Ministers of Parliament (MPs) and Senators
It’s a good idea to interact with your local representatives first. These politicians have made a commitment to represent the local community and can advocate on your behalf. Engaging senators is useful when you are looking to gain access to committees or when you are looking to enact (or block) a bill. Blanket approaches may help to flag your campaign with a wide range of representatives, but if you’re looking for a champion or collaborator, consider who is in the best position to help you. Finding feminist allies can be difficult. Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions there are not as many women in government as there should be, but MPs and senators, regardless of gender, can often be very engaged around gender equality. It’s important to identify your allies early and nurture those relationships.
Ministers and Shadow Ministers
Meeting a Minister is best for advocates seeking policy or legislative change at a Federal or State level. However, Ministers and Shadow Ministers have responsibilities beyond their electorate, so there are extra demands on their schedules. When meeting with a Minister or Shadow Minister, it is essential that you are well prepared, well-rehearsed and have a strong advocacy case. Consult the Parliament House website for the current Ministry list and Shadow Ministry list.
Federal Parliament’s legislative powers. A new Commonwealth (national) law can only be made, or an existing law changed or removed, with the authority of the Federal Parliament, that is, by Parliament passing an Act. Amendments to existing Acts and their regulation frameworks or guidelines are permitted.
Under Australia’s Constitution the Federal Parliament can make laws only on certain matters. These include: international and interstate trade; foreign affairs; defence; immigration; taxation; banking; insurance; marriage and divorce; currency and weight and measures; post and telecommunications; and invalid and old-age pensions. If an issue isn’t covered in the Constitution, it’s usually a State or Territory responsibility. States and Territories make laws about local government, roads, hospitals, housing and planning and schools.
If a Minister hasn’t got time to meet with you, they might offer you a meeting with an advisor. Meeting with an advisor can be useful. Advisors see Ministers on a daily basis and hold their trust. If you can persuade an advisor to back your cause, they may convince the Minister. Advisors prepare briefs on bills going through parliament and help the Minister and their department engage with stakeholders to ensure their office is making decisions in full knowledge of the different perspectives on any issue. Advisors also play a role in researching policy solutions and developing legislation to enact those solutions
Parliamentary Committees periodically conduct inquiries into issues where consensus or compromise has not yet been reached. Inquiries are initiated by politicians referring a matter to the relevant Committee. Parliamentary Committees can also decide to conduct an inquiry into an issue that the members see as relevant. It’s also possible for advocates to write to the Chair of a Committee to encourage them to undertake an inquiry into a particular issue.
Before doing this, it is a good idea to speak to the Committee Secretary for advice on how to frame such a suggestion. Consult the Parliament House website for the current list of parliamentary committees.
Policy Committees are internal party committees. These groups often discuss specific policy areas to provide advice to Caucus.
The key women’s Policy Committees are:
- Australian Labor Party Status of Women Caucus Committee
- Liberal Federal Women’s Committee
- National Women’s Federal Council
- Green’s State Women Committees
The best way to in touch with these women’s Policy Committees is through an MP as they function more like working groups.
A collective party group of members in the House of Representatives or the Senate who belong to a political party.
Parliamentary Friendship Groups
Parliamentary Friendship Groups can offer a useful platform for cross-party conversations on topical matters. Although they do not hold any formal political power, they influence politicians by sharing information and raising awareness. Events held by Parliamentary Friendship Groups can be an efficient and enjoyable way to reach a
range of different politicians at the same time.
If you are tackling an issue related to gender equality, there’s probably a group out there looking for the same change you are. Key organisations and community groups often have relationships with everyone listed above. Feminism often means coming together to combine your collective impact. If you Google “issue and Australia/local area” you will often find places and people to connect with.
This could be a person who works for the state or for local government, such as a judge or teacher. People in all levels of public service can also be great people to talk to for connecting you to others or helping you analyse the invisible power at play.
Corporates and Businesses
People in leadership across corporations and business are increasingly stepping up; for many, silence on issues that oppress or discriminate against others is no longer an option. Examples include; Lush and Trans inclusion, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and domestic violence, and Ben and Jerry’s and the Black Lives Matter movement. It doesn’t mean they are perfect in the application of their allyship, but they can be large powerholders with lots of influence. Local business trade halls for example are another great way to connect into a community and advocate. They may be able to support the amplifying of your message, connect with you on days of significance, provide financial support or connect you into others.
The Power of You
After reading a list about all the levels of power, it can feel like you are looking at a mountain of an advocacy challenge. But don’t overlook the power you hold within
yourself that you have more control over! You have power—whether as a consumer living in a capitalist society you have vowed to never buy from Amazon and buy only locally crafted gifts, or who you choose to manage your superannuation or how your electricity is generated and what the supplier’s commitments are for climate action. We can’t avoid being consumers entirely but we often have alternative options that are more aligned with our identity and values.
This list is not a limiting one! There are lots of others that hold power and influence on the issue you are working on!
This article is from our Y Advocacy Toolkit, a collection of practical tips and advice navigating advocacy in Australia will help you to identify policy areas of particular interest to you, and who you can talk to about creating change. Want to get more involved in advocacy but don’t know where to start? Why not join our Cyber Feminists (CBF)?