Collective Shout operate as a lobby group for campaigns of the Christian Right on censorship and sex work. They seek meetings with politicians, they make repeated submissions to government bodies, they petition ministers and MPs and address campaigns to them on social media. Submissions to government are published and are freely available to read and download. Here’s a selection –
Submission to Senate Legal & Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Aust. Film & Lit. Classification Scheme 2011. This submission argues for Mandatory Internet filtering, on all devices, for an outright ban of ALL sexually explicit material, or content with simulated sexual activity, they argue for a ban of sexual content in Music Videos, using Kanye as an example. Collective Shout argue for a censorship regime that would ban or restrict some of the best TV series in recent years, it would apply to shows like Sopranos, OITNB, GOT, TrueBlood and to films, music videos, art, anime, games that depict sex. The censorship regime they propose would ban a lot of culture across multiple art forms and genres. It would effectively return Australia to the 1950s.
CS submission to the Law Reform review. Similar content, pushing for a massive censorship regime. ‘Refused release’ classification is recommended for music with sexual or violent lyrics, and a total ban on sexual material, mandatory internet filtering…
It’s clear from their submissions to Government that Collective Shout want to dictate what music people listen to. They want music they object to refused classification, prohibited from release, and blocked from distribution with mandatory internet filtering. Except they tell public the opposite.
This is kinda true tho, in a Christian legalistic sense, because they’re not successfully dictating what music you can listen to – yet. They definitely want to though.
CS list of Submissions to government, on censorship, criminalisation of sex workers. As you can see, they’ve been busy. There’s also more of a focus on sex work than they publicize. Their mission statement mentions campaigning on sexualization and objectification, not the long term focus on sex work obvious here. Again, there’s a bit of spin and careful branding at play.
Grassroots or Astroturfing?
It’s obvious from this activity that Collective Shout are a political lobby group. What also becomes apparent is that they are also not a ‘grassroots’ campaign, that is pure spin. They’re lead by Melinda Tankard Reist – a savvy political staffer with an insider knowledge of Canberra and a religion-fueled conviction and desire to influence legislation and policy at a federal level. They must have a board because Felicity Langton said on Linkedin she is the chair, but there is no mention of it on the CS website, and no names of board members, staff, coordinators, office holders or the kind of information you would make available to your ‘grassroots’ members, if the organisation was actually accountable to them. Also, strangely for a group claiming to be “grassroots” there is no members’ forum, no members’ meetings to work out campaigns and policy, no voting or any other activity typical of an organisation run from the ground up – it appears that CS is run by its leadership and ‘members’ are simply followers. It also looks like the team of christian women who run the campaigns also operate effectively as followers of Melinda Tankard Reist, in the biblical model of an infallible cult leader with a small group of disciples.
So, what does it matter if they’re lobbying? It matters because we expect public disclosure from organisations attempting to exercise influence over politicians and laws that affect the whole country. We expect such organisations to be held to a high standard of transparency because we’ve seen deceptive conduct in the past. There have been plenty of examples of astroturfing used by Tobacco & Oil interests, and Religious Conservatives – mostly christians. The public expect political lobbyists to disclose their ideology and their affiliations – while Collective Shout works hard to conceal them. Jennifer Wilson argues the case for disclosure here –
The Wikipedia article on Astroturfing is a good primer and I believe it applies to Collective Shout –
A typical indicator of Astroturfing is when an organization claims to be ‘grassroots’, it’s such a well worn cliche of the Religious Right that it’s embarrasing they still use it.
Here’s CS representatives meeting with conservative LNP Member of Parliament Alan Tudge, smiles all round…
GRASSROOTS & The Code of Conduct
The Australian Government regulates Lobbyists, in the interests of a transparent and accountable democratic process, not open to conflicts of interest or corruption. There is a register of lobbyists and a code of conduct, published here –
It spells out our expectations of transparency –
“there is a public expectation that lobbying activities will be carried out ethically and transparently, and that Government representatives who are approached by lobbyists can establish whose interests they represent so that informed judgments can be made about the outcome they are seeking to achieve…
The Lobbying Code of Conduct is intended to promote trust in the integrity of government processes and ensure that contact between lobbyists and Government representatives is conducted in accordance with public expectations of transparency, integrity and honesty. Lobbyists and Government representatives are expected to comply with the requirements of the Lobbying Code of Conduct in accordance with their spirit, intention and purpose. “
Lobbying is defined as attempting to influence Government on behalf of third parties, but in a stroke of luck for Collective Shout it does not include
“petitions or communications of a grassroots campaign nature in an attempt to influence a Government policy or decision”.
This is why the use of the ‘grassroots’ cover is important. As long as Collective Shout claim to be “a grassroots campaign” they do not have to register as lobbyists, they do not have to disclose their funding, their backers, their ties to any political parties or groups, their membership numbers, or in fact anything. They do not have to be transparent to the democratic process, to members of Government or to the public. They evade scrutiny. Astroturfing – literally covering the ground with fake grass – faking grassroots.
Collective Shout leader Melinda Tankard Reist knows this inside out, she was a political staffer and Canberra insider for 12 years with Senator Brian Harradine. She also campaigned for the Catholic Southern Cross Bioethics Institue, and her first lobby group Women’s Forum Australia. She must know the rules better than you or I ever will. She is an experienced political operator with powerful friends. Independent Senator Harradine was able to ram through his socially conservative Catholic policy, particularly on women’s reproductive rights, without party support, and without the numbers, by clever manipulation of the process. Working with him for so long you may just learn a trick or two.
During their campaign against Tyler The Creator, Collective Shout even resorted to paid tweets from sockpuppet accounts to fake ‘grassroots’ public support. Nobody is stupid enough to fall for this tho and not long after being called out on it the spam disappeared….
And again with the paid tweets, this is just a sample, there were a lot more than this. This campaign was aimed at inflating page views for an opinion piece by Melinda Tankard Reist.