Activism around an election: Australia 2007

GetUp forms part of the new generation of activist communities, including MoveOn in the US and Avaaz globally, which are making the most of new technologies to enable people to take action on a range of progressive issues. Here's how GetUp mobilised Australians in the run up to the 2007 General election.

What is GetUp?

GetUp (www.getup.org.au) is an independent, grass- roots community advocacy organisation giving everyday Australians opportunities to get involved and hold politicians accountable on important issues. Whether it is sending an email to a member of parliament, engaging with the media, attending an event or helping to get a television ad on the air, GetUp members take targeted, coordinated and strategic action.

GetUp does not back any particular party, but aims to build an accountable and progressive Parliamen - a Parliament with economic fairness, social justice and environment at its core. GetUp is a not-for-profit and receives no money from any political party or the government. We rely solely on funds and in-kind donations from the Australian public.

GetUp was founded in 2005 by Jeremy Heimans and David Madden, two young Australian graduates of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government who have worked at the intersection of technology, new media and politics in the United States. It is run by a small team of around 10 staff, including administrators.

Elections 2007

The campaigns GetUp ran during the election can be divided into three areas: enrol voters, direct voter persuasion and setting the agenda of the political debate and parties.

Enrol the voters

Australia has a compulsory voting system, so there are not usually voter enrolment drives targeted at the general public by independent organisations or political parties. However changes to the electoral Act meant that thousands of potential voters would not have the opportunity to vote.

GetUp commissioned polling on the number of Australians aware of the changes to the electoral Act and held a "national enrolment Week" in August. efforts were targeted on seven key marginal electorates; volunteers mobilised online distributed nearly 4,000 enrolment forms, and organised 13 separate university drives.

Activism Around an Election: AU 07 image 1
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Flyers were used to raise GetUp's key issues in voter's minds when comparing the parties.

Direct voter persuasion

As an independent organisation GetUp did not back or endorse a political party. However this did not mean that GetUp would let the parties decide how their policies were seen by voters.

The GetUp electoral program was broken into three tiers. The first tier was geographical areas of particular political importance, which had paid GetUp organisers on the ground organising and coordinating events. The second tier was geographical areas of secondary political importance in metropolitan areas, where activities were organised and coordinated by interns from the national office. The third tier was (generally) rural and regional areas in which tools were made available online for volunteers to self-organise with minimal staff involvement. All these tiers used a series of flyers.

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An Election Day flyer provided a direct comparison chart showing the parties' policies on key issues.

The first set of flyers were designed to ensure that voters were thinking about the issues GetUp campaigns on as they make up their mind between the parties. The 'Imagine an Australia…' flyers were distributed in key electorates by 6,000 volunteers across Australia from six months before the election until election Day.

However for election Day, with all the parties' policies confirmed, GetUp produced a comparison table, so that voters could see how the parties compared on the issues we campaigned on. These flyers were handed out at hundreds of polling booths by thousands of volunteers across Australia.

GetUp also launched HowShouldIVote.com.au and invited all citizens to generate customised voting guides based entirely on their own preferences. This was the first time in Australian history that such personalised guides based entirely on the issues were available.

Every candidate nationwide was invited to fill out a survey to indicate where they stood on the issues. Users filled out the survey to determine their best match. Their personalised How-To-Vote cards were then available online, via email and SMS so they could take them right into the polls on election Day.

Setting the agenda of the political debate and parties

GetUp used a variety of tactics to attempt to set the agenda of the debate in the election. As well as commissioning polls and stunts to get media coverage, the campaign involved the GetUp community via email action requests:

Activism Around an Election: AU 07 Oz Ad
An online competition asked volunteers to compile a 30 second TV ad, and members funded the broadcast of the winning ad.
  • online petitions to both parties asking for a policy commitment,
  • creating print ads and asking members to fund them,
  • asking members to join the Walk against Warming, a national series of rallies raising the profile of climate change,
  • arranging stunts - volunteers creating a human sign on a beach, dressing up with swimming floaties at events etc, and
  • the 'Oz in 30 seconds' competition (www.ozin30seconds.org) - asking members to submit 30 second ads, vote on the submissions and fund the winning ad's broadcast.

Results

Talking about "six unique features" of the 2007 Australian Federal election, Peter Hartcher, the Sydney Morning Herald's Political editor, said "The 2007 election is the first to witness the advent of GetUp!".

Some of the impacts he was referring to include:

  • taking a leading role in the campaign to restore balance and accountability to the Senate by ending the Coalition's monopoly on power, including Australia's first ever multi-party election ad,
  • empowering all Australians to vote based on the actual issues they care most about,
  • seeing over 150,000 personalised How-To-Vote cards distributed, matching over 1% of the voting population with the candidates who most aligned with their views,
  • creating a sophisticated online to offline mobilisation programme, turning out 8000 volunteers throughout the election period, including 3500 in polling booths in over 100 electorates on election Day, effecting over half a million voter contacts, distributing multi-issue party comparison scorecards.

Oliver MacColl was GetUp's National Organiser for the Australian Federal Election 2007. oliver.maccoll@gmail.com

by Oliver MacColl, GetUp (Australia) published Sep 15, 2008,
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