Lobbying: When Do I Go Political?
Posted by Mike Smith
Time and again we’ve seen business and community groups, frustrated with a response from Government, take their issue to the Opposition or crossbench Members of Parliament, and ask them to pursue it. Or they say to us “How long do we have to put up with this? Let’s ‘go political’!”
If those non-Government Members of Parliament take up your issue, the nearly inevitable outcome is you lose any capacity for your business/group to deal with the Government.
Why? Because their business too easily becomes proving the Government wrong, not delivering support for your issue. Your business becomes the battlefield.
Once an issue becomes the subject of partisan advocacy it almost always* becomes the subject of partisan claims, demands, and arguments – it is then a political issue; the Government of the day and their opponents thereafter prosecute the case for and against in exactly the same way as they do with any other political hot potato. This means the merits of your issue are forever after in dispute; compromise becomes impossible because it would be characterised as political weakness, or political victory/defeat for one side or the other.
This outcome is just about inevitable, and it is very hard to retrieve the situation – by going to non-Government MPs you are almost always locking yourself into support from one side of politics only, and you are pinning your prospects of success entirely to a change of Government.
This your project is delayed: possibly for years, possibly forever.
We always recommend going to Government with a business case which makes sense to the Government of the day, and sometimes we recommend going to all Parliamentary Parties at once, with arguments constructed to make sense to each Party.
And, a final point about “going political“: it’s nearly always done out of anger and frustration. Your stakeholders deserve a more measured and professional approach.
* There’s an exception to this rule which we’ll cover in a future article: on that rare occasion you can persuade the non-Government Member of Parliament to champion your cause without doing it in a partisan or divisive way.