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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters - 2016 Submission - GetUp

Mr Thor Prohaska,
Lawnton Qld 4501

thorlp@hotkey.net.au
0419 344 806

29 October 2016

Committee Secretary,
Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters,
PO Box 6021,
Parliament House,
Canberra ACT 2600

GetUp’s deceptive & misleading conduct at the 2016 Federal Election

Dear Committee Secretary,

Please find in the body of this document my submission to the ‘Inquiry into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2016 Federal Election and matters related thereto’

I was the Independent Candidate for the Federal Seat of Dickson at the 2 July 2016 election. In that capacity I had dealings with GetUp that showed to me that GetUp is publicly saying one thing but then acting at odds with what they have said. Specifically I say that they are influencing voters by misrepresenting who they are and what they do.

This submission addresses the following terms of reference ( in whole or in part) of this inquiry:

1.(b) The potential applicability of ‘truth in advertising' provisions to communication to voters including third-party carriage services;

1.(c) The options available to Parliament to ensure consistent application of disclosure rules to and the regulation of all entities undertaking campaign activities.

If the committee decides to include my submission I look forward to the outcome of their deliberations on the matters I have raised herein.

Regards,

Thor Prohaska

 

Submission by Thor Prohaska, the Independent Candidate for Dickson, to the ‘Inquiry into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2016 Federal Election and matters related thereto’ addressing the deceptive & misleading conduct by GetUp at the 2016 Federal Election

GetUp claim, as shown below by the screen shot from their website, that they are Non-Political and Independent yet they behaved as a Political Player in the 2016 Federal Election. They can’t have it both ways and I say they should be required by law to honestly represent their position and not hide behind a façade of being non-party political and independent when their actions and the public record clearly show that they are neither.

 

Firstly GetUp’s claim that they are independent is not borne out by what a simple web search reveals. If you take for example the information presented on the following website:

http://thedailycoin.org/2016/05/22/getup-exposed-george-soros-tentacles-reach-into-australia/

Where the article states:

“GetUp’s founders David Madden and Jeremey Heimans can hardly claim that GetUp is non-partisan when its original board members included Australian Workers Union secretary Bill Shorten, Australian Fabian Society secretary Evan Thornley, green activist Cate Faehrmann, and left-wing trade union researcher and “community organiser” Amanda Tattersall. The largest donor to GetUp in 2010 with a donation of $1.1 million is the CFMEU. GetUp’s benefactor, George Soros is clearly partisan.”

Secondly, on election day 2 July 2016 in the electorate of Dickson, their members & volunteers handed out to voters ‘How-To-Vote’ cards, as shown below, thinly disguised as what they call ‘clear information’ advising voters how to number their ballot to get the best outcome on local issues that matter to their movement.

I therefore ask the question “How can they be a ‘non-political party’ when they are handing out ‘How-To-Vote’ cards.” And further how can they be independent when they state, “they do not feature every political party, nor do they give a comprehensive review of each candidates' policy positions”.

Also they actively tried to influence the voters by prioritising the candidates who they think will have the best chance of winning and who support the issues that their movement cares about even if it is not what the majority in the electorate want.

Then they had the audacity to say that every effort was taken to independently scrutinise the parties or candidates featured on our How-To-Vote cards.

This cannot be true, at the very least in my cased, because when I found out that they were running a campaign in Dickson to Ditch Dutton I contacted GetUp and met in person with their representative on 24 May who was coordinating their Dickson campaign to discuss how I, as the Independent Candidate for Dickson, could partner with them to achieve our shared goal of unseating Peter Dutton and electing a candidate that would represent what the majority in Dickson wanted.

The GetUp representative said to me that they cannot endorse any individual candidates. I then asked them about the ‘Scorecard’ they would be handing out and asked how they were going to score me. My main concerned about the scorecard was that because I am representing what the majority in Dickson want:

( For more info on my plan to represent what the electorate wanted see: http://dicksonreps.net/ )

…. and, not what I or a party or a minority in the electorate want, that on the scorecard they would mark me down because I didn’t take a personal position on policy. I was told that they could not say anything more about this until after the nominations closed and that I could contact them again to discuss the scorecard after I was officially nominated.

Nominations were officially confirmed on 10 June so I rang, emailed and sent texts to the GetUp Ditch Dutton in Dickson campaign coordinators on 13 June but received no reply. On 14 June I then personally spoke to the same GetUp representative at the Ryan/Dickson Candidate Forum held by the Catholic Social Justice group.  I asked the representative when the scorecards would be finalised, they said they didn’t know. I asked who I could speak to who would know, they said they didn’t know. I then asked would I be able to have input into the scorecard and I was told they weren’t sure but probably not. I made further attempts to contact both of the GetUp representatives involved with the Ditch Dutton campaign but I had no reply. On 21 June I emailed the former National Director of GetUp in the hope that he could put me in contact with someone at GetUp. He said that he had forwarded my request to discuss this matter to ‘someone at GetUp who may be able to help’. I had no contact from that person or any other person from GetUp.

With this being the case how can they possibly justify making the claim that, “every effort was taken to independently scrutinise the parties or candidates featured on our How-To-Vote cards”. I can state that at least in my case they didn’t do this even though they knew I had concerns that reasonably needed to be discussed further and made many attempts over a period of time to talk to them!

Then on 21 June I received a general email sent to all people on GetUp’s database that showed the above How-To-Vote card for Dickson.

Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I saw they had ranked me 3rd for the House of Representatives behind Labor and Greens in Dickson. How can they justify this when they say they prioritised the candidates or parties whose policy platforms are broadly aligned with the GetUp movement's core values and policy priorities which includes among other things candidates who are in favour of participatory democracy?

Labor and the Greens cannot be before me on this primary criteria as they are both political parties that require their candidates to pledge as part of their membership oath to put the policy positions of their parties before what the majority of voters in the electorate want. That is clearly putting participatory democracy in second place. On this basis alone I should have been GetUp’s  number one choice in Dickson because I have publicly pledged to represent what the majority want and to do this via a 100% participatory democracy model. If they are truly non-party political and independent then it is not GetUp’s place to tell the voters of Dickson or any other electorate what position to take on any policy.

They then ask the question on their website where they explain how they reached the order on their How-To-Vote card, “Is GetUp backing any candidates this election?” and answer it by saying  “GetUp is backing policy positions on the issues identified as top priorities by GetUp members – climate change, renewables, democracy, health and hospitals. In turn, we're giving voters information about how to support parties and candidates who support these policy positions”.

Whichever way you look at that convoluted statement above it can’t hide the fact that they are backing the Greens and Labor over myself and the other 3 candidates in Dickson. On this basis I say they have crossed the line from being non party political providing independent issues-based advice to being a political player. And as such their claim that they are not party political and that they are independent is deceptive and misleading.

Via a press release to all major media outlets I called on GetUp to either withdraw their How-To-Vote cards in Dickson or reissue them with me as their number one choice as I was the only candidate who guaranteed to represent what the majority in Dickson want and GetUp’s stated core value of participatory democracy. Or to issue a statement that they are now a political player in the election who have chosen to back candidates that reflect what GetUp and their supporters want and which is not necessarily what the majority of Dickson voters want. They can’t have it both ways! As none of the media outlets ran the story and as GetUp has avoided communicating with me I did not get a response from GetUp.

In closing I say that with regards to the terms of reference 1.b & 1.c of this inquiry that:

1.(b) All political players in any Australian election should be legally required to meet ‘truth in advertising' provisions when communicating with voters in the same way that businesses have to, AND

1.(c) Parliament should introduce laws that  ensure consistent application of disclosure rules to and the regulation of all entities undertaking campaign activities.

 

I subsequently became aware that in 2010 GetUp's status as an associated entity of other political organisations was questioned by the Australian Electoral Commission and a determination was then made that they were not an associated entity. However, I say that in light of their new strategy of issuing How To Vote cards that favoured by more than 90% the Australian Labor Party & the Greens I now call on the AEC to reassess GetUp's status as an 'Associated Entity' of the ALP & the Greens.

From: Thor Prohaska [mailto:thorlp@hotkey.net.au]
Sent: Thursday, 17 November, 2016 11:14
To: Australian Electoral Commision (info@aec.gov.au)
Subject: GetUp now appears to be an Associated Entity

Hi,

I would like to bring to your attention that  GetUp now appear to be an "associated entity" of the ALP & Greens!

In 2010 the AEC made a determination that GetUp Limited (ACN 114 027 986) is not an "associated entity" that operates "wholly, or to a significant extent, for the benefit of one or more registered political parties" and therefore has ( would have ) a reporting obligation to lodge "associated entity" annual returns with the AEC.

However, in the 2016 Federal election GetUp to a significant extent did directly advocate voting for two particular parties in the form of the ALP & the Greens. I can attest personally that this occurred in the federal seat of Dickson. And as shown on GetUp’s own website over 90% of their How To Vote cards are for Labor/Greens:

https://www.getup.org.au/community/election-2016-here-s-the-plan?t=5mkQKtpQp

Please note that I have made a submission to the 'Inquiry into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2016 Federal Election and matters related thereto' about GetUp’s deceptive & misleading conduct at the 2016 Federal Election, where I say:

"As the Independent Candidate for the Federal Seat of Dickson at the 2 July 2016 election I had dealings with GetUp that showed to me that GetUp is publicly saying one thing but then acting at odds with what they have said. Specifically I say that they are influencing voters by misrepresenting who they are and what they do."

The link to that submission is here:

http://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=094c7d70-b6e5-47df-87b4-7769392d98c9&subId=415428

In closing, I suspect that GetUp is likely to meet the test for being an “associated entity”. This would then directly go against their public position that they are non-party political and independent.

I look forward to this being reviewed again by the AEC.

Regards,

Thor Prohaska

0419 344 806

 

On the 25th of November 2016 I appeared before the JSCEM Committee to provide further information and to answer any questions they had. Below is the Hansard transcript from that appearance:

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
25/11/2016
Conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto

 

PROHASKA, Mr Thor, Private capacity

[13:30]

CHAIR: I will just note that we have gone a little over time, but I have had a talk to the Deputy Chair and we will extend this out to accommodate the last witness. Welcome, Mr Prohaska. You have been waiting very patiently there!

Mr Prohaska : Thank you. I was the independent candidate for Dickson. It was as a result of that that I put in a submission.

CHAIR: Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and it does attract parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to questions and discussion.

Mr Prohaska : Thank you very much. I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to the submission I made. I would like to divide it into two parts: first, the submission that I put in; and second, the additional details I provided, which I became aware of after I had put the submission in.

To summarise my submission, basically, it speaks to fairness and truth in advertising. I am assuming that the committee members have read my submission, so I will not go into the details of that. I will just say that when you are up against a very well-resourced and well-oiled machine like GetUp! it is very difficult, where the truth and certain matters have been represented in a particular way, for an independent candidate to counter that. So I feel that the misleading and deceptive conduct that GetUp! did was not in the best interest of democracy, and it certainly had an impact on my campaign.

The second bit I have been advised has not been distributed to the committee. It has been? Okay. Basically, what I was asking for out of that first submission was that any participant in the electoral political process should have to abide by a standard set of rules, which does not appear to be the case. The second part—the additional information—is to do with the 2010 determination by the AEC that GetUp! was not an associated entity. My submission to the AEC is that that be looked at again in light of the fact that GetUp! stepped across the line from giving a score card to now issuing how-to-vote cards. I believe, from my layman's perspective, that it warrants looking at again by the AEC. I looked at all the how-to-vote cards that were issued by GetUp! and over 90 per cent of them were basically for the Greens and the Labor Party. They put on their website that they are independent, that they are not party political and that their core value is participatory democracy. I believe that all of those items do not match up with their behaviour.

CHAIR: Does that conclude your opening statement?

Mr Prohaska : Yes, it concludes my statement.

Mr MORTON: Would it be a great surprise to that the chairperson of GetUp! was somebody that actually advocated voting for the Greens party at the last election and was a member of the Greens?

Mr Prohaska : Not at all. The person who was involved in the 'Ditch Dutton in Dickson' campaign is a member of the Greens. So at that level there is another instance of a direct relationship—maybe not direct, but they openly declared themselves as a Greens member.

Mr MORTON: That is very interesting. I always thought the saying was 'behind the colour green is the colour red' but you have to go orange, green and red now to get there.

CHAIR: Is that a tutorial or is that a question?

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I thought that was a very good question.

CHAIR: I was just clarifying.

Mr MORTON: Moving onto my question, in relation to the colour red, one of the board members of the Greens, when I had GetUp! in front of us, was very active in the Labor Party, was a senior office-holder there and on election day was wearing his red shirt for Susan Templeman in the New South Wales seat, not advocating on behalf of GetUp! Does that worry you or concern you?

Mr Prohaska : It worries me and concerns me that that behaviour goes along with their public position that they are independent. So in that context, yes it does.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Deceptive.

Mr MORTON: In the examples I have given you, is there any reason why you think that the GetUp!—I was going to say 'party'; you can excuse me for coming to that conclusion—organisation only had Labor and Greens how-to-vote cards on the piece of paper they were handing out? Why did they not have Labor, Greens and an Independent option?

Mr Prohaska : That was 90 per cent of them, roughly.

Mr MORTON: But in your case?

Mr Prohaska : In my case, yes, there was only Labor and Greens. They looked at each electorate and they looked at their core values and what their members wanted. On that basis, they made a determination on the person who was most likely to win. They were supporting those on the basis of how closely they were aligned with what they were trying to achieve.

Mr MORTON: We hear these claims of what their members want. How do we know what the members want?

Mr Prohaska : Having been a member of GetUp! going back to when they had 2,000 members, I use the term 'member' loosely. You do not join GetUp. You just sort of say: here is my email address, send me stuff. When I first heard about what they were doing, I thought participatory democracy was a really good idea—let's see what the majority in the electorate want; let's bring it together. I actually held two GetUp! get-togethers at my place over the years. For the information that we collected and provided to GetUp, I never saw anything come back to us to say 'This is how we are going to take your feedback of where you sit on these particular policy positions and this is how is now incorporated into our overall campaign strategy or the issues.' So on the face of what I have seen, they asked for this information from their members but then they choose to do what they will with it. I see no traceability between that information that was collected from our get-togethers and how that then translated into their key top priorities.

Mr MORTON: This is quite something. On the issues that GetUp! said they were concerned about, did you campaign on those issues? Is there any reason why? Did you give GetUp! any reason to think you were not supporting them on the issues they were campaigning on?

Mr Prohaska : Are we speaking specifically to the 2016 election?

Mr MORTON: Yes, specifically in the election. They were talking about a set of issues that were important to them. Were you out there campaigning against those issues that they were talking about or were they part of your platform? Was there any reason why you were not included on the how-to-vote card as an option by GetUp?

Mr Prohaska : The reason why I was put in third place on both the Greens and the Labor how-to-vote cards—because they put two of them side-by-side—was that I was not likely to win in their determination, and that is the only thing that I can say with any certainty.

Mr MORTON: They said that to you, did they?

Mr Prohaska : That is what they have put in their information with regard to how they determined who was going to be on their how-to-vote cards, or the positioning of them. With regard to particular policies, this is the reason why I contacted them in the first instance; I was very concerned. I did not know they were going to do a how-to-vote card; I thought it was going to be their traditional scorecard. Because my basic proposition to the voters of my electorate is that I seek to represent what the majority think on each and every policy issue, I was concerned GetUp! was going to look at me and go, 'This guy's got no policies, so we're going to mark him down on each of these areas.' So that was why I contacted them; that is why I tried to get some understanding and dialogue with them. But I was also wanting to partner with them because when they said they were going to have the campaign to ditch Dutton in Dickson, I thought, 'As much respect as I have for Mr Dutton, I believe that we could have a more effective representative in our electorate.'

Mr MORTON: I think I can judge the level of respect there from your comments, but continue.

Mr Prohaska : You might actually be surprised because now that I know Peter personally—and I have had numerous conversations with him—I think the simplistic polarisation between the left and right of politics is too simplistic and does not really do justice to the individuals participating.

Mr MORTON: I do not want to get into the debate of whether or not you are a member or a subscriber, but were you a member of GetUp!—as GetUp! knows them—at the time of the election? Were you on their email list?

Mr Prohaska : I was on their email list, because that is how I got to find out about my how-to-vote card.

Mr MORTON: So they would count you in their number when they talk about how many members they have got.

Mr Prohaska : Me and a whole heap of other people in similar circumstances to me, yes.

Mr MORTON: So just clarifying: GetUp! would refer to you as a member of their organisation.

Mr Prohaska : They would, yes, which I think is slightly misleading as well.

Mr MORTON: And they put out how-to-vote cards for candidates for two political parties rather than putting out a how-to-vote card for one of their own members. That is what happened, is it?

Mr Prohaska : Accurate summation.

Mr MORTON: Thank you.

Mr DICK: Thanks, Mr Prohaska. Just reading through your evidence and your submission, which is very detailed, am I right in saying you were negotiating with or attempting to contact GetUp! because you were not happy with your placement on their scorecard or how-to-vote card?

Mr Prohaska : No, I was concerned that they would look at me as not having a policy platform, other than to say that I wish to find out what the majority think. If they look at me and say, 'Where is he on solar energy? Where is he on protecting the reef? Where he is on—

Mr DICK: They could not ascertain that.

Mr Prohaska : That is right.

Mr DICK: I do not know much about GetUp! So they made a decision on, for example, the Prince Charles Hospital issue—and I will just show the committee the scorecard that I am referring to, Madam Chair. Because of that issue, those candidates were, in their words, in favour of stopping the LNP cuts of $54 billion. Is that what is on the document?

Mr Prohaska : Yes.

Mr DICK: As a result, if you are not telling an organisation what you think or what you believe about the $54 billion cuts, does it not make sense then that they do not know, as an organisation, what your position is. It is pretty clear for some of the other examples. Maybe Mr Dutton and Family First gave statements—I am not sure; I do not know—but you have just said you did not give any policy statements because you just went with what the majority wanted.

Mr Prohaska : I did say that.

Mr DICK: I am just playing devil's advocate. Does it not make sense that, if you are a member-based organisation—and even if you are a member—and you have to make a decision on advocating for who supports stopping cuts or whatever, you are going to support people that agreed with you?

Mr Prohaska : Well, it would obviously make sense.

Mr DICK: And in 2013 you were the Palmer United candidate for Petrie?

Mr Prohaska : That is correct.

Mr DICK: The Palmer United Party had policies on health, education and all of those things. As a political participant and with your long involvement—I think you were a state candidate as well?

Mr Prohaska : That is correct.

Mr DICK: For the state seat of Pine Rivers?

Mr Prohaska : Yes.

Mr DICK: With those statements, those issues, I suppose if you were in the position of GetUp!—and I am not a member of GetUp!—they would make decisions on that. If you were No. 1 and they had done a separate ballot paper for you, advocating a vote for you as No. 1, or someone else—a higher vote, for example—you would not have a problem with that?

Mr Prohaska : I would not, because it would be in line with their core value of participatory democracy, and I was No. 1 out of all the candidates in that electorate. So that would be in keeping with their approach.

Mr DICK: I will just defer to my colleague.

Senator KETTER: Mr Prohaska, you identified that as a primary criterion for GetUp!, but isn't it fair to say that, based on the material you have put to us, participatory democracy is one of the criteria—

Mr Prohaska : One.

Senator KETTER: and others are equality and a renewable energy future, and those are just three examples of what they consider to be their core values and policy priorities?

Mr Prohaska : True. However, participatory democracy goes across all policy areas, whereas those two that you have mentioned sit underneath that level. They are a lower level. They are specific policy positions. So there is a difference between participatory democracy being a core value and, then, a position on particular policy areas. I see a distinction between those two.

Mr DICK: I understand your statement. But the actual how-to-vote card was not about participatory democracy; it was specifically about the Prince Charles Hospital, and it reads, from the document you have provided to us:

Doctors warn that Coalition health cuts will lead to more deaths in emergency and see you pay more for visits to your GP. Below are parties committed to fully restoring hospital funding to 2020 and unfreezing the Medicare rebate.

Did you tell GetUp! you were happy to restore hospital funding to 2020 and you would unfreeze the Medicare rebate?

Mr Prohaska : Well, if they had asked me—

Mr DICK: Because that is the determination they clearly made.

Mr Prohaska : Yes, that is true, and this is part of their misleading behaviour. They also said that they made every reasonable effort to contact all candidates to find out what their position was. They did not speak to me at all, even though I had opened up the door on numerous occasions to speak to them about that and the related matters. They refused to talk to me after that initial meeting I had with them. All communication was cut off.

Mr DICK: Did they ask you about health and education at that meeting?

Mr Prohaska : No, they did not, and that is one of the things that I find unacceptable about them making the statement that they made every reasonable effort to ask all the candidates, but they did not ask me. I do not know if they asked the LDP or the Greens or Family First in my electorate either. I do not know that. So, if they did not ask me, then how could they put me at No. 3 and the other candidates at Nos 4, 5 and 6? How did they come to that determination? I cannot answer that.

Mr DICK: But, if they had designated you as No. 1, you would have been okay with that—even without telling that information?

Mr Prohaska : I would have been okay with it, because I feel that what I was proposing with regards to being a representative of what the majority position is in the electorate would be in keeping with GetUp's core value. Yes, I would have been okay with that.

Mr DICK: I do not mean any disrespect, but, if they had done that and if this had three candidates on it, would you be here today? I am trying to get to the rub of—

CHAIR: No, I think it is a valid question.

Mr GILES: No, it is a good question.

Mr DICK: And I do not mean any disrespect.

Mr Prohaska : Well, the one thing I can say for certain is I probably would not have dug through their website with the forensic level of inquiry that I did, after they behaved that way.

Mr DICK: To get to the bottom of it.

Mr Prohaska : That is right. So it was there that it became patently clear to me that their comment that they were independent and non-party-political did not match up with the observed behaviour. So, probably not—and, again, I feel that because, if they had done that, I would have gone, 'Well, they should be putting me first because I am more likely to be able to deliver what the majority of their members want.' If I may just go back, in regard to Palmer United Party, I would just like to put on the record that from day one, when I was invited to be a candidate for Palmer United, the first question I asked the person who invited me was: can I represent what the majority in the electorate want, even if it is not what the party or Clive wants? And that person who invited me said, 'That is exactly what Clive wants. So it was on that basis that I joined Palmer United and was the candidate, and throughout the entire election I consistently said internally within the organisation, 'I represent what the majority in Petrie would want,' and I told that to everybody who I was speaking to during the campaign, so there is no inconsistency between my saying this now and what I said back then—not that it matters anyway.

CHAIR: Mr Morton, I understand you have questions.

Mr MORTON: I have two items to clarify. What were these things called again that you had in you home?

Mr Prohaska : The get-togethers.

Mr MORTON: When were they held and what were the main issues that came out of them?

Mr Prohaska : I think it was going back before the 2013 election. It was in early 2013. The next one was—I cannot remember. I would have to go back and check my records. It was before that.

Mr MORTON: Rather than have me ask a series of questions, I ask you: do you believe that the selection of this issue of The Prince Charles Hospital was in order to select an issue that enabled GetUp! to advocate a vote for Labor and the Greens rather than have issues that had popped up previously in your get-togethers?

CHAIR: That is a rather speculative question, Mr Morton.

Mr MORTON: I have had to come to it in a very quick way, so I have just thrown it out there for the witness to respond to.

Mr Prohaska : Because the last get-together was several years ago, it was before this issue of The Prince Charles Hospital became something that was being publicly campaigned about.

Mr MORTON: In relation to how-to-vote cards, did you issue a how-to-vote card?

Mr Prohaska : I was going to, but I came to the point of—well, I did, but it was: me, 1; you choose. So I did not actually advocate any preferences for other parties.

Mr MORTON: Thank you.

CHAIR: I do have to conclude it there. Mr Prohaska, thank you very much for your written submission and also for your evidence here today. It is certainly another interesting perspective for this committee to consider. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have the opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. I now declare this public hearing closed.

Committee adjourned at 13:52

Click here for the Hansard Transcript.