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'Taking A Stand On One Side': GetUp Grilled Over Federal Election Influence

With thousands of volunteers and millions to spend, progressive campaigners GetUp have rustled some feathers among the major parties this election campaign.

The lobby group is set to play a major role this weekend and hopes to rid Parliament of some of those "hard-right wreckers" to "move forward" as a country, according to Campaign Director Miriam Lyons.

But how exactly have they been doing that? And what makes the group accountable?

In an interview with The Project's Hamish Macdonald, to be aired Monday night, Lyons faces the tough questions.

Miriam Lyons. PHOTO: The Project

GetUp is a non-profit public company with nine board members, run by former environmental activist Paul Oosting. It describes itself as "an independent campaigning community" and claims to have the backing of more than one million members, who Lyons describes as "the people that take action".

"So, you're automatically a member because you've taken action?" Macdonald asked.

"Correct," Lyons replied.

"So it's not necessarily a million members?" he pressed.

"No, it's a million people taking action."

It's a million people tacking action on a whole range of different issues they care about and banding together so they're able to have more impact.

This federal election, GetUp has its eyes on six seats, home to some of the country's more conservative and controversial politicians: Peter Dutton (Dickson), Tony Abbott (Warringah), Greg Hunt (Flinders), Kevin Andrews (Menzies), Christian Porter (Pearce) and Nicolle Flint (Boothby).

It's also part of a community alliance campaigning in Kooyong, represented by treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

GetUp said it choose those seats after asking their membership base which seats they most wanted to come under the spotlight -- the most high profile of which are those of Abbott and Dutton.

Despite this, it claims it is not backing any particular party or candidate.

READ MORE: Inside GetUp's Ambitious Campaign To Crush Dutton And The Liberal Right 

"I think it can be confusing sometimes for people that we're engaged in politics but we're not a political party and we have no allegiance to anybody but our members and the issues," Lyons told The Project.

In Abbott's hotly-contested seat of Warringah, up to 600 GetUp volunteers have been handing out "independent" how-to-vote cards that "give people options on how they can make their vote count for the climate".

"And, what do they say?" Macdonald asked.

"We're asking people to vote for the climate and against Tony Abbott."

PHOTO: The Project

While GetUp has been around for 14 years, it wasn't until the last election in that it appeared to have an impact, helping to unseat several conservative pollies such as Liberal Andrew Nikolic.

"I think what it showed is how they could use their numbers and their volunteer base to really influence the outcome in certain seats in the election," political advertising expert Dr Andrew Hughes told The Project.

"I think that was the moment that they realised their strategy was working and did work in an election context in Australia."

But this election campaign, it hasn't been smooth sailing, and GetUp's tactics have raised big questions around its independence.

READ MORE: Will Tony Abbott Get The Chop In Warringah? 

In an interview with Sky News, Peter Dutton described GetUp as an "extreme left wing advocacy group" with "pretty radical views" that only supports the Greens and the Labor Party.

When asked whether the group would put a Coalition candidate on its voting cards, Lyons said it would "love the chance" but hasn't had one.

She refuted claims GetUp is seen as a proxy for Labor, referencing a "thorough" investigation by The Australian Electoral Commission.

"What they found was yes, we are an independent issues-based organisation and although we may work to the detriment of some candidates, that doesn’t necessarily equate to working on behalf of other," she said.

But Hughes said GetUp's strategy using how-to-vote cards raises fears "because they are taking a stand on one side".

READ MORE: GetUp Pulls Controversial Ad Featuring Abbott Impersonator

tony abbott impersonator getup
GetUp pulled a controversial ad featuring Tony Abbott refusing to save a drowning person. PHOT0: GetUp

GetUp may be grassroots, but has raked in over $13 million in annual donations. A few specific donations -- from the Australian Workers Union fronted by now-Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and the CFMEU -- have sparked claims the group is a front for Labor and the unions.

Lyons would not comment on "the decisions of past GetUp staffers" but said "it's definitely not something that we would do now and it's not something that GetUp has done for many years".

The group, too, had its fair share of blunders this campaign, quickly yanking down a controversial anti-Abbott ad that briefly aired showing an actor playing volunteer lifeguard Abbott ignoring someone drowning in the ocean.

At the end of the day, Hughes believes GetUp is being "very transparent".

"The whole question is what are they seeking to achieve really and who are they meeting with?

"If you're seeking to influence the outcome of an election, we should know where that influence is going to come from."

Watch the full interview with Hamish Macdonald tonight on The Project at 6:30pm on Channel 10.