The Morrison government is stepping up efforts to curb the campaign operations of GetUp, accusing the activist group of training and directing its supporters to target Liberal candidates with “relentless harassment and intimidation designed to psychologically crush and scar”.
Queensland Liberal senator Amanda Stoker said she had seen the toll GetUp’s conduct had taken on South Australian MP Nicolle Flint at last year’s election when she faced a male “stalker”. Speaking in parliament, Senator Stoker said her Liberal colleague confronted the man, asked him to stop and reported him to police, only to find his conduct escalated.
“GetUp and this man worked hand-in-glove,” she claimed. “GetUp supported his Facebook page, reposted his posts, including those which were the fruit of his stalking, and posted my colleague’s location in real time, encouraging others to confront her. “They didn’t even ban him from the site when they knew a stalking order had been issued.”
The allegations, which GetUp rejects, were aired during a Senate adjournment speech signalling renewed Coalition efforts to seek intervention by the Australian Electoral Commission that could place curbs on GetUp on the campaign trail and at voting booths.
Senator Stoker accused GetUp of “bird-dogging” — a US-style campaign tactic in which teams “physically and verbally disrupt candidates”.
“It’s relentless harassment and intimidation designed to psychologically crush and scar the target,” she said. “And it’s wrong, yet Getup trains and directs people to do it.”
She said other candidates were subject to similar treatment, including Georgina Downer in Mayo, Peter Dutton in Dickson, Greg Hunt in Flinders and Dave Sharma in Wentworth. But she singled out the alleged treatment of Ms Flint, which also included “sexually explicit” graffiti. “We can’t turn our back and ignore this abhorrent conduct, pretending it’s fair game in politics,” she said.
Coalition MPs have made several attempts to have the AEC rate GetUp as an “associated entity” of Labor or the Greens, which would undermine its claim to be independent and force tougher campaign finance disclosure. Senator Stoker’s comments, based on post-election submissions to a parliamentary committee, indicate a renewed push to place limits on GetUp.
Senator Stoker also highlighted reports in The Australian this week showing GetUp spent less than 30 per cent of its public donations on “campaign expenses” last year. It promised “every dollar” would be used to build a fairer nation, with spending on billboards, TV ads and rallies, while spending the bulk of $12.4m donations on salaries ($7.2m), administration ($1.4m), rent ($806,000) and travel ($507,000). “For the donors who idealistically chipped in, well, they got cheated,” Senator Stoker said.
A GetUp spokeswoman said the group’s national director, Paul Oosting, had been too busy to hear Senator Stoker’s speech but “it seems the senator is repeating mistruths reported by the Murdoch media”. Mr Oosting posed briefly in front of an anti-News Corp billboard truck outside the company’s Sydney offices in Surry Hills on Wednesday.
GetUp also lashed out in emails to supporters, launching a campaign against News Corp, publisher of The Australian, urging Woolworths and other big-name companies to cease advertising in group papers.
Published in The Australian 27 February 2020 by Brad Norington.