Unions and union members rightly lobby their local representatives and government Ministers all the time. Not only are unions the largest, oldest social movement on earth, but in Australia they make up the country’s largest voluntary representative associations.
While imagining political lobbying may evoke suited professionals, big business and slick CEOs, it is perfectly legitimate for rank-and-file union members to be treading the halls of Parliament (or Congress).
Below are two pieces of advice to keep in mind when preparing to lobby parliamentarians – whether local MPs in their electorate or Ministers in Canberra. (Of course, the fact that you should carefully plan before lobbying any MPs goes without saying.)
Tip 1: Members of Parliament get lobbied almost every day
MPs are constantly lobbied by special interest groups, businesses, not-for-profits, community groups, constituents, and other unions. All of these groups think they have a strong case to make. Most of them are asking for Governments support – which usually means more money.
The point is: don’t assume you’re the only people lobbying that MP on your issue. In all likelihood the employer your union covers, business peak bodies and numerous other groups also have an interest in the issue and are actively lobbying parliamentarians. Take this into account
Tip 2: MPs have limited time; don’t waste it
While in Parliament, MPs have numerous obligations and tight schedules. Senators have prayers in the morning, Reps have question time at 2pm. They also have Parliamentary Committees. At any time, they can be interrupted by the “ringing of the bells” – indicating that they are required in the chamber.
Even in their electorate office, MPs have lots of meetings and commitments. You’re more likely to have extra time in their electorate office, but don’t assume the MP you’re meeting has the day free to talk with you. Openings, citizenship ceremonies, official engagements, meetings with constituents are all possible interruptions and limitations.
Of course, all MPs also have party obligations and engagements which can cut down on time they can meet with you.
The point is: If you can’t get your point across in 15 minutes, then you are probably wasting your time.
From the horse’s mouth
Senator for NSW Doug Cameron, former National Secretary of the AMWU, agreed to give some advice to the NTEU (the union I work for) about lobbying in Parliament. Definitely worth watching.