GOT a problem with a government policy or decision? Here’s how you, a Hawkesbury citizen, can engage with the people who determine so much that affects our lives.
Government policies and decision-making can be frustrating for those they affect.
Often, the most effective way to stop a policy is to nip it in the bud. So how can you nip it in the bud? Well, one way is to engage with the decision makers.
The following is a how to guide to engage with different levels of government, along with a real example from the Hawkesbury, that has affected change.
Community consultation periods
Many government decisions have ‘community consultation’ periods. This is when written submissions from the public can be made on the matter.
Often, policies are designed to combat a specific problem, and industry experts, either within the government or outside it are consulted.
A policy is then formulated by a government department. Often, community consultation will follow, where the government seeks public comment.
If you wish to comment on a policy that has not yet been implemented, contact the government department or local council which is responsible for the policy, and ask how to make a submission.
Here are several policies you could make a submission on right now, should you wish:
- Hawkesbury Council’s Draft Vineyard Precinct Section 7.11 Contributions Plan
- The state government’s Bells Line of Road-Castlereagh Connection corridor/ M9 Outer Sydney Orbital proposal
- The Senate’s inquiry into Obesity Epidemic in Australia by the Senate’s Select Committee into the Obesity Epidemic in Australia
That’s all very well you say, but how do find out about these things?
Well, you could read a local newspaper. One of the services the Hawkesbury Gazette provides is that we cover Hawkesbury Council meetings, and publish stories updating the community about what is happening.
This is not a hard sell for the Gazette though. There are many news organisations that cover local council issues across Australia, from a variety of different publishers. There are a number of organisations too, that cover state and federal politics. A quick scan of a daily newspaper or website is more than enough to keep you abreast of most political issues in Australia.
Alternatively, you could attend a local council meeting, or even attend state or federal parliament, but that is likely not practical in your day to day lives.
If you don’t want to read a newspaper or watch the news at night, then you could always join a social media network: Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are some well-known sites where news is published. Perhaps you could find a mailing list instead.
As you will see below, one councillor has a mailing list and even has a youtube channel, which he runs in the hope of keeping people informed of Hawkesbury Council business.
Nathan Zamprogno is a Hawkesbury City Councillor with the Liberal Party. He is currently about 18 months into his first term.
Cr Zamprogno listed the following ways that people can engage with their local representatives or local council:
- Get better informed
- Join a political party
- Make a submission during a consultation period
- Speak on an issue at a council meeting
- Get your facts straight
Cr Zamprogno said people couldn’t fight an issue if they had no idea it was an issue. He cited many Australians finding out about council decisions through non-traditional avenues – he cited TV hosts/comedians Shaun Micallef and John Oliver as common sources of news – or simply through Facebook.
“It’s deeply troubling that Council only has valid email addresses for 11% of households, or that information siloed by various Council enterprises don’t cross-pollinate,” he said.
“I have tried to use video, blogging and other means of reaching people we are obviously not reaching in any other way.
“When I ask people to follow me or give me their email address, I’m not doing it to sell them anything – but to allow them to become better connected with their decision makers.”
Cr Zamprogno said people should also get their facts straight. Many people, he said, are confused about which level of government performs which duties.
He said a simple, cogent argument was one of the better counters to any policy.
“Get your facts straight and get to the point in an articulate way,” he said.
One thing that Cr Zamprogno said he was surprised more people did not do was to join a political party.
He said it was all very well to vote for a politician during an election, but another thing entirely to threaten that politician’s pre-selection.
“It amazes me that more people don’t instinctively understand that there is a fantastic way to get a politician’s attention, especially if they are under the banner of one of the major political parties. Get political,” he said.
“If a disgruntled voter says ‘I voted for you once, but never again’, a politician might brush it off, if an electorate consists of tens of thousands of voters.
“But if a person is a member of that politician’s political party, they may well find themselves as one of only 30 or 40 people sitting on that politician’s next pre-selection, and trust me, that makes them sit up and pay attention.”
He said party political membership had been in decline for decades, yet every state government, and the federal government, is either under Liberal or Labor party control.
“Regardless of which side of politics they favour, I would encourage people to sign up to a political party and be a voice within them,” he said.
Dominic Perrottet is the Member for Hawkesbury and the Treasurer of New South Wales.
He listed the following as methods ordinary people could do to engage with the state government on an issue:
- Make a submission during a consultation period
- Start a change.org campaign or similar social media group
- Contact your local MP or the relevant minister
- Start a group with a clear goal in mind
Mr Perrottet said the state government did a number of things to solicit the opinions of its citizens: “ The Government will seek community feedback through a number of channels such as: direct community consultation at facilitated meetings, online feedback and submissions, pop-up information centres, mail-outs, surveys and in person at government offices.”
Another way was to start a change.org campaign, or a social media group to find like-minded people. He said the internet and social media had given people a greater voice to express concern about a problem and people should take advantage of it.
“I am a strong believer that talking through issues in a constructive manner will achieve the best outcome,” he said.
“Of course, by nature not everyone will always agree, but I always respect a person’s right to express their views.
“We are also lucky to live in a country where public debate is welcome, and people have the opportunity to express their opinions through the popular media, online and to seek support for their viewpoint from the community.”
Forming a group was one of the more effective methods to get what a community wanted, Mr Perrottet said.
He said for a group’s voice to be heard, they should have a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve.
“The first step is to identify clearly what outcome you are seeking, identify the relevant department and the people who can bring about the change you require, and then be able to present a sound and robust argument,” he said.
“It is also important to understand the official processes you may need to go through to present your case. When building an argument it is always important to understand both sides of a debate.
“I would also encourage people to question all politicians on where they truly stand on an issue. Using a community group or hot button issue to gain politically may serve a political motive but it can be at the expense of the broader community which they are supposed to represent.”
Finally, the Gazette asked for a few examples of policies that had changed, because of community intervention, and Mr Perrottet listed the following examples.
“I advocated strongly on behalf of the community at Windsor Downs to ensure the M9 Orbital would not bisect the community,” he said.
“I have also campaigned to ensure Warragamba Dam wall is raised to reduce the risk of serious flooding in the Hawkesbury region. I also campaigned and won funding for the Pitt Town bypass.”
Susan Templeman is the Member for Macquarie.
Ms Templeman listed the following ways for an ordinary citizen to get their message heard by the government:
- Form a grass roots campaign
- Send an e-mail
- Contact your local MP
- Speak to their MP at an event
Ms Templeman said grass roots campaigns or action groups made politicians pay attention.
“Collective power is the strongest type of power in our society when it comes to engaging with politics and effecting change,” she said.
“The sheer number of people who are a part of their respective groups means that representatives ignore organised groups at their peril.
“If something is happening in a community that can mobilise that many people, it commands attention.”
She said simple volume of communication on a single issue also made politician’s ears perk up.
“When there is a big public issue happening, like the footage on live exports being recently shown on 60 Minutes, email is probably the fastest way to share an opinion,” she said.
“Even if you don’t get an immediate email back, we take notice of a high volume on a single topic.”
Ms Templeman said if e-mail failed, you could always arrange for a time to meet an MP, or approach them at a public event to discuss an issue.
“I find that the most powerful thing is when people tell you their story, of how they are connected to the issue or how they are personally affected by it,” she said.
“I encourage people to raise issues with me in person, when they see me out at local events; often a short conversation can help clarify an issue faster than a lengthy email can.”
Be civil though, she said.
“No matter what your political views, it is really important when you are a community group or advocacy group that you maintain working relationships with government bodies and representatives,” she said.
“That doesn’t mean you always need to agree, but different views on issues need to be able to be discussed in a civil way no matter how angry, upset or hurt you and the community may be feeling.”
Community Action for Windsor Bridge
Harry Terry is the current president of Community Action for Windsor Bridge or CAWB for short.
For more than five years, CAWB has peacefully protested proposed changes to the Windsor Bridge Replacement Project, after establishing a tent in Thompson Square.
The CAWB movement is controversial, but what is undeniable, is the attention it has drawn to its cause.
Mr Terry said CAWB was started by a group of individuals, who did not like the state government’s plans for the area they lived in.
“I attended the RMS's workshop on urban design of option one,” he said.
“In late November 2011, a meeting was called to assess the opposition to option one. I attended that meeting with about 25 others. Community Action for Windsor Bridge was established.”
From there, they set up a few of the administrative things required of forming such a group.
“A constitution was written, CAWB became incorporated, registered with Fair Trading and took out public liability and volunteer workers insurances,” he said.
“Later it registered its activities with the police department, an application that is renewed every six months.”
Mr Terry said there was a lot more to CAWB than simply the tent it is known for.
“Behind its public face of its occupation of a small section of the parkland of Thompson Square is the engine room,” he said.
“CAWB was and is involved in research, submission writing, seeking support from politicians, government agencies, those that could support its cause and influence the decision of the Government.”
What has all this achieved, however? Certainly not the abandonment of the project. To say, though, that it has had no effect on the project whatsoever is a gross understatement.
There is also no denying its profile. It is very visible, and like it or not, most Hawkesbury residents know what it is. It has also garnered attention from many celebrities and political figures.
“Each of CAWB's strategies has had the successful aim of revealing to the public the reports and advice provided to the RMS from independent experts, most commissioned by the Government and indeed the RMS itself recommending the project not proceed,” he said.
“We liaise with the local press, state press, radio both local and state, and television. This exposure has been very extensive.”
If you want to change something, you could do one of the following things to get the government’s attention:
- Start an action group or grass roots campaign, or one on change.org or social media
- Contact your local MP/councillor
- Make a public submission
- Be informed. Know about the issue, and the arguments for and against