A third post in one day!
In the post that began my current thread on politics and public policy, Saturday Morning Musings on a changing Australia, I said in part:
As I write, the left of centre advocacy group GetUp has launched a national TV campaign trying to force the banning of the export of live animals for overseas slaughter. The campaign features images of mistreated cattle and sheep exported from Australia to Indonesia and the Middle East and will air on free-to-air and pay TV.
GetUp is an interesting phenomenon and itself a sign of change.
Internet based, it draws from very particular demographics and has provided a vehicle for organising opinion in those demographics. To survive, GetUp has to identify those issues popular within its support base to the point that people will contribute money. No money, no campaigns, no GetUp. It's really as simple as that.
I am on the GetUp mailing list because I supported a campaign on mental health. As a consequence, today I received the following email from them. Comments follow at the end.
-- A "people-power victory on live exports" read The Age homepage this morning. Congratulations! --
This morning Prime Minister Gillard announced an immediate suspension of live exports to Indonesia. To every single one of the 236,000 Australians who have been part of this campaign: congratulations!
Last week, many of us across the nation were shocked to see footage recorded by the courageous team at Animals Australia in Indonesian abattoirs. So when Animals Australia and the RSPCA invited GetUp members to join the campaign, together we responded with the fastest growing campaign in GetUp history.
Over 230,000 of us joined the petition to Julia Gillard and the Agriculture Minister in just one week. Not only that, but together we chipped in over $300,000 for rapid response TV and radio ads calling on the Prime Minister to end the cruel practice!
Our friends at Animals Australia and the RSPCA have poured their hearts into this campaign. They have stood witness first hand to animal cruelty that most of us can barely stand to watch on a TV screen. The credit for today's sucess belongs very much to them. But it also belongs to every single person who made this people-powered campaign such a force over the last week.
Today's announcement marks a radical improvement on the Government's stance from just days ago. There can be no doubt that by creating a huge, hard-hitting advertising campaign and one of the largest petitions in Australian history, every single person involved in this campaign helped shift the Government from a quick political fix to a serious response.
Sadly, there is no guarantee that there isn't horrific animal cruelty happening right now in other countries because of the live export trade. That's why it's important to forward this email to your friends and family and ask them to sign the petition to end live exports too.
This isn't the end of our efforts to stop the cruel practice of live exports to Indonesia. Over the coming months we'll continue to work closely with Animals Australia and the RSPCA to carefully scrutinise the Government's commitment, and ensure that never again are Australian taxes allowed to fund such callous animal cruelty in these slaughterhouses.
Campaigns like this are what GetUp is all about: hundreds of thousands of Australians joining together to hold politicians to account. It's people power that works - and not just on this issue.
Congratulations and thanks for being part of this,
the GetUp team
PS - All of GetUp's campaigns rely on donations. Over 50,000 Australians have chipped in - and our small team and volunteers ensure your donation goes a long way to creating change. If you'd like to make a secure contribution, please
GetUp is an example of the issues based morality politics that I referred to in The rise of issues based morality politics. I discussed the live cattle export question in Problems in Indonesian live meat exports.
As GetUp notes, campaigns like this one are just what GetUp is about. It needs popular issues and donations to survive. As I said in my earlier post, no money, no campaigns, no GetUp. It's really as simple as that.
Most people's reactions to GetUp depend, I think, on whether or not they agree with the issues GetUp espouses. My reaction is a little different.
To my mind, GetUp has become mistletoe on the gum tree that is the Australian political system. It looks for particular popular issues and then feeds upon them. It does not contribute to debate, it cannot, because it has to win to keep the money flowing. Further, it is effectively locked in to issues that appeal to its support base.
GetUp does not hold politicians to account. Its role is to try to force them to do particular things packaged in simple terms. Stop the sheep or cattle is equivalent to stop the boats, packaged pap.
In saying this, I am not in any way decrying or devaluing the views of GetUp supporters. I am simply saying that GetUp has become yet another hurdle in the way of sensible discussion on the issues facing this country. It is part of the problem when we need a solution.
In a comment, Marcellous wrote:
I'm not sure that you are right that GetUp always has to be on the winning side. It hasn't always managed to be.
Personally, I concurred with this letter in this morning's SMH:
Cattle sent to Indonesia to be treated according to Australian law. People sent to Malaysia won't be. This is confusing.
Michael Charlton Blaxland
From recollection, GetUp!'s advocacy is at least more consistent than the governments. Democracy at work?
Marcellous is, of course, right in saying that GetUp hasn't always been on the winning side. However, it does need to be able to present wins or apparent wins often enough to survive.
I thought that Michael Blaxland's letter as quoted by M. captured moral confusion rather neatly. One difficulty with issue by issue responses lies in the way that it actually encourages inconsistency.
Marcellous is also correct in saying that GetUp's advocacy is more consistent than the Government's. It could hardly be otherwise, for GetUp operates in a zone set by its supporter's interests and beliefs. Those with different views get squeezed out. I am not suggesting some form of GetUp censorship, simply the natural winnowing process that flows from the way GetUp operates.
Take my own case as an example. I was interested when GetUp first started because I saw it as a possible vehicle for participatory democracy. As I said in the post, I supported the mental health campaign. However, as I read the subsequent flow of emails from GetUp, I realised that I didn't actually agree with most of the GetUp campaigns. Now I had a problem. If I supported one GetUp campaign that I agreed with, then I was de facto supporting other campaigns that I did not agree with. And that was the majority.
The concern that I have with GetUp that I tried to express in the post lies in the way that it's advocacy role affects the political and policy process. Now here I accept that there are differences between GetUp campaigns.
Take, as an example, GetUp's support for and organisation of demonstrations to support action on climate change. Here we have a sensitive issue that has been well argued where the Government has a generally defined position. We also have organised opposition that uses the internet in combination with direct action to try to defeat the Government's position. Who could argue with GetUp's advocacy role? It doesn't add to knowledge, but it is a legitimate part of the political process.
The position becomes more difficult when you are dealing with single issue campaigns like live animal exports. Again, GetUp's advocacy role is a legitimate part of the political process. However, my concern lies in the way that GetUp interacts with other elements in the political process to deliver (as I see it) negative results.
GetUp has become a structured way of using new technology to orchestrate and organise certain sets of political views so as to increase immediate impact. In doing so, it's very success makes it self-defeating.
I increasingly doubt that the Gillard Government can survive. The Indonesian live animal imbroglio is just the latest mess created by Government responses to pressures from its ideological friends.
I am not a natural Labor supporter. However, at a purely personal level, I really wanted the Labor Government to be a success because I thought that it would offset what I saw as the accreting errors of the Howard period. I don't think that this can happen now.