For the past 3 and a half years I have been volunteering part time in my federal MPs electoral office. It's not something I had ever thought I would be doing, but it has been rewarding and I feel like I am contributing to my community.
An electoral office's role is to serve their community and support the Member of Parliament to do their job. Before volunteering in an MPs office I had never thought to phone or email my MP for help with a problem. But electoral offices constantly receive requests for assistance from community members. It could be a request for help to get a visa processed urgently; or help accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Here are some of the ways you could get in touch with your local representative.
Writing a letter to your MP can effect change
One of the best ways you can make your voice heard, apart from your vote, is by sending an email to your elected politician at local, state or national level.
I have seen first hand that the power of our individual voice can make a difference. If you have ever felt strongly about an issue but thought you couldn't make a difference. Think again. Writing an email to your elected representative is a great place to start. Email campaigns do get read and ultimately can influence decisions.
Members of parliaments are elected by you, to represent the views of your electorate. What you care about is valuable to them because it determines whether or not you vote for them. When politicians receive lots of letters from their constituents about a particular issue, they're compelled to act (if they want to keep their position at the next election!). Every email received at the MPs office I work in is logged and tagged with its specific issue. When there is a high volume of emails about one particular issue, that is raising concern for constituents, this can bring about change.
If you don't let your MP know what your thoughts are on a particular issue, how will they know what you are thinking. The more people that write in on the same issue, the more traction that issue will get. It may be elevated to something they speak about in parliament. That's why it's so important that you bring your voice to the table (and encourage others to do the same!)
I'll give you an example of a letter from a constituent that ended up in an MPs speech and contributed to legislation that is now in place. We received an email from a constituent who was a stay-at-home dad with two young children. His female partner was the main breadwinner in the family. The parental leave system at the time had a cap on a woman's earnings, meaning if the woman earned more than a certain amount the family wasn't able to access the government payment. However, if the male parent was the breadwinner he could be earning a million dollars and the family would still qualify for the payment. How crazy is that! Anyway, the story has a good ending. This man's situation was included in a speech to parliament and, in addition to a lot of advocating from parent groups and other concerned MPs, the legislation for Parental Leave payments has now been changed and the cap on the female breadwinner's salary has been removed.
Meet with your MP in person, as a group or go solo
Although most MPs have busy schedules they do make time to meet with constituents and community groups on urgent and important issues. We can change the hearts and minds of politicians through the conversations we have with them, letting them know what we expect. We can also accelerate policy change through these meetings. Policies can start out as conversations and develop into meaningful action.
Signing up to your MPs mailing list keeps you updated on how they are representing you
Signing up to your local representative's newsletter is a good way to find out what they are doing and if they are acting on their election promises. If you don't want to do that you can always follow them on social media.
We can't take our foot off the pedal yet
UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, this week announced that the era of global warming has ended and the era of "global boiling" has arrived. A distressing statement to hear.
The current Labor government in Australia are achieving way more on climate than the previous government did but there is still so much more they should be doing (and not doing). Alarmingly, the federal government is still approving more fossil-fuel projects. That's why we need to keep the pressure on our locally elected representatives and keep pushing for them to vote for more ambitious targets and legislation to support the electrification of businesses and homes; the transition to a circular economy; and to renewable energy. No matter what party they belong to.
Education on how our political system works
My time in the electoral office has also taught me how important it is for the general population to be educated on how their country's political system works. It would be great if it could be a part of the curriculum in high schools.Using your voice by talking to your local MP is a powerful action we can all do to elevate climate action. See our 1MREADY campaign for more tips on starting a conversation with your elected representative.