The best way to establish a relationship with your MP and let them know what you want is with a face-to-face meeting. Australian MPs have reported that face-to-face visits with constituents had by far the biggest influence on them. It gives you the opportunity to discuss issues you feel strongly about, and encourage your MP to act on your concerns.
Meeting with constituents is a large part of an MP’s job - most of them spend more time in their electorates than in Canberra! Your MP’s job includes:
- being a spokesperson for local interests, and speaking in the House to raise issues of particular interest to their constituents,
- keeping constituents informed of developments in government or party policy and the implications of government decisions,
- relaying the concerns of electors generally to the government or to their parties,
- making representations to the government on behalf of their electorates and representing community views on national issues
It’s easier than you think to visit with your MP! Teaming up with a friend or in a small group will give you moral support and back up. You might feel nervous the first time, but MPs want you to like them and will be friendly, and afterwards you’ll realise how easy and good it was.
Don’t forget to tell us how it goes! (see below)
How to do it...
Make the appointment:
- Find your MPs federal or state electorate office contact details. Check the parliamentary sitting calendar for an idea of when your MP will most likely be in their electorate.
Call your MP’s office and ask for an appointment to meet your MP.
- Be prepared (write a little script or dot points) to explain where you are from, why you want to meet the MP and who else would be attending the meeting.
- Be patient if you don’t get a response immediately, or are given an appointment time a few weeks ahead. If you haven’t heard back or think you’re not getting anywhere, a reminder never hurts. If you keep contacting your MP, they will realise how important you feel it is to meet with them.
Research your MP
Learn a bit about your MP so you can connect with them on a personal level, tailor your argument and anticipate their response. For example, find out:
- Which Party do they belong to? What faction? Are they a minister or shadow minister? Do they sit on any parliamentary committees?
- What are their views on climate change? What other issues and causes do they support? Have they spoken in Parliament about them?
- What are their interests outside parliament? What team do they follow? Are they religious?
Some sources you can use to find out about your MP and their views are:
- Their website, twitter posts and Facebook page
- Their party website ALP, Liberal, Greens, Nationals
- Their party’s policy platform ALP, Liberal, Greens, Nationals
- How they vote in Parliament They vote for you
- What they say in parliament (set up a Hansard keyword search) Open Australia
Be clear on your ask
Go into the meeting with a clear and specific action that you want your MP to take. For example:
Within their party, to:
- seek a change of their party’s policy or to secure an election commitment from their party
- raise your issue with the relevant Minister or Shadow Minister
- Raise your issue in caucus or discuss your issue with their fellow MPs
- raise your issue or concern at a local party meeting
In parliament, to:
- vote for or against a particular bill, or propose amendments to a bill
- speak in parliament, or ask a question in parliament about an issue
- move a motion in parliament
- initiate a committee inquiry into a bill.
In the community, to:
- attend a local event relating to your issue
- (More ideas here)
Prepare your key messages
- Your meeting time will probably be only 30 minutes or less, and will go very fast! It’s therefore a good idea to write a little script or talking points as a prompt for what you want to say so you don’t forget anything. Here are some examples.
- It’s also good to prepare a summary document of the issues you want to raise to leave with them in case you don’t get to discuss them all during the meeting. Here are some examples.
- Research common counter arguments so that you can respond to these.
- Have a few phrases ready to steer things back to your topic (see General tips #3 below)
- Find a few powerful statistics. A well-chosen statistic can pack a punch.
Bring along some information/briefing material to leave with your MP.
- Make it concise and no longer than a double-sided page.
- Your information should help your MP understand what the problem is, who is being affected, what can be done to tackle the problem,
- what specific actions you are asking them to take,
- your contact details for further correspondence.
Assign roles within your group
- Decide who will introduce your group,
- who will raise which specific points and in what order,
- who will make the request for action, who will take notes
During the meeting:
The main things you want to achieve in the meeting are to:
- Make your case and try to get a promise/commitment on what action your MP will take
- Understand their point of view
- Build a relationship with your MP
- Record what they say
- Get a photo with your MP - they usually oblige! This can be useful for publicity afterwards.
Suggestions for how your meeting might go:
When they meet you, MPs will generally try to put you at ease with a bit of friendly banter. Start by thanking them for meeting with you, and introduce yourselves (briefly!).
Thank them (warmly) for something you appreciate/something positive they’ve done (for the environment, for the local community, their service to the electorate…). This should start the meeting on a good foot, whatever party they are from.
Then state why you’re there and what your ask is straight up at the start. Once you’ve stated what you want from them, it’s out there. If the conversation meanders after that, you can refer back to it at the end, or when you want to to get their response.
Here’s an even briefer guide for meeting with your MP.
The discussion will probably not go according to your script, but that doesn’t matter. It’s good to listen to what your MP has to say and to connect in a friendly personal way. Here are some tips for what to say to keep the conversation on track.
- Take a long term approach and build a relationship. Rather than thinking of your meeting simply as about extracting a promise from your MP, think of it as having two primary aims – one is to convince your MP to take action, and the other is to build a relationship with them on a human level as this may not be the last time you’ll want to see them. Even if you don’t agree with their policy stance on a particular issue, you’re more likely to influence your MP if you can connect on a human level. Go into the relationship wanting to make friends with your MP.
- Get to the point and ask for your action quickly. You may only have 15 minutes of their time as even if you have a longer meeting scheduled, MPs often have to change their schedule at short notice, so you’ll need to make your point and leave enough time for them to respond. Keep it simple. Your MP isn’t likely to be an expert (unless they also happen to be a Minister with a relevant portfolio) as they have to keep up-to-date on a wide range of topics. Make use of simple but strong statistics to illustrate what you are saying.
- Stay on subject. Experienced politicians are very good at changing the subject – especially when they’re on the defensive. A good response is: “I know your time is very valuable; we really only came here to discuss how you can help us on [this issue]. If you have more time, we can discuss the bigger picture.”
- Human stories help us understand the impact of an issue at a transformational level, far better than any statistic can. Human stories remind your MP that they can take action to help stop the suffering of others.
- Don’t worry if your MP asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to say so. You only need to express your beliefs, they don’t expect you to be an expert! You may offer to provide more information by email after the meeting.
- Listen to them. Find their values so you can find ways to connect on a personal level, and also ways to connect climate change to things they care about.
- Don’t be intimidated! Your MP is only human! As a constituent you have a right to speak to them, and your MP has a duty to listen to you.
- After the meeting:
- Email/write to your MP to thank him/her for meeting you, and find something positive to appreciate about what they shared with you. Use this opportunity to restate your main points and confirm whatever action you agreed on. Send them further information if you promised it during the meeting.
- It’s also a great idea to sit down with your partner/group and reflect on what worked well and what could be improved next time you visit – because now you know how easy it is, you’ll be back!
Let us know how you went! We’d love to hear your story. Send a brief email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are happy to share your talking points and summary documents that would be great too! Please attach them to your email. We’ll take off any personal details before adding them to the collection.