking of only four groups: Labor, the Coalition, the Greens and the Sex Party, the last of which represents the pornography and prostitution industries. (GetUp!’s online results omitted the Sex Party.)
The issues on which GetUp! chose to rate the parties were the environment, social justice, fair economy and human rights.
Overall, its printed guide, deposited into many thousands of letter-boxes around Australia, gave the top rating to the Greens and the Sex Party, with Labor a little way behind, and the Coalition at the lowest level on all issues.
The close links between the Greens and GetUp! were highlighted during the campaign.
The former national director of GetUp!, Simon Sheikh, was the Greens’ lead candidate for the Senate in the Australian Capital Territory. (ALP records show that Sheikh had been a member of the ALP from 2004 to 2008.)
GetUp! is run from Sydney, and Sheikh only moved to Canberra last year, after saying that he was leaving GetUp! to avoid burn-out.
Within months of moving to Canberra, Sheikh nominated for the top spot on the Greens’ ticket, arousing fierce criticism from other Greens in the city.
According to a newspaper report last November, “A bitter stoush has been sparked by the nomination of high-profile former GetUp! director Simon Sheikh and the apparent endorsement he received from federal Greens leader Christine Milne” (Canberra Times, November 1, 2012).
One of the other candidates, Kate Hamilton, told the Canberra Times she would be actively running against Mr Sheikh for top billing on the party’s Senate ticket.
Describing Mr Sheikh as a “celebrity candidate”, who had only recently joined the Greens and moved to Canberra, Ms Hamilton said the strength of the party was in its grassroots origins.
“Parachuting in candidates will alienate members as it has in the major parties,” she said. “I am surprised Mr Sheikh chose the Senate seat in Canberra as his next career goal. You know Canberra voters don’t necessarily reward fly-in fly-out lobbyists.”
The convener of the Greens in the ACT, Simon Copland, criticised Ms Hamilton for speaking out against Simon Sheikh.
He told the Canberra Times, “Kate Hamilton’s actions are against ACT Greens process which prohibits preselection candidates from campaigning against each other in the media. For this reason, the party will take appropriate action in relation to this.”
Mr Copland did not say what that action might be, nor did he comment on the fact that Mr Sheikh spoke earlier to the Canberra Times about his nomination. Greens leader Senator Milne, publicly said she was delighted at his willingness to join the team.
On his website, Sheikh described the ACT Senate seat as “the most marginal … in the country”, leaving the clear impression that his shift to Canberra was to advance his political career.
Sheikh secured top spot on the Greens’ ticket in the ACT, prompting fierce criticism from retiring Liberal senator for the ACT, Gary Humphries.
Senator Humphries told the Canberra Times: “To the Greens, Canberra is just another notch in the belt. By preselecting someone who has lived here for a month and a bit, the Greens have shown just how out of touch they are when it comes to the real issues facing Canberra households and businesses.
“The Greens will again throw resources, money and a parachuted candidate into the ACT campaign to attempt to clock up another seat in Federal Parliament,” he said.
Greens leader Senator Christine Milne endorsed Mr Sheikh’s candidacy in the Canberra Times, December 6, 2012.
However, in the subsequent federal election, Simon Sheikh was unsuccessful in defeating the leading Liberal candidate, Zdenko “Zed” Seselja.