Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
There is nothing more powerful than a real, human connection with someone to change hearts and minds.
When our communities are active and engaged, we can compel our representatives in government to do the right thing. That’s why it’s critical that you and people across Australia reach out to your local MPs, Senators and other representatives – so they know we want them to act on the crisis facing our oceans.
This guide will help you prepare for your meeting so that it has the greatest impact possible.
Step 1: How to find out who your local MP or Senator is
If you don’t know your MP you can look them up on the Australian Electoral Commission website via postcode, electorate or suburb.
Then click on your electorate — you’ll be given the name of your local MP and a link with more information on how to contact them.
Tip: You can see how your MP has voted in the past at How They Vote.
You can meet with any MP or Senator, from any political party — even if they’ve voted in favour of the issues you care about. They are regular people and hearing that they’re doing the right thing is important too.
Step 2: Request a meeting
Send an email or letter to your MP’s electorate office and ask for a meeting. You can also phone their electorate office directly. Most offices have a staff member whose job it is to talk with constituents (that’s you).
Your email/letter/phone call should:
- Introduce yourself and whether you are an individual or representing a group
- Explain what you want to meet with them about (eg: that you’d like to meet with them to express your views on protecting our Reef)
- Request a time to meet with your MP at their earliest possible convenience.
Follow up your email with a phone call the next day, if you haven’t heard back. If you sent a letter, follow up with a phone call after five days.
You may not be able to get a meeting with the MP directly. If that’s the case, try meeting with the MP’s staff. Ideally, you want to talk with the policy officer who holds responsibility for dealing with the kinds of issues you raise.
Step 3: Plan your meeting with your MP
There are a few things to consider before your meeting. Are you bringing anyone else? What will you talk about? What do you want your elected representative to do?
- Do some background research on your MP / Senator and write down how you would appeal to their interests.
- Think about bringing a delegation from your community to the meeting. It is fine to meet one on one with a politician. However, it can also be helpful to bring a diverse group of people (2–3) who represent a cross section of your community, from local business owners, to faith groups, sporting clubs and environmental organisations.
- Make an agenda of how you want the meeting to go. Welcome and Introductions; Why this Issue is Important; Discussion; Next Steps
- Take photos of yourselves with the MP. No matter how the meeting went. If the MP seems to be positive towards your cause, some options for actions you could ask them to do are sign a pledge to act; take a photo with a prop; or make a mini-video to camera about why they support the issue. Knowing in advance what you will ask means you’ll have the right tools with you.
Step 4: Run a great meeting
Your elected representative will usually be accompanied by a staff member. If you’re invited to meet with other staff members, don’t underestimate their importance or influence; treat those meetings as if they were with the politician.
- Be flexible and understanding. Normally, you will have a 15-30 minute time slot for your meeting. Keep in mind that they may be late, have to cut the meeting short, arrive halfway through or need to cancel unexpectedly, sometimes through no fault of their own.
- Always be polite, professional and courteous:
- Be on time. Give yourself time to sign in at reception and gather your thoughts.
- Use your MP’s correct title (Minister or Mr/Mrs/Ms) and surname (for example, Mr Smith) unless you’re invited to use his or her first name.
- Acknowledge any support they have given to your issue in the past.
- No matter how outrageous the decision a government has taken or their attitude towards the people who are campaigning against them, you are never going to influence someone by being abusive or impolite. Being professional, courteous and determined will go further than name-calling or attacks.
- Take notes. Take good notes during your meeting, including replies your MP gives to your questions. You can draw on these later to write letters to the editor, call talkback radio etc. Sometimes it’s easier to get local media interest if your MP is engaged in the issue and is supporting it.
- Be clear. Make sure you let your MP or Senator know what the issue is and what you would like them to do. One of the mistakes people often make when lobbying MPs is to make contact but not ask them to do anything. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they will do to help: acting on behalf of his/her constituents is part of a politician’s life.
- Be short and clear about what you want and why you’re there. It’s good to be passionate about your cause, but don’t get caught up in discussing too much detail on your issue as you only have a short time to speak. If you are in a group, be careful not to contradict each other, or talk over the top of each other or your MP.
- Speak in your own words. You want your MP to know they’re dealing with a real person – facts and figures don’t win hearts and minds but personal stories do. Local MPs are interested in what’s going on in their local community, so let them know what you/your group are doing on this issue.
- Don’t assume knowledge. Don’t assume the MP knows anything about your issue. You might find you know more about a particular issue than they do — MPs have a wide range of issues to investigate as part of their job and can’t be experts in all of them. Speak at a basic level and avoid using lingo, acronyms and abbreviations. But also be quick to jump ahead if you’re asked to, or if you can see that the MP is familiar with the issue.
- Don’t pretend knowledge. If you don’t know the answer, just say so. You don’t need to be an expert. It’s enough to say who you are and why you care about an issue. Be as responsive as you can be but don’t make things up. You can always get back to them with an answer after the meeting.
- Keep the conversation on track. If your MP seems to be going off-topic, gently try to bring them back to it. Be respectful but firm. Don’t be intimidated or afraid to bring up tough issues. Question your MP on their past votes or positions they’ve taken or ask for a definitive answer.
- Sometimes it’s better to ask questions. Don’t assume you understand your MP’s motivations, drivers or the sources of information they use to make their decisions. In these situations, it’s better to ask rather than tell.
Step 5: After the meeting
Were you able to get any commitments from the politician? Review the notes you made in the meeting and make sure you wrote everything down clearly.
Establish who is the best person to follow up and how?
Spend at least 10 minutes debriefing after the meeting if you went in a delegation.
- What worked well?
- What could you improve on for the next meeting?
- Other comments?
Follow-up with your MP
A few days after the visit send your MP a thank-you email, or call their office thanking them for their time and reiterating some of the things you talked about on the day.
If they were getting back to you about anything be sure to ask if they have followed that up yet. Provide any material or answers you said you would address as a priority and remind them of any commitment they made in the meeting.
Let your supporters know how your visit went!
You can call our head office (07) 3846 6777 directly and let us know or you can post on social media, and tagging supportive organisations like AMCS who might then share your post.