Federal election 2016: GetUp! proves force to be reckoned with

Federal election 2016: GetUp! proves force to be reckoned with, by Pamela Williams. GetUp! is a very PC organization, and they are forging new and effective techniques. Opponents of PC would be wise to heed these developments.

GetUp! enter[ed] the election battle with a very specific mandate from across the breadth of its one million members: to target and try to oust hard-right members of the Turnbull government in marginal seats whose views on climate change, marriage equality and refugees were the antithesis of GetUp!’s members.

Proof that the PC forces heavily favored Turnbull over Abbot, even over Shorten! Imagine being in a political party that allows its opponents and the media to have undue influence in selecting a leader!

A week later GetUp! sent out its regular “preferred leader” survey to members, emailing about 10,000 members and receiving about 1000 responses.

The response to the September leader survey was electrifying, with 60.7 per cent believing Turnbull would make a better leader than Bill Shorten. The conservatives in his own party might not like Turnbull but the progressives and left-wingers at GetUp! seemed to love him. Turnbull, they were convinced, was a leader who would make a difference and step out on the signature issues he had stood for over decades. …

By March GetUp!’s membership survey of “preferred leader” showed Turnbull had suffered a catastrophic reversal down to 30 per cent. Turnbull, it seemed, had never had the conservatives and now he was losing progressives.

“We would say Malcolm failed to be Malcolm,” Oosting says. “He had been a moderate progressive. He literally did a deal on marriage equality. We would say the plebiscite is the hard right’s attempt to block marriage equality, and which could be used to vilify the gay community. And on climate change, well that is our members’ No 1 issue. Everyone expected Malcolm would come up with something bold on these issues, but there’s been nothing.

GetUp! trained its members to have “conversations” with voters, to persuade them to vote against “the hard right”.

GetUp! staff laid out the proposal to take on the Right of the Liberal Party. They put up slide shows at events of Peter Dutton on a margin of 6.7 per cent: this was an MP holding back progress on ­issues GetUp! members believed in. And on it went.

After the meetings, members started filtering into GetUp! offices to help test the phone-calling software. They were taught how to ­approach voters on the call, how to relate to them, how to connect.

“We’d have these conversations as a group,” Cooke says. “We’d say, ‘this is the electorate, and this is a conversation guide’. People would familiarise themselves.”

Over the weekend of March 19 and 20, GetUp! members across the country held more than 100 “get-together” parties: something along the lines of a Tupperware party with politics. …

They built software to enable members to call from their own homes directly to swinging voters in marginal seats, and to conduct conversations about what the voters were interested in. A conversation could be a few minutes or far longer.

For the election campaign, half of the volunteers had not previously taken direct action and the learning curve and engagement would start at the bottom.

“They would come in to the headquarters — it could be quite scary — and then suddenly they are connected to someone in Launceston or Queensland, trying to talk with them,” Oosting says. It was about reshaping the government, reducing the power and ­influence of the conservatives. The volunteers on the phones to Bass and Dickson would advise voters to put the Liberals last.

With modern technology, this is pretty easy to do.

GetUp!’s tech team is modelled on the start-up culture: finding the cheapest, leanest way to build software and technology. Last ­November it trialled its phone-calling software during preparations for “people’s climate march” events to coincide with United ­Nations talks in Paris.

After first buying several hundred cheap computer tablets, they established central locations in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Launceston. People not coming in to a central gathering point could access the software online.

They spent months preparing for election day:

Supplying volunteers for election day became a massive logistical exercise.

Over one long weekend they gathered at a Botany warehouse in Sydney to pack kits, including over a million flyers. They boxed beanies, T-shirts, placards and how-to-vote cards. They checked the material was right for each electorate. Everything was shipped out to volunteers who would be called booth captains.

Each had three to six booths in marginal seats allocated to their care. They were asked to co-ordinate rosters, drive round the ­material to volunteers. If members had clicked to volunteer at a booth, the booth campaign would call them several times to double check. Running tactics similar to get-out-the-vote campaigns in the US, they would phone to check how the volunteer could get to the booth on the day, would they bring a friend, did they have warm clothes. Over and over.

It would be months of work preparing for election day.

So how did it go?

Through the election campaign GetUp!! volunteers conducted 45,000 conversations, with 18,000 voters in Bass alone, the seat of prime target Andrew ­Nikolic. The rest were spread across Dickson (Dutton), Dawson (George Christensen), and Macquarie (Louise Markus).

“When we started this campaign, we wanted to create a more centrist and progressive parliament,” Oosting says. “We are ­really happy with the outcome on Dutton. He has had a swing against him double the size of the statewide average. We would hope that the party and Dutton would take from this that Dutton’s ­remarks on refugees are outrageous. Next time he might lose his seat.

“There was 10.4 per cent against Nikolic, 5.9 per cent against Dutton, 6.9 per cent against Louise Markus, 12.6 per cent against Russell Mathieson.”

In comparison, I cannot see the right in Australia able to organize almost anything,