January 24, 2008 | Graham

Opposing from Government

Labor won the last election by convincing enough people that it would be little different to John Howard while convincing enough other people it would be completely different. One group was always going to be crying into its beer, and that group was always going to be the “progressives”. Early signs of it have started appearing – see here .
No group harnessed progressive opinion and chanelled it towards the ALP more skilfully than GetUp. It did this by opposing the government on issues with narrow appeal which were unlikely to be taken-up by the MSM or the ALP, while still appealing strongly to a sizable minority. As a result GetUp often had the field to itself and was able to tap a rich vein of funds by appearing to its constituency to be ahead of public opinion, and the sole protector of it. It’s the market position that environmental groups like the ACF, Greenpeace and WWF are familiar with, but the big difference here is that GetUp acted as a third-party recruiter of supporters for Labor in a way which environment groups don’t.
Which raises the question of how they survive when their side is in government.
GetUp’s solution is to ask their members to vote on an agenda for the new government. This is dangerous for them. Advocacy groups survive on the perception that they achieve results. Winning on an issue can easily achieve that, particularly if you pick the right one. And securing a win for your party in a general election is the most stunning demonstration of power. But succeeding in having a whole agenda implemented is a lot harder than being on the winning side in an election, so I was interested in having a look at the results of their survey.
The agenda is interesting from a number of points of view. In the lack of contradictory evidence, I’ll assume that the results represent “progressive” opinion, in which case they show how priorities have changed over the last few years, and also how much this opinion divides both from public opinion, and the government’s likely priorities. Get ready for a steady saline drip from the Left into their collective tipples.
Top priority is “Becoming environmentally sustainable (e.g. climate change, water, forests, marine habitats)”. As the last election was primarily fought on climate change, that’s a reasonable choice. Second priority is “Making high-quality primary, secondary, and tertiary public education accessible to all Australians” which is where things get a bit harder. Pity they lumped all three sectors together, but I’ll bet that a large proportion of respondents wanted to see funding changes in tertiary and secondary education, and while electors always want more money spent on education, it’s hard to see that being compatible with Lindsay Tanner’s $18 billion surplus.
Third priority is “Respecting the rights and improving the living standards of Indigenous Australians”. That’s where it gets really tricky. While the Howard government probably didn’t win any votes over its Northern Territory intervention, it did demonstrate that the orthodoxy of the last 30 years on Aboriginal affairs is dead for some time. The public have rejected it, and so has Kevin Rudd.
The list is also interesting for what didn’t make its top priorities. Health, poverty and withdrawing troops from Iraq weren’t in the top three , although they were in the top six. Maybe this indicates that these issues aren’t as important as they once were or perhaps respondents think Labor will perform here, so no need to pressure them. Refugee policy, uranium mining and media diversity were close to, or at, the bottom. Perhaps for the same reasons.
It may also be that priorities change when your side is in government. Often the issues that are important when you are in opposition are the ones where you can criticise your opponent. They are totemic rather than substantive. Once the heat of the election dies down, you breathe a little more deeply, and some of them don’t seem that important. Labor could probably more easily licence exporting of uranium than the Coalition.
You can read the whole list here. GetUp is well-worth following – their corporate and networked approach to politics is the way I think that it is heading in Australia.

Posted by Graham at 8:51 am | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Good post.
    I’ve been wondering myself if GetUp! can be as effective now.

    Comment by Mark Bahnisch — January 24, 2008 @ 10:05 am

  2. You covered a lot here . It was a good 2007 election. And yo, it is now time to play ball.
    Socio-Economic Sustainability must become a goal if we are clear that economics is a way forward for all.
    ie: You know APEC 2007 did a lot to unify Australian’s last year for many reasons.
    Can we hold our gaze on 2007 APEC, and remember how it gave a national focus.
    Can we acknowledge the relevance that APEC has to the small APEC economies?
    Is it not that APEC ought to be as important for our own regional development, as it is to other economies?
    This year APEC 2008, is to be held in Peru.
    I would like to see APEC 2008 widely discussed in a way that outlines APEC’s aims and objectives.
    I would like to see Australians really contribute something to the way the forum works. Looking at Peru’s projects would or could be a good start.
    Food – Health – Education – Technology. …. Infrastructure…. market relevance and it’s own survival?
    Can we do it?
    Is there a positive way forward, against drug cartels, child sex & labour, poverty and HIV Aids.
    I hope Australia’s new ALP government operates as an inclusive government, and utilises the opportunities of working with people.
    It is time we include the regional voices that speak from the small villages and townships at home and abroad. I see much to be shared and gained if we could apply significance.

    Comment by Maria Altmann — January 24, 2008 @ 10:26 pm

  3. Your analysis of Getup’s agenda is hard to disagree with. When I was at their Refresh conference after the election my impression was that a large number of the participants would have voted for the Greens. Getup is unlikely to channel votes to Labor in the way you assert in future. GetUp Executive Director Brett Solomon’s address to the audience at Refresh is well worth reading. It ‘s on their website. I also have no doubt that many people would have supported individual campaigns without changing their voting intentions.
    It is difficult to agree that issues before the election had “narrow appeal … unlikely to be taken-up by the MSM or the ALP”. This might be true of local campaigns such as the Burrup Peninsula rock art. Nevertheless, the top 6 on the new agenda were high on the old one. My post ‘Getup Confab’ touches on this grassroots approach to progressive politics.

    Comment by Kevin Rennie — January 25, 2008 @ 12:06 pm

  4. How anodyne. Have you anything of interest to say?

    Comment by Kellyanne — January 25, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

  5. Mark can you elucidate?
    “can be as effective now”
    If, as I suspect, people vote with “prejudice” from old habit, how could GetUp have the influence observers claims. I suspect there would be few conservative voters acclaiming GetUp’s agenda, more like a “bruvers” get together?
    Agreement between people on objectives is not necessarily agreement on party voting/

    Comment by frank luff — January 26, 2008 @ 6:54 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.