Prime Minister Anthony Albanese likes to say that when we change the government, we change the country. That is a consequence of the decisions a government makes as well as how it arrives at those decisions. From a communications perspective, the change of government has changed the way it is necessary for advocacy organisations to communicate if they wish to influence policy making.
To understand the change, it helps to look first at the wider political context. The last federal election was widely known as the “women’s election” as, for the first time, the effect of the female vote changed the electoral landscape. Women led the way in voting for the Teals and in many cases persuaded others to join them. Community and grassroots activism was a key ingredient of the “voices of” campaigns. The Labor Party also attracted a significant proportion of the female vote. Overall, the momentum of the election was female.
With a historic number of women in parliament, in government as well as on the cross-benches, the way Australian politics is done has taken on a decidedly female complexion. Let’s never romaticise what that means: there’s still manipulation – it is, after all, still politics – but there’s less overt aggression. The government has to negotiate with the independents to get its policies through and to do that it helps to promote a sense of collegiality beyond partisan politics.
Careful observers will notice that policy adjustment is now more likely in response to an appeal to humanity than as a result of a call to economic responsibility or discipline. Though treasurer Jim Chalmers recently delivered a surplus budget (what is known among pundits as a “daddy” approach of economic responsibility and discipline) he has been almost apologetic for it in some circles.
The change has not been perceived by all Canberra players. But it is becoming increasingly evident that organisations which build a compelling case with community support for a proposal before presenting to government stand a better chance of persuading policy-makers of their cause. In particular, the traditional aggressive power-and-influence approach of lobbying without public relations has become less effective. What now works could be described as a more female communications style for a more female era.
This means advocacy and business organisations need to first understand community attitudes. Good instincts are a must; they are the basis of a good campaign. They are crucial in fine-tuning messages so that they resonate with different audience groups. They also inform the polling you undertake to quantify your instincts. The polling will only be useful if the questions you pose are well designed and thought-through. Great strategy is based on quantitative data, a good understanding of domestic and global forces, and the ability to see patterns and drivers before they might be visible to others. It informs the way messages are deployed and adjusted. And it takes a bit of audacity. After all, it’s a female style, not doormat agree-vocacy.
It means reconsidering what you think you know about persuading policymakers of your cause. The first year of the Albanese government has provided plenty of case studies in how to succeed – and how to fail – in the new environment. Agenda C is applying the lessons for our clients. We’d like to help you think about how they might work for you too.