In this second part of my article I continue to offer some practical pointers on how we can let our voices be heard by our rulers and powerbrokers. We need to stand up and be counted for the values we hold near and dear.
Visiting or calling politicians
Like it or not, Australians and their families are greatly affected by decisions made by our politicians. Thus it is important for all those concerned about the well-being of freedom, faith and the family to know about how the political process works, and to learn how to work with politicians. This is vital because in order to make a more lasting contribution to the values we cherish in Australia and to counter the influence of those in the community who are warring against our values, we have to make every letter or political contact as effective as possible.
It is important to take the time to keep in contact with your MPs, whether local, state or federal. By building a relationship with your MP, you may have some influence on how he or she will vote on legislation affecting faith and family. Many of the points mentioned in Part One are relevant here. Other hints include:
-Find the right target. Determine who the appropriate person is and which is the appropriate level, department or office to target. Some issues are the responsibility of the local council, some, the State Government, some, the Federal Government. Sometimes the areas overlap.
-Make sure you have the correct information. Find out what specific bill or piece of legislation is in question. Know your facts, and present them in an intelligent and logical manner.
-Do not assume an MP knows all about an issue. MPs have to master a wide range of information, and they may be quite uninformed on many issues that you are concerned about. Moreover, many issues are quite complex, with differing points of view, and the MP may be getting only one side of the story. Often the information you provide may be the only pro-family or pro-faith data the MP has access to.
-A constituent of an MP will have more impact than a person who is not. If you normally vote for the MP or their party, it creates a good impression to say so.
-Present your case calmly and reasonably, not in a heated or angry fashion. Be polite and respectful. Stay clear of personal insults and abuse, and keep the conversation on an objective level.
-Prepare a one-page summary of your case to give out, and have any documentation available as well.
-If you visit a politician with others coming along, make one person the spokesperson.
-Make clear what action or result you want achieved. Do not be vague or moan about all of the world’s ills, but attack specific problems with specific solutions.
-Try to deal with only one subject per call/visit, and try to be brief. Present your argument succinctly and to the point.
-Do not just call or visit when you have a complaint or criticism. If a politician has done something positive, let him know about that as well.
-Do not wait for a crisis before contacting your MP. It is better to have built up a good relationship with your MP by visiting them or inviting them to a community or church function. Take the time needed to get to know them, and allow them time to get to know you.
-It is critical to contact an MP before his or her party makes a decision on an issue or a bit of legislation. This is important because after this it is usually too late. This is especially the case because party decisions are rarely reversed and it is very rare for MPs to go against their party in public.
-At election time, political parties prohibit their MPs or candidates from answering questionnaires but you as a voter have a right to know their point of view, so contact them and ask them their view or how they are likely to vote on an issue. Personal contact is likely to be better as it allows you to listen to their reply and clarify it.
-MPs are very busy people and most take their job seriously, so it is better for you if you can build up a relationship with them. Whilst you may not always agree with them or their party you can build on a friendship and at the same time get them to listen to you. Most MPs value the feedback that you will give them. They welcome community contact provided it is not a nuisance and is constructive and effective. So take the time to get to know your MPs. After all, they are there to serve you. You are paying their salaries with your taxes. Thus you have every right in the world to discuss issues with MPs, ask them questions, and challenge them where needed.
Today almost every Australian politician – whether Federal, State, or local – has a public email address. While a personal visit is the most effective means of lobbying a politician, certainly the most instantaneous means is that of email. It is important that all those concerned about influencing politicians learn to use email.
-Do not use attachments. This is very important for several reasons. Attachments may contain viruses. Also, they may be produced on incompatible software, and therefore difficult or impossible to open, or may be unreadable, because of lost formatting, etc. And they take too much time to open and access.
-Instead of attachments, put your message in the body of the email. And the usual recommendations apply: keep the message short and focused.
-At the outset, identify yourself and where you are from. Include your postal address. Politicians may want to post you something in return, and they like to know if you live in their electorate.
-As with other means of communication, do not overdo it. One email a week is probably sufficient.
-It is generally best to only email your local members or the relevant minister. There are very few occasions when you will need to email every politician.
-Use the subject line to state your purpose, or include it in the beginning of your message.
For information on the Federal Parliament, and on individual email addresses of politicians, check out their website: www.aph.gov.au
Finally, a note to those of a religious persuasion. The purpose of media exposure or contact with politicians is to communicate your ideas and convince others of your position, especially with an eye to changing opinion or policy. There is a tendency for some to quote Bible verses or engage in theological argumentation. Remember that Australia is largely a secular country, filled with people who are Biblically illiterate. Therefore, simply quoting Scripture may not always be as effective as we like.
There is clearly a place for that, but you may not get published, or your arguments will be discounted, if you rely too much on it. Theological arguments will be lost on most people. So try to take scriptural principles, and express them in secular terms. The aim, after all, is communication.
Of course where Scriptural arguments are appropriate, then by all means use them. But in a largely secular society, we need to learn how to make our case and express it in non-biblical language, so that we have a greater chance of making a difference.
In sum, if you make use of some of the principles outlined above, you will be able to “put pressure on the system”. And we need to do this. In addition to praying for a better, safer, more family-friendly and godlier society, we need to put some feet to our prayers. So get involved and start becoming a pro-faith and pro-family lobbyist. We certainly need more of them.
Part One of this article is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/21/practical-tips-on-making-a-difference-part-one/