Online activist group GetUp! has accused Senate Opposition Leader Eric Abetz of waging a 'smear campaign' against the group over it's 2007 ‘How Should I Vote’ site.
In Senate Estimates last Tuesday (pdf), Liberal Senator Abetz questioned the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) about its dealings with GetUp! during the 2007 Federal Election.
AEC chief legal officer Paul Pirani recalled receiving several complaints about GetUp!’s how-to-vote card generator, howshouldivote.com.au.
The site compared visitors’ responses to a 20-question questionnaire against information provided by politicians to produce personalised candidate ranking cards.
Visitors to the site and election candidates were asked if they ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’, were ‘unsure’, ‘oppose’, or ‘strongly oppose’ a range of political statements.
If a candidate’s response exactly matched that of a site visitor, that candidate would be awarded four points. Candidates with an opposing view were awarded zero points.
Candidates who did not respond to the questionnaire were awarded zero points, and were thus consistently ranked last on generated how-to-vote cards.
Pirani told Parliament that the AEC considered the site “misleading and deceptive” under section 329 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.
“At that time we wrote to GetUp! ... and said to them that unless they put clear caveats in the material saying that the coalition candidates would always come last because they had not completed the questionnaires, the AEC would consider seeking an injunction,” he said.
“We felt that it was being misleading and deceptive in terms of section 329, because electors would generate those how-to-vote cards and they would not know that the coalition candidates had not completed any of the questionnaires.”
In a public statement on Saturday, Abetz commended the AEC for its comments and asserted that the site had the capacity to “seriously mislead” its 150,000 users.
GetUp! spokesman Sam McLean yesterday told iTnews that the site clearly marked the candidates who had not responded and advised visitors that “we can’t match you with people who haven’t filled out the survey”.
But Abetz said that most users “would have missed or not understood the implications of the fine print”.
"This was an appalling low for a group which is always lecturing us about Electoral Act Integrity,” Abetz said.
“I hope the public realise GetUp! is a left-wing union front, designed to dupe people into voting for Labor and the Greens while pretending to be only issues-focused.”
According to McLean, GetUp! had distributed the questionnaire to every candidate in the 2007 Federal Election.
But only “a couple” of 2007 candidates from the Liberal and National Coalition had submitted their responses before Coalition headquarters issued orders not to.
A Coalition spokesman has not yet responded to iTnews' request for comment.
“Eric Abetz is on a mission to have a go at GetUp!,” McLean said. “He’s trying to find a way to discredit us.”
McLean denied that GetUp! was affiliated with any political party, noting that it had mounted 20 campaigns against Labor party policies since 2007.
Last year, GetUp! won a High Court case against registration deadlines that were introduced to the Electoral Act by the Howard Government in 2006.
The decision gave Australians seven days after an election was called to enrol to vote, instead of the one day mandated by Howard’s Electoral Integrity Act.