Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 February 2020



8:38 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When you go into a shop and you pick up an item—let's say a blender—it says what you're going to get, on the side of the box. It tells you what's inside and, when you put it all together, what the blender can do. But if you buy the blender and you get it home and you open up the box and there's no blender inside—maybe just a few bits and pieces of scrap metal—the store is held accountable. The shopper exercises their rights under Consumer Law because they didn't get what they paid for. That's fair. It's right.

Let's think of a different scenario. You're told that if you donate to GetUp! every dollar will be used to build a fairer Australia, with spending on billboards, hard-hitting TV ads and rallies. You and many more Australians tip in to the tune of $12.4 million. But less than 30 per cent of that is spent on campaign expenses. In fact, for every dollar you donate only 29 cents goes on the campaigns you were promised. The rest goes on administration, hefty salaries for GetUp! executives and of course all their travel costs. You didn't get what you paid for, but you've got no remedy. You can't get a refund, and the organisation of GetUp!—described in today's paper as 'terribly secretive'—isn't interested in transparency, accountability, honesty or any of the other moralistic values it purports to fight for.

Now, this isn't some fictional scenario, despite my talk about a blender. It's GetUp!'s conduct throughout 2019. And for the donors who idealistically chipped in, well, they got cheated. GetUp! did not spend every dollar on the campaigns it promised. Here's an example. In Dickson, GetUp! ran a specific campaign to fund a mobile billboard. They collected the dollars, but the billboard never materialised. The people who volunteered, believing they were going to be part of what GetUp! calls 'a million-strong mass movement' that would be committed to arguing for the big ideas—well, they too were sorely disappointed. In fact, GetUp!'s corporate structure does not have a million members but nine plus three founding members, for a total of 12. GetUp! claims that everyone who gives them an email address is a member.

You might say, 'That's semantics; what's the difference?' Well, everyone but the 12 real members have absolutely no rights: no say in its direction, no vote and no right to hold the group accountable for how they use the public's donations—more dishonesty. And those actual 12 members, the ones with the real rights? They're people with deep links to the Australian Labor Party and the Greens, and they will do whatever it takes to destroy the careers and, if necessary, the lives of those who stand in the way of their extremist agenda.

The fact is that GetUp! isn't about making the case for the big ideas; it's about tearing down people who refuse to conform to their hard leftist ideology. My colleague the member for Boothby was subjected to a deeply personal, aggressive campaign from GetUp! Now, you might think all's fair in campaigns, and any serious politician should expect it to be hard fought. But what about relentless stalking by an individual with links to GetUp!—following her everywhere she went, a zoom-lens camera always on her, to local events, to her home, day or night, with her every move, public or private, posted online? The member for Boothby, for those who don't know her—a slight female of great intellect and integrity—confronted this man and asked him to stop. This emboldened him. He was reported to the AFP, but his conduct still escalated. The South Australian police had to take out a stalking order for her protection. GetUp! and this man worked hand in glove. GetUp! supported his Facebook page, re-posted his posts—including those that were the fruit of his stalking—and posted my colleague's location in real time to encourage others to confront her. They didn't even ban him from the site when they knew a stalking order had been issued. Ms Downer, a candidate in Mayo, faced similar stalking.

GetUp! trains volunteers to engage in what's called bird dogging. It's the practice of forming teams to physically and verbally disrupt candidates at meetings, public appearances and media interviews or while attending community events and facilities like kindies, parks or shopping centres. They yell and chant defamatory statements and slogans. They used handheld speakers to drown out, interrupt and intimidate Ms Flint everywhere she went. Bird dogging is a tactic developed by the US Democratic campaign activists, and it's named after an American hunting term. It might have a funny name, but it's no joke. It was a tactic that empowered extreme elements to go even further—graffitiing Ms Flint's office with sexually explicit slogans and engaging in phone canvassing that descended into lies, hate and vitriol, including of a misogynistic kind. Campaign vehicles were vandalised. The office was egged. Bird dogging was used in Dickson, in Flinders and in Wentworth, too.

It's not just bad manners or bad behaviour. It's relentless harassment and intimidation designed to psychologically crush and scar the target, and it's wrong. Yet, GetUp! trains and directs people to do it. I've seen the toll this conduct took on my friend, Ms Flint. She's strong, she's a fighter, and even she was more than shaken. She reported being scared in her own home at night, not knowing whether the stalker would take it even further.

This week we've spent a lot of time reflecting on violence against women. But, if we're serious, we can't turn our backs and ignore this abhorrent conduct, pretending it's fair game in politics. And what about those volunteers who didn't want to be a part of this kind of grubby play? Well, they got dumped on polling booths, with volunteers describing the material they were left with as being 'so off topic and irrelevant to local voters'—not a billboard, rally or TV ad in sight.

As GetUp! burns its reputation by treating people as commodities to be fleeced and then deployed for the nastiest of work, don't think GetUp! will end. It's a beast with many heads, each one looking different so it can continue to trick naive Aussies into giving them more money and time. With scarcely concealed front organisations like ColourCode and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, this monster will keep morphing so that it can keep its cohort of hard Left executives in a job.

GetUp! says it's a grassroots movement about making Australia fair, but it doesn't play fair. It says it wants to give people a voice, but it doesn't give the people it calls its members a say. It says it wants a better democracy but it shouts down and intimidates to the point of criminality those who aren't a part of its tribe. It says, 'Every dollar raised will fund campaigns,' but it spends most of it on funding executives' own salaries and travel.

The guts of it is this: if we want this country to be its best, we need great people to want to be in parliament. We need young people to aspire to it. We need to encourage Australians from all walks of life to want to make the sacrifices needed to make a contribution in politics. When groups like GetUp! scrape the barrel with this conduct, they make good, honest Australians reach the rather sensible conclusion that it's just not worth putting their families and themselves through the trauma. I can't blame Aussies for making that call. But every single Australian is the poorer for it. Toxic, hysterical, negative and polarised—that's the conduct of GetUp! And, sadly, that's its real vision for Australia and Australian politics.