It is important to remember that legal processes are often not the only (or even the best) way to secure better environmental outcomes. Instead, you can use a mix of strategies to influence decision making, including:
- Lobbying Ministers and politicians to raise their awareness about an issue
- Writing submissions outlining your position
- Contacting officers and decision makers to discuss your concerns
- Engaging the media
- Online petitions
- Holding a public meeting to raise awareness
- Using social media
A good first step in any campaign is to contact people who may be able to influence the decision to explain your concerns to them. Ask them to meet with you (preferably on the site that you’re concerned about) so that they can get a clearer picture of the issues.
People you may wish to contact include:
- local councillors
- local members of parliament (State and / or Federal, depending on the issue)
- Ministers and shadow ministers
- Secretaries, Directors or key public servants in government departments
General tips for lobbying
- Get together with other concerned people in your area to lobby jointly.
- If you are concerned about a development proposal or a particular industry, try to set up a meeting with the applicant or industry representatives to discuss your concerns.
- Find out if there are other groups elsewhere in Tasmania or Australia who have faced a similar situation to your community. Contact experience in lobbying to identify what worked for them.
- Encourage supporters to write letters to the editor or submit opinion pieces to the newspaper. You’d be surprised how many politicians and government officers read those letters to understand the views of the community!
- Speak to scientific experts regarding your concerns. Wherever possible, refer to the science that supports your campaign, and invite experts to speak publicly.
Contacting local government
Engaging with local government can be an excellent way to raise an issue of concern within your community. Contact details for all councillors are provided on your local council website and most councillors are happy to be contacted by telephone or email. Here are some ways to stay in contact with your councillors:
- Attend council meetings. There is usually a time at each council meeting where the community can speak – some councils require you to organise this and submit your question or statement in advance, so check with the General Manager about the procedure at your council.
- Contact the General Manager and ask for an opportunity to brief all councillors about your issue.
- Invite councillors to attend or speak at your local event (for example, a meeting of your community group or a public information day)
- Submit articles to the council newsletter
- Local councillors will be influenced by how many local people raise an issue, so encourage everyone concerned to contact the council separately
- You can formally table a petition to council requesting action on a particular issue (see below) – if the petition is signed by more than 5% of the electorate (or, in large electorates, 1,000 people), you can also request that Council conducts a formal elector poll on an issue.
- Request that Council hold a public meeting to discuss an important issue (for example, should your community be “Frack Free”?)
- Run for Council!
Contacting Ministers and Members of Parliament
On State or Federal issues, you can contact the relevant Minister or your local Federal Member or Senator. It is also a good idea to contact the Shadow Ministers from each other party – they can also influence the decision through parliamentary debate, or media statements raising your concerns.
Contact details for members are available below:
- Tasmanian Members of the House of Assembly
- Tasmanian Legislative Councillors
- Australian Senators
- Australian Members of the House of Representatives
Here are some tips for contacting politicians:
- Think about why the politician might be interested in your particular issue. Do they live in the area? Do they like mountain biking? Is it part of their portfolio responsibilities? A good way to find out what issues are important to particular MPs and Senators is to look at their inaugural or first speeches in parliament. Politicians often use their first speech to highlight the issues and causes that are important to them.
- All politicians have electorate offices that you can visit. Try to make an appointment to see the member in person.
- If you are meeting with a politician, it is a good idea to send through a brief outline of what you’d like to discuss in advance and a one page explanation of what you hope to achieve. You should also take copies of any relevant reports with you to the meeting.
- Consider whether to visit a member of parliament alone, or whether to take other supporters with you. Having a group can be particularly effective if the group represents a range of different interest groups advocating for the same outcome (for example, the wide range of groups who came together to oppose the changes to protest laws in Tasmania).
- Many local members publish newsletters – ask if you can submit an article for the next edition.
- Invite members to speak at local events. It can be a good idea to also invite the opposition spokesperson to speak at the event – this can be a good way of highlighting any differences in policy (and to attract media attention!).
Contacting officers and decision makers
In most situations, a government agency is responsible for regulating the activity you are concerned about. Agencies and officers generally have a variety of options available to address an issue, ranging from informal negotiations with an operator to formal notification that action needs to be taken to taking action themselves and recovering the costs from the offender.
Click here for a list of who to contact about particular issues.
Make sure you follow up your contact and keep records of all your conversations / emails / letters. This can be important if you later want to complain to the Ombudsman about how your complaint was handled.
Spreading the word
A simple, informative fact sheet about your issue can be a good way to reach a lot of people. Here are some useful tips from EDO NSW:
- keep the information simple and accurate
- keep it short, no more than one page
- state the most dramatic or influential aspect in the first paragraph
- contact other environment groups to find out if they have useful information you can use
- distribute the fact sheet at community events, stalls or through a letterbox drop
- avoid making defamatory statements
- quote the sources of information
- include suggestions for action, such as writing a letter, donating money or volunteering
- include telephone, fax and email contacts and a website address.
Websites and Facebook pages
Setting up a website can be a useful way to raise awareness about your issue – it allows you to provide more detailed information, updates on campaign activity and pictures of the areas that you are trying to protect. You can also provide links to other relevant websites and information sources.
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in campaigning. Because of their wide reach and immediate nature, sites like Twitter and Facebook can help you to build your campaign, grow your supporter base, and get the word out about your action quickly. For tips on how to use social media effectively, visit Our Community.
⊗ Don’t forget that defamation laws apply to material on the internet! Be careful to avoid defamatory statements in all of your communications. You should also make sure that someone moderates the comments on your website / Facebook page to remove any potentially defamatory material.
Starting a petition is a popular way to gain momentum and demonstrate that large numbers of people agree with your position. It is important that your petition is clear about what it is asking for, and that each person who signs includes their name and a contact address.
You can formally table a petition with the local, State or Commonwealth government, however each level of government has rules regarding the format of the petition. It is important to check these before starting a petition – you wouldn’t want all those signatures to go to waste just because the petition wasn’t in the right form!
For more information on petitioning various levels of government see:
- Australian Government information on lodging a petition to the parliament
- Lodging a petition with the Tasmanian Government House of Assembly
- Lodging a petition with the Tasmanian Legislative Council
- Petitioning your local council, refer to your local council’s website.
Parliament of Tasmania offers an “E-petition” which allows a petition to be started online through the Parliament of Tasmania website. You will need to find a sitting member of parliament to sponsor the petition, so start lobbying!
There are also online petitions such as Change.org. For some, issues the power of the internet and social media to reach more people can be an effective way to harness support for an issue. That these petitions may not be appropriate to submit as a formal petition to parliament, but have been very effective in some cases, such as where the issue requires a corporation to change its policies.