If the past couple of years have taught us anything about politics, it would be that activist lobby groups are becoming more influential than ever. 24-year-old Account Executive Larissa Jaffé is finding her peers are becoming more engaged in the political system due to the rise of these lobby groups and their social media influence. Social media is giving activist campaign groups the ability to fundraise, share content and engage communities. With strong commitment and financial backing, the sky is the limit for the influence these groups can spread.
In Australia’s political climate, social media is doing a good job of holding politicians to account. When a politician becomes involved in a scandal, thousands of people will know about it in minutes. Social media allows everyone to have a voice, and sentiment can be monitored through comments, likes and shares. The political discourse will evolve even further; the Betoota Advocate may write a satire piece, or someone will create a meme about it.
This can increase engagement in the political process but people may still feel disenfranchised by the traditional two-party system. This is the perfect space for activist lobby groups, both progressive and conservative, to rise for their own political motive.
I have been watching three activist lobby groups closely in the past year, regarding the future of Sydney’s nightlife and the future of Australia’s ex-Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. The recent NSW state election saw the emergence of Keep Sydney Open (KSO). The federal election is putting two opposing lobby groups, GetUp! and Advance Australia, front and centre. These three political campaign groups are making waves on different sides of the political spectrum and it has made for interesting viewing.
A social movement turned political party, KSO made headlines in the lead up to the NSW election. KSO started in 2014 as an industry lobby group in response to Barry O’Farrell’s lockout laws. The aim was to organise mass scale protests in Sydney until the NSW government relaxed its stance on the laws, taking inspiration from Melbourne’s anti-lockout protests in 2008. KSO founder Tyson Koh, a former producer on ABC’s Rage, later realised that it would take more than a few protests to encourage former Premiers Barry O’Farrell, Mike Baird, and the current Premier Gladys Berejiklian to budge on the lockout laws. Just six months ago KSO registered itself as a political party, running in 42 electorates in the Legislative Assembly (Lower House) and putting up 21 candidates in the Legislative Council (Upper House).
The fatal overdoses of five young Australians over the summer, the NSW government’s conservative approach to pill testing, and new regulations on music festivals, created the perfect climate for KSO to gain some traction on issues young people care about.
The policies were enticing: ending lockouts, legalising pill testing, supporting festivals, 24-hour transport, supporting small businesses and protecting heritage – it seemed like every young person in NSW would be on board to fight the ‘Nanny State’.
However, the party didn’t miss out on its fair share of criticism.
Young voters started to catch onto KSO and called out their preference deal with the Sustainable Australia Party. Sustainable Australia sounded progressive on paper, but the party called for immigration rates to drop from 200,000 a year down to 70,000 a year on the premise that cutting down immigration will increase environmental sustainability. Social media backlash came around in due course, claiming that KSO was preferencing a “racist, anti-immigration party” ahead of The Greens. One writer on Medium continued on the “Keep Sydney Open is racist” tirade and claimed the party does not prioritise Indigenous struggle.
When the results started to trickle through, it was even suggested KSO’s involvement had helped the Coalition claim victory. KSO disputed these claims on its Facebook page, stating it had preferenced the Greens and Labor incumbents in every seat KSO contested.
Criticisms aside, we need to remember there will never be a political party that will tick all the boxes. Voters also need to learn that unfortunately, political parties must make deals and be strategic to get ahead; this isn’t new. But 69,076 people across NSW voted to Keep Sydney Open (at last count), which isn’t bad for a political party that formed only six months ago.
At a Federal level, there has been an active campaign by GetUp! to unseat former Prime Minister Tony Abbott from his seat of Warringah on the Lower North Shore and Federal Parliament. Unlike KSO, it doesn’t look like GetUp! will become a political party anytime soon, but it is a strong lobby group that can cause pain for Tony Abbott’s election campaign.
After living in Manly for 23 years, I know without a doubt Warringah is a blue-ribbon seat. However, in the last couple of years I have noticed a shift. You can’t deny the people of Warringah still hold strong Liberal values, but they are also quite progressive.
Warringah had one of the highest “yes” votes in the country during the same sex marriage postal survey, whereas Tony Abbott was arguably the face of the “no” campaign. The people of Warringah are passionate about climate change, yet Tony Abbott seems to be a non-believer. The values he displays no longer reflect the values of the electorate and his inaction on climate change may be the nail in the coffin for his 25-year reign of Warringah.
Along with GetUp!, there is a continued anti-Abbott movement across smaller groups such as Think Twice Warringah, Voices of Warringah, and Vote Tony Out. Think Twice Warringah works on the ground by actively putting up posters reminding Abbott’s constituents of all the things he has said about the climate, women, and marriage equality. Vote Tony Out sells online anti-Abbott merchandise such as t-shirts, shopping bags, stickers, and stubbie holders. These groups together have formed a Coalition of Anti-Abbott groups that are working in alliance to meet a common goal: to kick Tony out.
However, with all the anti-Abbott sentiment, it is hard to deny Tony Abbott has been a very active member of the community. Tony Abbott used to visit my primary school, and I remember meeting him at Parliament House during a school excursion to Canberra. He clearly cares for the people of Warringah, and still has many loyal constituents. His campaign is still energised, and just like GetUp! has endorsed Zali Steggall (despite her attempt to distance herself from the group), Tony Abbott has support from Advance Australia. The conservative lobby group has raised close to $400,000 to support key Liberal party conservatives ahead of the federal election. So far, Advance Australia has concentrated much of its energy on Tony Abbott, battling against GetUp! and other anti-Abbott community groups. It will be an uphill battle for Advance Australia, which is up against GetUp! - an organisation that has over one million members, spent six million dollars at the 2016 federal election and has received $11 million worth of donations in the past year.
In the recent state election, there was an 11.6 per cent swing toward The Greens in Manly, which is a very telling sign of how smaller political parties and activist movements can sway polling. With the GetUp! and Advance Australia campaigns in full swing, the coalition of anti-Abbott groups and announcement of Zali Steggall running as an Independent, the Warringah electorate will be an interesting seat to watch in the upcoming Federal election.
The Shell Issue 13
1. Co-CEO address, Benjamin Haslem
2. How Shooters, Fishers and Farmers tapped a well of resentment to reshape the political landscape, Alexandra Mayhew Hills
3. The rise of activist lobby groups in Australian politics, Larissa Jaffé
4. Social media and the art of political persuasion: No one changes anything, and everyone’s pi__ed, Benjamin Haslem
5. 2020 US Democrats: The New Guard, Isabelle Walker
6. Social media influencers and Federal politicians don blue hearts to fight youth suicide, Stav Pisk
7. New trends in banking? Answering brick bats with bouquets, Kathy Lindsay
8. Strong Australia-China relations important for maintaining trade flow torrent, David Croasdale & Maggie Chan
9. IPREX Highlights