03 April 2008

2415) How to Get Politicians' Attention: Lobbying in Australia

Contents:
* Contacting Members of Parliament
o Who to Contact
and how to find the names of your Parliamentary representatives
o How to Contact & Effectiveness of Methods
o Tips for contacting Members of Parliament
+ Writing Letters
+ Sending Emails
+ Telephone Calls
o Form of Address & Mail Addresses for Members of Parliaments
* Contacting Newspapers
Writing letters to editors and email addresses for newspapers.


Contents:



Contacting Members of Parliament

Who to Contact

Who to contact depends on whether the matter concerns Federal or State/Territory or Local Government responsibilities or laws. This section presently only covers contacting members of Federal Parliament.

Federal/Commonwealth Parliament:

The most relevant politicians to contact are:

For information on how to address a letter to a member of Parliament, see Form of Address below.


How to Contact & Effectiveness of Methods

The effectiveness of methods of contact from most effective to least effective are:

  • Face to face meeting:
    Face to face meetings with your representative and/or a relevant member of their staff are the most effective. A meeting usually needs to be arranged at least a week (and often more) in advance, and may be particularly difficult to organise for a day during weeks when Parliament is sitting.
  • Letter:
    A handwritten, or typed and signed letter, is the most effective means of communication (other than a face to face meeting). It is far more effective than photocopied form letters, postcard campaigns or emails. Some politicians regard handwritten letters more highly than typewritten letters (some of these are technologically illiterate, and some find it convenient to claim the sender probably just cut and pasted what someone else said without thinking about the issue themself).
    See tips for writing letters later herein.
  • Telephone call:
    A phone call to your representative's office (local electorate office or at Parliament House) is generally more effective than sending email, but is less effective than writing and mailing a letter.
  • Fax:
    The effectiveness of fax communication is higher than email, but less than a mailed letter and roughly equivalent to a phone call.
  • Email:
    Email is by far the least effective way of communicating your views to your representative/s.

    Some politicians regard email as "second class mail" (as reported by the Commonwealth Department of the Parliamentary Reporting Staff in the 2000/01 Annual Report) and some do not even read email. Others receive so much email that they and their staff have difficulty managing it.

    However, when you are unable to find time to mail a letter or make a phone call, it is better to send an email than do nothing.

    See tips on sending email later herein that will help maximise the probability of your email being read and considered. It is also worth bearing in mind comments made by several politicians in an article titled Getting pollies' e-ttention (by Selina Mitchell, The Australian IT, 8 May 2001) which include:

    "...Some [politicians] The Australian spoke to will simply delete all email from people living outside of their constituency, while others will open emails with subject lines indicating an area of interest. Most will not forward emails to colleagues. Many say they are wary of bandwidth-hungry email postcards and form-letter style bombardments.

    'I think the view amongst parliamentarians is that if you get an influx of email from different people but it is the same letter word for word, all it says is that someone has a good network,' POITAG chair and Liberal MP Kevin Andrews says.

    'A personal representation is much better than one that is mass produced - don't just regurgitate what someone at the head of a lobby group says.'

    But politicians have different ideas about what constitutes spam. Shadow IT spokeswoman Senate [sic] Kate Lundy says she doesn't receive much, but she does receive up to 200 emails every day. And, unlike many of her colleagues, she regards email postcards and form letters as a useful way of getting a message across.

    'We should value email because of its ease, not devalue it because it can create more work for us,' she says.

    But she admits that she struggles with the 'resource' sometimes. ..."

    (For full article see: Getting pollies' e-ttention, Selina Mitchell, The Australian IT, 8 May 2001)


Tips for contacting Members of Parliament

Tips for Writing Letters

  • Include your name and address: Identify yourself as a constituent by including your address when you write to your elected representative/s. Generally, politicians are likely to pay most attention to people who live in their electoral district.
  • Keep it brief: Letters should be no longer than one page and should be about one issue only. Be as concise as possible. Politicians receive many letters on many topics every day. Long letters are likely to be put aside to read on a less busy day and that day may never come.
  • Use your own words, not someone else's: An original letter sent by one single person is more effective than a form letter (or cut and pasted texts) sent by dozens of people. Even if your writing skills are not the best, a letter written in your own words will carry much more weight than regurgitating what some else said.
  • Handwrite, or type and sign, your letter: A handwritten, or typed and signed, letter is far more effective than photocopied form letters, postcard campaigns or emails. Some politicians regard handwritten letters more highly than typewritten letters (some of these are technologically illiterate, and some find it convenient to claim the sender probably just cut and pasted what someone else said without thinking about the issue themself). Some, very likely many, regard emails as "second class mail" and some do not even read email.
  • State the topic clearly: Include a subject line at the beginning of your letter. If it is about a specific piece of legislation (an Act) or a proposed law (a Bill), state the full name of the Act or Bill in the subject line, or at least in the first paragraph.
  • Start with a clear statement of purpose: For example:
    "I am writing to urge your support for / opposition to..."
    "I am writing to ask you to support / oppose ..."
  • Focus on three important points: Choose the three points that are most likely to be persuasive in gaining support for your position and flesh them out. This is more effective than attempting to address numerous points in a letter.
  • Ask your representative to take concrete action: For example, in relation to a proposed law (a Bill), ask them to raise the matter in their party room and seek to have their party oppose the Bill. Point out that the issues are important enough to warrant amendments to the Bill, and/or for the representative to cross the floor and vote against the Bill if their party supports it.
  • Ask for a response to your letter: While the response will usually be a form letter, written and authorised by their political party, you will know you have had an impact on their office. Party politics in Australia are such that few elected politicians are likely to tell you whether or not they personally share your views/position. However, a well-written letter can be instrumental in prompting them to take action behind the public scenes to inform and potentially change their political party's position.

  • Personalise your letter: When possible, include a personal story and/or information on how the issue affects you, your family, your business, or people around you. This can help your representative understand your position and can be very persuasive as he/she forms a position on an issue. The more personal your letter, the more impact it is likely to have.
  • Personalise your relationship: If you have ever voted for the representative, or contributed time or money to their election campaign, or have met them, etc, say so. The closer your representative feels to you, the more effective your letter is likely to be.
  • Be polite: Be courteous, but don't be afraid to take a firm position. While your representative's job is to represent you, remember that politicians and their staff are people too. Threats, hostile remarks and rude/offensive language are among the fastest ways to alienate people who could otherwise decide to support your position in light of rational and reasoned argument. Your representative could be in elected office for decades, and could be promoted to higher, more influential, office within their party. Avoid creating enemies.

  • Thanks is as important as criticism: Politicians/political parties need to be able to tell the 'other side' that they have been inundated with calls and letters supporting their position. Write thank you letters to politicians/parties that you know support your position. This will encourage them to stand firm on their position rather than backing down, which has often happened during the passage of proposed laws through Australian parliaments.
  • Keep the irritation factor low: Avoid accusing/criticising the wrong politicians/party. Politicians, like anyone else, may become irritated when accused of holding views they do not. If you are not sure of the views of the person or political party you are contacting, either research the matter, ask them, or just inform them of your views and why they should support same.
  • For information on how to address a letter to a member of Parliament, see Form of Address below.



Tips for Sending Emails

Email is by far the least effective way of communicating your views to your representative/s. For reasons why, and comments by various politicians, see information above.

However, when you are unable to find time to mail a letter or make a phone call, it is better to send an email than do nothing. The following tips will help maximise the probability of your email being read and considered:

  • Most of the tips above for writing letters also apply to writing email.
  • Write to appropriate politicians, not everyone: Send your email to your local representative/s and/or the Minister/Shadow Minister responsible for the matter you are writing about, not to everyone. Mass emailing politicians can overload mail servers and be blocked like spam or make it difficult for politicians and their staff to cope. Thoughtfully and appropriately directed email is less likely to irritate and more likely to be read and considered.
  • Include your name and address: Email can come from anywhere in the world so be sure to identify yourself as a constituent by including your address (preferably at the top of your email). Politicians are most likely to pay attention to people who live in their electoral district or at least in Australia. Also, many politicians reply to email only by postal mail.
  • Use the formality of a letter, not the informality of typical emails: The formality of a letter makes a better impression on most politicians than the informal style often used in email messages. Pay attention to spelling, punctuation, capitalisation, etc.
  • Use the "To" field (not the "copy" or "blind copy" fields): Place the politician's email address in the "To" field of your email, not in the "copy" (c.c.) or "blind copy" (b.c.c.) fields, to minimise the risk of your email being treated like spam and automatically deleted or sent to a junk mail folder.
  • Address a person: Commence with "Dear ...", so your email doesn't look like impersonal/junk mail.
  • State the topic in the subject line of your email.
  • Be polite: Be courteous, but don't be afraid to take a firm position. While your representative's job is to represent you, remember that politicians and their staff are people too. Threats, hostile remarks and rude/offensive language are among the fastest ways to alienate people who could otherwise decide to support your position in light of rational and reasoned argument. Your representative could be in elected office for decades, and could be promoted to higher, more influential, office within their party. Avoid creating enemies.
  • Thanks is as important as criticism: Politicians/political parties need to be able to tell the 'other side' that they have been inundated with calls and letters supporting their position. Write thank you letters to politicians/parties that you know support your position. This will encourage them to stand firm on their position rather than backing down, which has often happened during the passage of proposed laws through Australian parliaments.
  • Keep the irritation factor low: Avoid accusing/criticising the wrong politicians/party. Politicians, like anyone else, may become irritated when accused of holding views they do not. If you are not sure of the views of the person or political party you are contacting, either research the matter, ask them, or just inform them of your views and why they should support same.
  • See also: tips for writing letters, most of which also apply to writing email.
  • For information on how to address a letter to a member of Parliament, see Form of Address below.

Tips for Telephone Calls

  • Before phoning about a proposed law, be sure you know the full name of the Bill.
  • Be prepared to express your comments briefly and concisely.
  • When you call, give your name and also identify yourself as a constituent when phoning a member of parliament who represents you.
  • Ask to speak to your representative or their relevant adviser about the [name of Bill, or topic].
  • You will probably be put through to a staff member.
  • Ask that your representative take concrete action, such as supporting or opposing a Bill, or seeking to have their party change its position, etc.
  • If they tell you to talk to Minister's office, say that you want your representative to be aware of your concerns and to take the matter up with the Minister and/or their political party.
  • Be polite.
  • It is worth following up after your telephone call with a letter or email.


Form of Address & Mail Addresses

Federal Parliament:
House of Representatives:

Ministers:
The Hon (firstname surname), MP
Dear Minister

Others:
Generally*:
Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr (firstname surname), MP
Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr (surname)

*Note: Ex-ministers are entitled to be addressed "The Hon". If uncertain check the correct form of address at:
http://www.aph.gov.au/house/ members/mi-elctr.asp


Mail Address:
The House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600

Senate:

Ministers:
Senator the Hon (firstname surname)
Dear Minister

Others:
Generally*:
Senator (firstname surname)
Dear Senator (surname)

*Note: Ex-ministers are entitled to be addressed "Senator the Hon". If uncertain, check the correct form of address at:
http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/ senators/homepages/si-alpha.htm

Mail Address:
The Senate, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600


Contacting Newspapers (letters to editors)

Politicians and/or their staff generally monitor the letters pages of newspapers. As well, published letters can raise awareness of an issue among readers who would not otherwise be aware of it. Even if not published, your letter could be instrumental in drawing to the newspaper's attention that the issue is of public concern and should be reported on by their staff.

Keep letters short (most papers have a limit of 200 or 300 words) and include your name, address and phone number (newspapers generally will not print letters unless they are able to contact and confirm the sender).

Some addresses for emailing letters to editors are below (addresses can usually be found on the letters page of the newspaper):




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