Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
JOURNALIST: Regarding the so-called “GetUp! clause, 287h subsection 5 of the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill, was the clause designed specifically with GetUp in mind?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. This is about making sure that all relevant political actors are subject to the same transparency, disclosure and reporting requirements and subject to the same ban on foreign political donations.
Ultimately this is about making sure that Australians can have confidence in the integrity of our political system and can be reassured that there is no inappropriate foreign interference in the activities of any relevant political actor, including political campaign organisations like GetUp.
JOURNALIST: According to GetUp, the new clause is "aimed squarely at shutting down Australians from working together, independent of political parties, to make our country a better place to live". How does the minister respond to this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is plain wrong. I completely reject that. All political actors involved in political campaigning, seeking to influence elections and relying on donations should be subject to the same transparency, disclosure and reporting requirements. And self-evidently a ban on foreign political donations would be completely ineffective if it could be circumvented by channeling donations through political campaign organisations like GetUp campaigning against or in support of political parties, candidates or on election issues.
Australians work together in political parties too to make Australia a better place to live and the operations of those political parties, in particular the private donations they rely on for that purpose, are appropriately regulated to ensure Australians can have confidence in the integrity of our political system.
Equally, Australians of course can work together in a non-political party political organisation like GetUp. That will continue to be the case after our reforms. But the same transparency, disclosure and reporting requirements and the same ban on foreign political donations should apply to those non-political party political organisations.
JOURNALIST: What is the government's concern with regards to GetUp?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a matter of being concerned about a particular organisation, it’s a matter of making sure the same rules apply to everyone involved in the same type of activity - namely incurring political expenditure to seek to influence elections which is plainly what GetUp does.
GetUp incurred more than $10 million in political expenditure in 2015-16. That was more than twice as much as the next biggest spender on political expenditure who wasn’t a political party.
As a significant political actor GetUp should be subject to the same transparency and disclosure requirements as other political actors such as political parties.
JOURNALIST: On Tuesday the minister said GetUp! plainly is a political campaigning organisation. However GetUp claims the movement is independent. How is this determined?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No political actor is independent. For GetUp to suggest they’re independent defies reality. Political actors express views on parties, candidates and election issues. That is squarely what GetUp does.
Importantly political expenditure is already clearly defined in the Electoral Act. We are not changing that definition. In the lead-up to the last election GetUp distributed more than one million how to vote cards at about 500 polling booths, they campaigned on election issues and expressed views about candidates, parties and election issues. They are squarely a political campaign organisation. With more than $10 million in political expenditure by GetUp they are the biggest political campaign organisation in Australia by far outside the political parties themselves.
It is entirely appropriate that all political actors are subject to the same transparency and disclosure requirements.
JOURNALIST: According to GetUp, the AEC’s investigation into GetUp is likely to determine that they’re 100% independent of any political party - So the government is trying to change the rules. How do you respond?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If that is what they say they are missing the point. By any measure GetUp is a major political actor. They rely on political donations to publicly express views on political parties, candidates and election issues. They are of course entitled to do so, they can raise appropriate political donations in Australia from Australians and Australian organisations. But they must comply with the same transparency and disclosure requirements as all other relevant political actors, such as political parties.