#9 Fighting the Hard Right – GetUp
Have you ever clicked on an online petition and wondered whether it worked? In 2016, GetUp – a digital campaign organisation best known for its online petitions and email campaigns – decided to go offline. They came up a strategy to remove extreme conservative politicians from the Australian parliament. One of the places they went to was the seat of Bass in Northern Tasmania – a seat not known for being welcoming to out-of-towners. What did they do, and how did they do it? GetUp has been condemned by many for the campaign they ran. Here they talk openly about its strengths – and weaknesses.
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Full Transcript of Episode 9 Fighting the Hard Right
REPORTER: What is that went wrong in Tasmania?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: A number of factors went against the coalition. First of all we had get up spending and bragging about the fact they spent half a million dollars, just in the seat of Bass, with 10 full time people, besmirching the character of a great Australian servant, Andrew Nikolic.
HOST: That’s Australian Government Senator Eric Abetz talking to Emma Alberici on Australia’s ABC-TV.
I’m Amanda Tattersall, welcome to Changemakers the podcast about people trying to change the world. We are supported by our launch partner Mobilisation Lab. They connect social change campaigners with what works. Check them out at MobLab.io.
We are getting close to the end of the first series of ChangeMakers, but we’ll have more in the new year, so now is the time to keep in touch by signing up to our new email list at changemakerspodcast dot org.
LIVE RECORD – Launceston Tasmania:
Today on Changemakers, I’m in Tasmania, Australia. We’re looking at one of the more remarkable local election campaigns in Australian political history. It’s a story about persuasion but above all, it’s a story about place, because it turns out that if you want to persuade someone, you’ve have to know where they are at – and build off that. Let’s go.
HOST: First some context. In Australia, they have compulsory voting. On election day, if you don’t turn up to a voting booth, you get a small fine in the mail. As a result, turnout averages around 94%.
INTERVIEWER: How much of a difference does compulsory voting make to the strategy development do you think?
PAUL OOSTING: Well I think it vastly change things because we don’t have to worry about that key element of whether or not people are going to go to polls in the first place.
HOST: Paul Oosting is the National Director of a digital campaign group called GetUp. It’s a bit like MoveOn in the US, or 38 Degrees in Britain.
And full disclosure here. I co-founded GetUp and was on its board for many years.
KELSEY: When you have compulsory voting it means that you have a far greater part of the population that sees politics as relevant to them and can visibly see it as something that they interact with in their everyday life.
HOST: Kelsey Cooke works with Paul. She’s in charge of GetUp’s election strategy.
KELSEY: You do know that the day will come when you’ve got to decide between one party or another. Once that happens and who you vote for.
PAUL OOSTING: We get to focus on explaining to people why they should care about the funding of local school or hospital or why climate change may not feel from a mind when they’re going to the polls on a Saturday afternoon and just by getting it out quickly. But actually why it matters and why I think they should be thinking about when they’re going to vote. So it is about persuasion it’s about getting our issues front and centre and cutting through the noise of the big corporate campaigns or the major political parties and getting people to think about their values and to soften those matters to them.
HOST: In September 2015, Australia found itself with a new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
PAUL OOSTING: Well we had a leadership change from really far right conservative leader Minister Tony Abbott to somebody we expected to be more moderate in Malcolm Turnbull in late 2015
So one of the things we need to be doing as a member based organizations should do is we checking out methods to see what they thought about Malcolm Turnbull vs. TONY ABBOTT And we found that a lot of people had hopes that Malcolm Turnbull would be a good leader. It said positive things in the past about issues like climate change and renewable energy, or marriage equality. So actually when we did those surveys people were optimistic that he might be a good leader coming into the beginning of 2016. We immediately started to see that he wasn’t going to be that leader that he was still beholden to the hard right of his party or was unwilling to step up and lead in that way.
The interesting thing here is that GetUp is widely portrayed in the media as being a left wing organisation. The party of government was centre-right at best, with hard-right tendencies. It was not the type of party you’d expect a typical left wing group to engage with.
But to the continuing confusion of its opponents, GetUp is a widely misunderstood beast. It wasn’t set up to be beholden to any party political agenda. It’s actions arise from a set of values, and it seeks to act powerfully taking into account whatever the political context is.
And the context facing GetUp in late 2015 was this: the Government was only in its first term in office and was unlikely to be defeated at the next election.
So instead of throwing their hands up in despair, or simply running a campaign against the Government knowing they’d lose, Paul and his campaign team got thinking about the role of the right-wing faction of the Government, which they felt was preventing the new Prime Minister from carrying out a range of policies that aligned with GetUp’s values.
What if, they asked themselves, at the next election, they targeted those politicians inside the Government from the hard-right faction, who were blocking the Government from carrying out a more moderate agenda?
PAUL OOSTING: And so when we started to think a lot about the role particularly of this hard faction now was about four factions in a little part of England who you talk to and the hard line there in particular has been really prominent recently. We’ve been exerting a lot of power over the direction of our country and we realized that a number of our members very marginal seats and therefore our members potentially have influence over their power.
INTERVIEWER: And just to paint a picture for why a problem.
PAUL OOSTING: Where these people have become such a problem to the rest of Australia. The have faction have really extreme views which actually go against what the majority of Australians care about. One of the issues we have seen really lately is on the issue of climate change and are you willing to use so the hard right faction has led the charge to shoot to try and dismantle the new energy legislation back in 2014 when Tony Abbott was prime minister. We saw a 90 percent crash investment in renewable energy because of their attacks on the legislation.
So they want to see tax cuts to major corporations at the same time they want to cut funding to our public institutions.
HOST: Then just days after the new Prime Minister won power, one of the national broadsheets, The Australian, ran an article that made the political context really clear.
KELSEY COOK: Really that list which was published in Australian was one of the clearest demonstrations of how power was operating within the Liberal Party and the people that stood behind really old fashioned policies and people who really see progress dividing themselves in a fairly public way.
HOST: So that was the political context, but outside the political bubble, talking about the factions in party politics didn’t mean much.
And anyway, GetUp wasn’t interested in educating people about the finer points of factional politics.
But they needed a name for the people they were targeting. They didn’t want to call them hard-right, or right-wing or anything that sounded too political.
They wanted a name that cut through all that jargon.
It needed to be a name that described the destructive role these people were playing.
So they decided to call them – the “blockers”.
PAUL OOSTING: I think it was in the Getup office we were sat down with the range of climate organizations that we work with and we were just thinking about the role of this hard right. And so you know it wasn’t about the ideology. It wasn’t about the factional lesions. We wanted to be able to give people a way of picturing how they were stopping us addressing climate change
KELSEY: So the campaign that we designed was mostly intended to demonstrate to the hard right that if they were going to turn it over now and turn back everything that stood for nothing then that was not in Australia the rest of us wanted to say that they wanted to see the electoral consequences for that.
HOST: The electoral strategy was set. But how were they going to implement it? In Australia, it’s up to the Government to decided exactly when it wants to hold an election, and it seemed clear an election was imminent. GetUp needed to move fast if they were going to try this new idea.
But they couldn’t target everyone. They had to pick a few of the “blockers” who seemed vulnerable, so they looked into it.
PAUL OOSTING: Through research working with academics and journalists we were able to uncover the role they were playing as factional leaders and powerbrokers people like Andrew nicollet who was the right hand man to Tony Abbott [8.9]
HOST: Andrew Nikolic. A powerbroker whose seat was in the sparsely populated island state of Tasmania, to Australia’s south. He held the seat of Bass by a slim enough margin that GetUp thought it might be possible to unseat him.
One of GetUp’s campaigners, Ellen Roberts, had worked with someone from Tasmania – or Tassie, as Aussies sometimes call it. Her name was Louise Morris.
LOUISE MORRIS: So Ellen rang me to just sound me out about what I was up to in Tassie and would I be interested in working together in the Tasmanian campaign which then just turned into a longer conversation about well what are you proposing what does it look like. What are the realistic expectations.
HOST: The election likely to be announced any day, but Louise was hesitant. She was pretty upfront with them about what she thought GetUp could achieve in Tasmania.
LOUISE MORRIS: You’ve not really done anything in Tasmania as a brand so there’s no brand loyalty. So let’s actually be pragmatic about levels of engagement and what an effective campaign looks like. If you haven’t done the relationship building which is just you know as we know relationships are everything for campaigns mobilization and impact.
HOST: The thing that really grabbed her was, well… she lived there.
LOUISE: An election in Bass could be very interesting. I live in the area very aware of how problematic that and he was he was a block on so many levels in this part of the world and the bullying pall that he inflicted on the electorate was quite extreme.
HOST: In the end, it was the win-win nature of the strategy that won her over. Even if they didn’t manage to unseat Andrew Nikolic, the campaign would have impact.
LOUISE MORRIS: Shifting him. Even just putting pressure on if we didn’t think we could get him elected would have longer term effects.
HOST: To pick the issues that they should run on, GetUp did what it did every year.
INTERVIEWER: How did you identify those three big issues that you ran on?
KELSEY COOK: So in late February of 2016 we ran a vision survey we run it most years it’s a big survey that we said that to the fullest of the membership and say what are the issues that you most want us to work on now as a movement. What are the things that you want to see us prioritize with the final results that we have. And in this vision of 2016 we saw a couple of issues really come out as the top priority areas. One of them was around problem hospitals and the kinds of funding that people saw desperately needed for those kinds of services. And I was around climate change and renewables making sure that coal was not prioritized over renewables for example. And the social safety net and making sure there’s equitable resources for equitable access to resources across different sections of the population.
INTERVIEWER: At the time did you have a thought about which one you thought would be most persuasive?
KELSEY: I can remember being in the office on a Sunday refreshing the page where some of the results were coming in and eagerly watching to see what was winning over the other and you know for a little while there we saw quite a change as the top issue whether it was health and hospitals really these results kept bouncing around between one another as more and more people voted. And I think my suspicion was that we would see climate change come out as the top issue.
HOST: So, with their three issues in hand, GetUp held about 100 get togethers across the country. Get togethers are where people meet with their neighbours in homes, meeting halls, schools, cafes and even the occasional pub.
Coming out of this a whole new narrative started emerging.
KELSEY: People really were very conscious that when we got a democracy in which the coal industry has a close relationship to a government and where big businesses get tax breaks from the government you’ve got something that’s functioning to prioritize big businesses over everyday people. And so one of the key things that came out of these get togethers around the country was get up members say beyond just putting these issues on the agenda. We really want to start breaking down that relationship between big business and the government and make sure that our voices can be more present.
HOST: Paul and Kelsey decided to make a video about the process they’d just gone through.
KELSEY: Paul and I went down to the local park brought the videographer with us. And in parts we built this strategy which was about getting these issues on the agenda and making sure that this narrative about the relationship between business and government.
INTERVIEWER: So it was a real bottom up strategy.
KELSEY COOK: Yeah there was a real beautiful sense in the get together that I was presented in Warringah that this is a group of people who knew that it wasn’t necessarily just local politics they wanted to have an impact on. It was really about let’s make this a national campaign let’s make this about some of the big issues that we historically found so hard to tackle.
HOST: The video they made did something that you just don’t see that often in politics.
It explicitly outlined the strategy they’d been talking about internally.
PAUL OOSTING: This election, we’re taking the power back.
KELSEY: So here’s how we’ll do it. First, put the issues you voted as the priority, front and centre of the nation’s political agenda.
KELSEY: Second, we’ll go after the block of hard-right powerful politicians all the way to and right wing groups like the Institute of public affairs
HOST: Down in Tasmania, Louise Morris was impressed.
LOUISE MORRIS: What resonated incredibly well with that broader brief is that Paul and Kelsey were being gutsy enough to say hey use that strategy it wasn’t a smoke and mirrors cloak and dagger we’re being too clever for our own good type you know NGO campaign into an election. So people were interested and excited by the fact that GetUp was prepared to go hey here’s a video. Is what we’re planning on doing. We’re going to take him head on. And it may or may not work. Actually it’ll probably work better if you join us. And I think being that vulnerable in an opening salvo from a campaign was a big risk but I think a risk that worked well and paid off. It actually gave the room for that conversation. You need to be brave. This is a time for bravery.
HOST: So the initial video went well. But Louise was worried. How do you roll out a national campaign in Tasmania? As a small island state, they’re very sensitive about mainlanders telling them what to do.
PAUL OOSTING: So for tasmanians there is often an antipathy towards us from the Big Island for people in northern Tasmania there’s often a bit of a sense of distrust of people from southern Tasmania a sense of competition or you know people in southern Tasmania you get all the benefits of government policy and so there’s that Localism is something that you need to really think about. So if you’re a central centrally based organization major capital city are you going to be trusted. Are you going to listen to you.
And so that is something that we have to think about. The basin is one of the reasons why we use a higher average small staff a steamer or a couple of people to be based on system who are voting on system because they understand the community they will understand the issues in the way that people were battling with the local Member of Parliament or a local hospital or or just the local newspaper or the weather it was friggin cold during this election campaign and we were asking people to go to doorknocking when it was like going down to zero in the morning.
HOST: At the start, they tried running on the issue that had topped their member survey nationally: climate change.
It was something that GetUp was well known for campaigning on. The idea was the people could write messages on a GetUp branded piece of cardboard, and post a photo of themselves to Facebook. A classic 2016 digital campaign technique, that worked in the big cities.
For some reason, their initial attempts fell flat in nBass’s only major centre Launceston, a city of about 100,000 people.
In fact, to get traction with it, they went so far as to go into shopping centres and prompt people to take photos with other props to share on their own networks.
At head office, while the initial video had done well, there was an awareness that some of the National messages weren’t cutting through.
For Louise there was a very obvious reason this was the case.
LOUISE MORRIS: Aa few things that were done sendings through image and video that were clearly not from here and a few people as I call it it’s a tree it’s a whatever. So yeah. But if if you live in tassie you know instinctively the colour palette of the place and when you see a mainland flowing say bluegum with someone doing a thing you know that sky is not your sky you know that colour scheme is not your so all that semiotic triggering is doing the exact opposite of what you need. [31.1]
HOST: Back at head office in Sydney, there was a dawning realisation that the local campaign needed the space to listen to its local campaigners.
INTERVIEWER: So my sense is that there was the presentation of the strategy. And then as it became to be implemented there were some problems. There were uncovered with the initial issue framework. Is it true for your experience?
KELSEY COOK: I mean I think every election campaign is a balance of you know adapting every day.
INTERVIEWER: Otherwise you’re not really list I mean is the question what are some of the difficulties you had in Bass? [3.2]
INTERVIEWER: [00:24:04] Oh yeah. Did it happen. Maybe the first three issues were certainly the right issues for Bass.
HOST: Meanwhile, it was becoming clear on the ground what mattered to locals, people like Alison Jalles a school teacher and GetUp volunteer.
INTERVIEWER: I mean to me what’s interesting is that for this electorate in many way this was an election about Nikolic right as opposed to the national campaign how important were the local personality the local place to this election?
ALISON JALLES: It was it was it was the swinger that was the thing. It was absolutely about Nikolic and it united all the other groups the other groups came together. To get rid of Nikolic.
HOST: Hilariously, while GetUp had dubbed Nikolic as a blocker for his role in preventing progressive change, it turned out that Nikolic was known as a blocker in Bass for an entirely different reason.
INTERVIEWER: He was known as a blocker. Why was he known as a blocker?
ALISON JALLES: He wouldn’t listen to people either face to face or via email or through social media. Social media particularly as soon as somebody said something he didn’t like he would block them. He blocked. Obviously I was blocked he blocked friends he’d blocked children it blocks teenagers and he blocked people for asking questions. The people I know who have blocked had not said anything abusive had not said anything insulting. They were just asking questions. And it happened almost instantaneously. We sat here one afternoon and he had a photo of himself taken in front of us and something he funded some. So I think and somebody I knew had typed. Oh they’re lovely Gates. But wouldn’t that money have been well used in education. And that person would then blocked. So I got somebody else to then comment that got blocked to somebody else. They got blocked it was so it was so quick. A friend of mine was in Darwin and he was talking to people about our local member. And he said look I’ll show you what he does. And he put his photo. I asked him questions and you know correct and then refresh the page. By the time it would be first page. Four times he’d been blocked.
INTERVIEWER: How were you were able to use that style of personality against him in the campaign?
ALISON JALLES: It was it was perfect because he wouldn’t listen to us that gave us the excuse to firstly to make more noise.
HOST: Where Nikolic blocked, the campaign listened. Lots of people had stories about Andrew Nikolic. Maybe this was the local issue that Louise Morris had been looking for. They went to shopping centres and rolled out a specially themed listening posts where they’d created an Andrew Nikolic puppet for people who wanted to say something to their local member.
LOUISE MORRIS: So we kind of created these Facebook events. So you’re right he won’t listen to you come down to know blah blah and strip mall eleven 30 to 12 30 and see that she would have that much harder time with the red carpet. And you know what I actually quit. People would actually after the first one when they were a bit wary. People were bringing their friends to the next. One of the where not one after that and sitting down actually having a cathartic events at this puppet head. And to the point where it became the norm that we always sent someone with the person in he just said. It’s actually not true. Well I would just mention it was the most amazing thing to watch people being who they go at first and then seeing that.
LOUISE: And we also created an IP block fire engine which Facebook page and started out on the ground engagement with that they would be out there and we created an A to anyone version of his Facebook profile page with the white section where people could actually write what they wanted to write on his Facebook page so people would write it on this hard copy Facebook page take a photo of it and then they could post it to social media. So it started getting around these blocks. And that’s actually really where the campaign had occupied to say no one else was doing. Were playing digital media sites realizing that Facebook actually had a really good reach mass older demographic like Facebook.
HOST: The local campaign had found its own take on the original national campaign technique that had flopped when it was about climate change.
But as people vented to the puppet Andrew Nikolic and his hardcopy Facebook page, another issue started emerging.
LOUISE MORRIS: Rage of you know whether it was my grandmother spent two days at the launceston General Hospital emergency room or whatever whatever because it’s not nurses you a lot of a lot.
HOST: The Launceston General Hospital.. Over and over, as voters came to vent, the thing they’d talk to fake Nikolic about was their frustrations with their local healthcare system. It was like a weird, live action poll. It turned out that in this electorate, the local hospital was particularly stretched because you had a lot of older people.
LOUISE: And a demographic in Bass who you know are largely not able to have private health insurance so they’re not going to go to the Celvery Hospital. They all have people they know or are related to who have had a less than stellar experience with the public health system and the at that time with its ramp up waiting times. Nikolic, his response was always tone deaf. He was really bad at actually responding to public concerns in a considered compassionate way especially you know health being such a hugely personal issue that it’s not his strength.
HOST: The local team decided to shift its emphasis to health care. Anna Povey was one of GetUp’s local volunteers.
INTERVIEWER: And strategic decision to choose to focus on issues like hospital care and to not really spend much time focussing on issues like climate change. From your experience of living here, do you think that that was a strategic position and if so why?
ANNA POVEY: And you know and especially in a town like this and you know you feel pretty attached to your institutions that help. So something like the hospital. Really loved and respected. And to see it getting ground down and hearing the stories of the staff getting overwhelmed and you know upsets people. And. So I think you know it was always going to resonate better than climate change.
ANNA POVEY: It’s not at the forefront of their minds and it astonishes me because I’m incredibly worried about it I think anyone has thought about it deeply is that it just seems to be too difficult for people to get their heads around so I can understand get at making that strategic decision. Hospitals are something people understand and climate change isn’t.
HOST: So they now had the measure of their opponent, and they’d identified the issue they thought could unseat him. The question became: how do you bring that issue to life?
Back in a moment.
HOST: Welcome back. GetUp had a plan to make health care the issue in the seat of Bass.
MICHAEL FOX: People here are. They used to be a little bit more extreme I guess.
HOST: Michael Fox is a doctor who lives in Launceston and works at the main public hospital there.
MICHAEL FOX: It’d be the red necks and the greenies but I don’t think I’m not sure of the passage of time or that you get to know people better but you realize that is not such a big division. Lots of people can be passionate about the environment and still work in industries that perhaps aren’t so environmentally, well, have environmental consequences.
INTERVIEWER: So it would make issues like climate change tricky.
MICHAEL FOX: Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah. Climate change is tricky for the whole world to get their head around at the moment.
HOST: For Michael, the under-funding of the hospital system wasn’t just some theoretical concern. He saw the consequences of it in front of him every day.
MICHAEL FOX: Well I mean even even currently at the moment I have a young fellow who. We did a biopsy on and it showed that he’s got a cancer of the neck. And so you know he’s 24 he’s young he’s got the whole of his life ahead of him. And so I found that out on Monday I saw him on Tuesday I rang around some of the specialist to see when we could get him in and some of them I can’t get him to see him for four months. The earliest I can probably get him in about three or four weeks. And that’s you know and that’s because they’re going well I’ve got other patients with cancer too you know and that got breast cancer or got whatever and I’m going to see them as well. So we just have to wait.
INTERVIEWER: Wow. It’s just not enough.
MICHAEL FOX: No. Yeah. Yeah. There’s not. We’re really struggling for some specialities in Launceston. And then that it can be even more frustrating because when I talk to some of my specialists friends they go Well I’ve actually got spare time on my hands but I don’t have access to a theatre to operate because there’s not the nursing staff or anesthetists or the beds. They sit in the hospital take care of this person after I’ve done the operation so I could do it but I can’t because there no one to look after this person after I’ve done this operation.
HOST: So Michael was a concerned local doctor. And he was already a member of GetUp.
INTERVIEWER: So when did you join GetUp?
MICHAEL FOX: I was trying to remember that. It’s probably back around 2010 or 11. And I mean I like the idea of get up I think from an early stage I like the idea of people having input into it having a way to put your thoughts to parliamentarians. So I did lots of signing online petitions and things like that.
INTERVIEWER: So had you done anything political before?
MICHAEL FOX: No no not really. I’ve been to a few rallies. You know we had the pulp mill issue.
HOST: The pulp mill was a hot issue amongst environmentalists a few years ago.
MICHAEL FOX: So we go along and wave our flags and whatnot. But no I’m not really an activist in that sense I guess.
INTERVIEWER: Online way of engaging politics to start with sounds perfect for you.
MICHAEL FOX: You know it’s easy enough to do. It’s not a huge time or energy commitment but you can feel I can make a difference.
INTERVIEWER: How did it escalate? You’re signing on petition, you’re enjoying it, you’re donating a little bit of money. How did that shift over time?
MICHAEL FOX: We did actually really I guess the big shift was this campaign.
Andrew Nikolic you just seem like such a bad representative of our electorate. He didn’t really seem to listen to people. He had some fairly far right wing ideas that I found really quite distasteful.
And so then when get up provided a vehicle for us to be able to do something that is the key I guess.
So we got an email from GetUp. And they said do you want to become engaged? We can we can have simple things that you can do that are pretty easy. Won’t take up a lot of your time. Sure. Let’s be involved in that. So we went along to the first meeting and I know half a dozen of us.
HOST: Louise Morris and Holly Dawson from GetUp were there.
MICHAEL FOX: And they said look you know here’s half a dozen things you can do. Which of these would you OK. I can do that. That’s pretty easy.
HOST: The task that Michael chose was to do a letter writing campaign. To send letters to the local newspapers.
INTERVIEWER: So do you remember how you felt when you walked out of the room, got into your car and were going to come home?
MICHAEL FOX: we got on our bikes and we rode home together and we’re just having a bit of a chat as we rode. Anna I think I was pretty excited about the whole idea. I was thinking well I’m not sure that this is going to make much of an impact really. You know there’s a few of us.
MICHAEL FOX: When I look at Andrew Nicolic advertising you know he had signs everywhere you know billboard posters throughout all the streets of launceston system it just seemed you know just this overwhelming machine that we’re trying to fight with little sticks and stones.
HOST: They start implementing their plan. Michael started writing to the newspapers, and then he started talking on the radio about his experiences with the health care system. Louise asked him whether he’d be interested recording some radio ads for GetUp.
MICHAEL FOX: And so then I did a couple of 20 second voice overs on the radio. It’s really about hospital issues and health care stuff and that was kind of interesting because I don’t know if it’s coming across in this interview but apparently I talk very slowly.
INTERVIEWER: It’s easy to understand
MICHAEL FOX: And now for a 20 second grab on the radio if it doesn’t work. And so I’ve written down you know half a dozen sentences of things that I thought were relevant or worth talking about. And the first time I said them they took me about 40 seconds.
MICHAEL FOX: And I spoke a bit fast when I got down to about 30 seconds and then just had to talk faster and faster and faster until I could say it in 20 seconds.
HOST: The radio ads got played.
MICHAEL FOX: It was really interesting for me to get feedback from that. So my patients came up to me and said I’ve heard you on the radio. I think that’s great. You know I really support what you’re doing. Thanks for saying. And that was a real eye opener for me because most of my patients are pretty conservative generally older people.
INTERVIEWER: We can all relate to you because we all go see you when we get sick. So you did the radio spots, then how did it increase?
MICHAEL FOX: Um, so then around that time had been a petition going around for people to sign just saying essentially we’re concerned about our health care system.
MICHAEL FOX: But there’d been a real problem with giving stuff to handling the courts in the past people had given positions and essentially torn them up thrown them ignored them not not being in his office even when he was in his office to receive them. So Louise thought well if we can give this to him one from somebody who’s legitimate and to in such a way that. He has to take it then that would be a good strategy.
HOST: They got together the petition. They decided to ambush Nikolic in the mall where a radio station were staging an outside broadcast, knowing he’d be there doing an interview.
MICHAEL FOX: So we were hanging out on the street trying to look discreet like we weren’t planning something. And and there was a number of people being interviewed and then finally Andrew Nikolic had an interview. And you know talking to me on so I kind of worked my way through the crowd because there was a whole lot of Nikolic people around the crowd
HOST: The plan was for Michael to step forward straight after Nikolic had done his interview and hand him the petition.
MICHAEL FOX: But my timing was not quite right. So he had moved forward from that point and the cameras were focussed on going on and leant forward to shake his hand. I was dressed in my Doctor wear. You know I have a tie I’m appropriately clothed. And I must have looked a lot like a liberal party voter. So he smiled at me stepped forward to shake my hand in a very happy you know greeting a comrade kind of way. And then I shook his hand and held out the petition to him and said what it was. I don’t think he quite understood what it was about at that moment. But he looked at the title and then he dropped my hand turned his back to me almost threw the partition to the ground and just dismissed me. And I was just a bit shocked because I thought oh he should at least go. Thank you for that. No I’ll address it when I can or whatever.
HOST: Unfortunately, because Michael got his timing wrong, none of it had been caught by the news cameras.
MICHAEL FOX: But luckily Holly had caught it all on her little hand camera and it was just perfect. You know we’re all in focus and you could see the way he responded to me. And so I thought oh well that’s good. But what do we do. It’s not going to go on to TV. It’s going to disappear and all that will happen is that I’ll know what I’m doing which is why it’s the first time I’ve ever met him.
HOST: Deflated, they sat down and had a coffee.
HOST: A few days later, Louise Morris called Michael.
MICHAEL: I said Look I’ve had a look at the video that I did. And it looks really good. I’d like you to come in and just talk about that moment and we’ll show some video of you and then we’ll just put that up on YouTube.
MICHAEL FOX: And so we sat down and we did that and then it went up on YouTube. And then I didn’t pay any more attention to it really until a few days later. So they said I saw you on YouTube. So I really have to go and have a look at that. And I had a look and I have no 10000 views at that point already. And oh that’s amazing and even while I was looking at it it views were going up.
MICHAEL: “Today I presented Andrew Nikolic to help save our hospital” … If he can’t vote to save our hospitals, why should be vote for him?
HOST: The video didn’t get any coverage on television, but it didn’t matter. As a seat, Bass has one of the highest uses of social media in the country.
MICHAEL FOX: And certainly you know in my work I had again heaps more people coming out to go Oh look I saw that YouTube video that’s fantastic. Thanks for doing that. And I was probably a slightly different age group. I probably had more younger people coming up and talking to me after that compared to the radio interviews.
It was the video of the election. It was GetUp’s single most watched video of the Bass campaign.
HOST: Meanwhile, back at the national office, Paul and Kelsey were trying to work out how best they could contribute to the Bass campaign. Their digital team was helping amplify the efforts on the ground, but what else could they do?
One thing the team was not getting much joy from was the hard slog of making phone calls to swinging voters, what’s known as phone banking.
[00:27:15] phone banking, people weren’ that passionate about and middle winter into a killer in a town where he gets cold dark and frosty very quickly. And he also had a really o h h y ice polyface. The average age about 55 to 60. So he was everywhere. People saw concrete signs
HOST: All the research that GetUp had done showed that phone banking is one of the most effective ways to shift people’s opinions in an election. So national office decided to deploy its resources to phoning in to the seat of Bass. It was like Louise and Holly were running a ground campaign, and Paul and Kelsey were backing it up with an air campaign.
LOUISE MORRIS: Phone banking on average twice a week because it turned out so low. And you know we really started working people trying to focus that city and laying out a lot of resources put in.
HOST: But there was a huge question mark over whether it would work?
PAUL OOSTING: Well one of the starting assumptions that was out there let’s say we get a bit but but others were concerned that people making calls from nationally based places like Melbourne or Sydney might not be able to connect with people in areas like regional Tasmania or Queensland and so forth and so it and so that we can. I think there’s a real commonality there. We’re having a real unscripted conversation about issues we’re passionate about so going back to that issue crossover we find that crossover and again agreement between what the swing vote person in a community sitting in a real house of an evening probably trying to act you know when you can connect their concerns with somebody else. I think we find that that cuts through the political life that cuts through the advertised campaigns of the big corporates and the major political parties and the people can connect and so often these conversations. One of the things that surprised me would last 20 or 40 minutes because people were actually having a real conversation about something they were passionate about.
HOST: The trick was finding an issue that a city-dweller from Sydney was passionate about enough to volunteer their evenings, and yet would connect with a voter in Bass. It was a thin needle to thread.
PAUL OOSTING: Our campaign was largely led by. Hundreds if not thousands of individuals making phone calls for instance and if they don’t then I’m passionate about the issue they’re calling on Probably they would make the call. So we have to find that sweet spot that sort of crossover in the Venn diagram where it’s an issue that our base members care about but also has resonating with those swing voters and that’s the challenge. We don’t waste my. But in the we did on the issue of hospital funding.
HOST: Megan Quinn was a volunteer for GetUp who helped run the phonebanking into Bass.
MEGAN QUINN: Well to be honest the actual like the strategy I thought it was a great idea. But the actual the implementation of the strategy I find people talking to them that didn’t appeal to me at all. I’m the last person that would go you know call the stranger and talk about politics. But you know we’ve been told that it’s really effective. And they seemed to know what they were talking about. And when I started doing it it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. You know when people realized that you actually want to listen to them and their political views. They’re quite happy to talk about it. No Rabbit on for ages about their political views on it. I had some really interesting conversations with people here.
HOST: Michael and Louise and Holly and all the volunteers had done all they could on the ground, and the national office had provided crucial air support. Now it was up to the voters.
LEIGH SALES: It is now 6pm on the night of the election… closing their doors.
HOST: Andrew Nikolic held the seat by 4% which made it one of the ten most marginal seats in the country, but by no means the most marginal. In an election where the Government was likely to be returned, an incumbent candidate could have seen off a normal challenge, especially with the resources that had been supplied to him by his party.
But this was not a normal challenge.
LOUISE MORRIS: We were pretty mainstream and you know Michael’s doctor Michaels of the world was at teachers doctors blue collar workers a lot of retirees who were the ones we were dealing with. It wasn’t young lefty like a sipping insta types at all.
HOST: It was a campaign distinct in Australia’s history, that mixed the resources and know-how of a national organisation with on the ground local concerns and spokespeople.
The dynamic between the national and the local place, online and offline all fed into each other. The campaign couldn’t have happened without national resources, but with only national resources they would have run on the wrong issues. It required locals who knew the lay of the land to know that the local hospital was the hottest issue.
The local action was most effective when it was offline at local listening posts for instance. But that offline action was amplified when it was posted online, like with the video.
The whole campaign was built out of a local place, but it was the dynamics around it – national phone banking, local listening posts, nationally funded local organisers – that made it so successful.
On top of that it was done outside the party system, something which was saw them almost completely written out of the moment they’d spent months working towards, with the immediate credit going to the opposition Labor Party, who benefited from the campaign.
SOT: Alright to Tasmania where one of the great nights for the Australian Labor Party to Bass.
“Tasmania has the strongest history of being a Labor state over the decades and it seems to have come roaring back at this election somewhat unexpectedly that’s an enormous 10.6% swing.”
HOST: That’s Election Analyst Antony Green announcing the result on Australia’s national broadcaster the ABC. The result surprised him. It seems no one had factored in the role of GetUp.
MICHAEL FOX: Online stuff is nice. But you don’t. Well I don’t really engage with it. You know it’s a peripheral thing.
HOST: Remember, this is Michael, who first came to GetUp through its online campaigns.
MICHAEL FOX: It’s a tick a box kind of thing often. But I think when you actually get out there and do something and you relate to people directly.
HOST: So what happened to the blockers? Kelsey Cooke says they weren’t pleased.
KELSEY COOKE: Yeah. Well I mean they got angry. First of all I think we saw in the days after the election. Some very frustrated people who had I guess they’d heard about the GetUp campaign
KELSEY COOKE: And in the immediate aftermath of the election. We could see that had Andrew Nikolic lost his seat quite demonstrably. He lost it very early on during the election counting July 2.
KELSEY COOKE: A lot of them were out there on TV talking about the GetUp campaign and really tried to paint it with an ugly brush.
REPORTER: What went wrong in Tasmania?
ABETZ: A number of factors went against the coalition. First of all we had get up spending and bragging about the fact they spent half a million dollars, just in the seat of Bass, with 10 full time people, besmirching the character of a great Australian servant, Andrew Nikolic.
KELSEY COOKE: There had been an enormous swing that was either way one explains. They could say that again a campaign that had impact in those areas
KELSEY COOKE: If they’d been laughing at us on the floor all of a sudden they were taking us pretty seriously as a movement. To me it was an excellent sign that up members are being taken seriously in the election. Beyond anything else?
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