Category Archives: Culture

Lobbying: When Do I Go Political?

When should you make your business or community issue political?  “Never” is the answer from which you should start.

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.




US Elections – How Donald Trump Won

hill-and-donCompare Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Donald Trump clearly won the latter through a massive turnout of rarely-votes in the middle of the state (see and appears to have won the former by winning over previous Democrat voters (see – though more analysis will give a better picture.

That’s two entirely different ways of winning, in two important states.

Obama in the contested 2008 Primary had a successful State-by-State win plan: did Trump have the same in 2016?  These different patterns in two critical states suggest perhaps he did.

Kellyanne Conway was his final campaign manager and deserves major credit for his victory, but she took over only a scant 12 weeks out from election day – could she have created and executed such a state-by-state plan in so short a time?  Her predecessors, incompetent and possibly corrupt, seem unlikely to have had such insight and coherence.

Insider-tell-all books after the 2008 and 2012 election cycle answered many questions about internal strategy development – the 2016 version may tell us whether there was such a plan, or whether luck and happenstance played a bigger part.

However, Kellyanne achieved in less than three months something much more formidable: she created a new candidate and a new election, and hence a winning coalition, by taming Trump.

Before the Presidential Debates, Trump had set about making himself the outsider who could upturn politics-as-usual and fix a failed system.  His plain speaking, deliberately provocative and deliberately different from Republican orthodoxy, had built a loyal following amongst those alienated from the “American Dream”, but failed to broadly inspire evangelical Christians, and alienated moderate Republicans.  His support, lacking those two components of the Republican base, was insufficient for victory.

Just prior to the October 19 third debate, his language moderated, his insults decreased, and the content of his ad-hoc statements became more coherent.  At the third debate, he pivoted, pressed the case for the Republican Right’s hot-button policies, and they flocked to his banner.  Post-debate, he became increasingly a more polished and less alienating candidate.  Some of the moderate Republicans, contemplating voting for Hillary, moved back to the fold.

To the Republican base, Trump now looked – more-or-less – like a Republican.

Quite suddenly, the Clinton campaign faced a different candidate, who now led a coalition of the disaffected and the Republican base, to which they had no adequate counter.  It’s not even clear they noticed the new candidate.



(Half of Ethical Consulting Services (Mike) has been embedded in the campaign since mid-October.)



US Elections – 3 Phases, Now

hill-and-donThe future of this US Election cycle divides neatly into three phases:

  • between now and the close of polls;
  • from election night to the new President’s inauguration on 20 January 2017; and
  • after inauguration.

Phase 1 – up to close of polls

The next seven days will see a recently-better-controlled and more-focussed Donald Trump try to build on his gains of the last two weeks: victory is probably beyond his reach, but he’s now about saving the Republican Party from electoral devastation.

We’ll see Republicans actively campaign to suppress Democrat votes, and intimidate Democrats at polling places.

Will Hillary’s current lead, and voter revulsion at Trump, translate into effective Democrat control of Congress?

In the last two weeks, Hillary has slipped back in the polls by about 3%** nationally and if this trend continues through the week it will be a much tighter election (see and a much-reduced chance of coat-tails for the Democrats.

Phase 2 – election night to inauguration

A lot can happen between the TV networks*** declaring a winner on election night, and the Inauguration on 20 January 2017.  In 1861, most of the Confederacy announced their secession between Abraham Lincoln’s victory and his inauguration*, for example.

The victor’s speech matters – it sets the tone for their transition – as does the speech of the vanquished.  Will Hillary lay out a plan to heal the divisions made strikingly evident by this campaign?  Will Trump try to mobilise his supporters to defy US democracy and challenge Hillary’s legitimacy?

Will the new President have a supportive Congress to speed up and smooth their appointment of senior staff and transition to leadership?

Phase 3 – after inauguration

After they are inaugurated on 20 January 2017, the new President at last will begin the absurdly slow and complicated process of appointing senior Government officials.

Will ongoing challenges to the legitimacy of the new President undermine their capacity to govern and to lead?  Can the kind of illegitimate claims of “rigging” made by Trump be sustained beyond the short term?

Will the Republican Party’s grown-ups, so lacking in presence and responsibility for well over a decade, decide to take their Party leadership back from those who facilitated Trump, or do they lack the integrity?  If Trump wins, he’ll remake the Republican Party, and seek to remake the US, in his own image: there will be no room for more moderate voices, and the world will struggle to know how to respond.


* In March – these days it’s in January.

** as at 2 November 2016

*** Yes, on election night the TV networks call the shots.  The result isn’t formally declared until the Electoral College reports to Congress and Congress votes on their report at 1.00 pm on 6 January 2017.


Ethical Consulting Services’ Mike Smith is embedded in the US Presidential Elections until Election Day.



Ethical Consulting: 612ABC this Thursday

hill-and-donIf all goes to plan, Mike Smith from Ethical Consulting Services will be live on Steve Austin’s Morning Program at about 10.30 am on Thursday 19 October, on 612 ABC Brisbane local radio.

Mike is embedded within the US Presidential campaign, until US election day on 8 November. and has been blogging about the campaign since early October.




US Elections – Explained, Sort Of

hill-and-donWhile Mike from Ethical Consulting Services is embedded in the US Presidential election campaign, he’s found a few articles that explain some of what’s going on.

Some of these might interest you, but feel free to suggest interesting articles of your own!

If you want some background on what’s going on this election cycle, try this article.

On the major differences between US elections and Australian Elections, try this one.

For a discussion about the impact of voluntary voting on US elections, this might be useful.

And here’s a summary of what it mans to have to rebuild a US Presidential campaign machine very four years.




US Elections – New Every 4 Years

hill-and-donThey completely dissolve and re-form their Presidential campaigns every four years in the US, while in Australia the campaign machinery and personnel continue from one election cycle to another* – this is one of the big differences between Australian and US Election Campaigns.

This system in the US arises in large part because the Presidential campaign is so much a construct of the candidate, rather than the Party – based around the style and wishes of each individual candidate.

The downside of this system is the need to rebuild completely, and the capacity of a campaign to have to relearn hard lessons learned by previous campaigns.  I’ve seen that happen – one candidate’s campaign, four years after some inspired organising, had quite forgotten how to manage a particular and important aspect of campaigning.

Another downside is that campaigns have to re-learn the local terrain and quirks, and consultants have to be re-inducted all over again.

And it also builds a resentment amongst locals, that the Presidential campaign has come in over the top of them, and taken over their turf, again, without seeming interested in local knowledge, or employing locals.

There are two big upsides, though:

  1. a complete rebuild every four years clears away the bad habits of the past, makes it easier to innovate, and reduces the desire to prosecute the battles of the last political war, and
  2. Presidential candidates get an opportunity to build the campaign which best reflects their values, strategies and interests – and consistency between campaign and candidate brand is very important!

So, the feel is very different from Australia, and it’s the same with both major Parties.

Better or worse than Australia?  Maybe, on this issue, it’s simply different.


(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from mid-October: this year, US election day is 8 November.)


* With, in Australia, some uptake of new technology and some staff turnover, of course.




US Elections – Don’t Count Trump Out

hillary_clintonThough Hillary Clinton is today rated an 82.8% chance to win the US Presidency, it isn’t over until it’s over.  Though Donald Trump has shown himself unfit for office time and again, key supporters are deserting him daily, and his Party are thinking about doing the same thing, there are four weeks to go.

I strongly expect Hillary to win, because she is the best candidate who could and she’s way ahead, but she has vulnerabilities which can change the dynamic of the last four weeks:

Voting is voluntary.

For many reasons, most of them illegitimate but nonetheless felt and believed, plenty of Democratic voters are lukewarm about her.  If they don’t feel enthused enough to turn out to vote, there are states where she’s in trouble.

In the eyes of  many of Hillary’s supporters, Trump is so awful they may feel more motivated to vote, but what I observe is a feeling he’s so awful he can’t possibly win – “I mean no-one’s actually going to vote for him are they, so why should I bother to go and vote for Hillary?” – so they don’t need to bother.

And while Hillary’s remains to be tested, Barack Obama’s Get-Out-The-Vote machine was the best the US has ever seen: if Hillary can’t match it, can she get a big enough turnout to win?

Hillary can make mistakes.

Describing half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” was disgusting, wrong and a campaign disaster.  It wasn’t off-the-cuff, it was scripted.  A campaign that so misunderstands how to campaign as to do that, can make more, big, mistakes … but they might have learned from that one.

Hillary can believe the wrong thing.trump

She might truly believe half of Trump’s supporters are “deplorables”, which says she’s disconnected from the real world.  Research done independently on those who are voting from Trump says that in many cases they are people for whom the system isn’t delivering, for whom the American Dream is a nightmare.

They aren’t voting for Trump en masse because they all want to sow division and bile and hate as he does, they’re voting for a guy who they think will wreck the system that has lied to them, failed them, and failed their communities.  A campaign so off target about their opponent’s supporters has little chance of prising any of them off.

And, if you are that mistaken about why your opponent has supporters, you’re hardly likely to be focussed on addressing their issues – and powerlessness, imposed change, inequality, and unfairness are at the heart of the US failing to deliver for an enormous proportion of its citizens.

Hillary can say the wrong thing.

Describing half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” was a stupid thing to say, even if she actually believes it.  There are at least four things wrong with it.

First, you’ll never get people to change their opinions and support yours by abusing them, or authorising others so to do, as she did.  You only lock them in to opposing you forever – beyond just one election – and sow further seeds of division in a system already rife with intractability.

Second, the meta-message you send when you describe people as “deplorables” is that you think you are superior to them, which plays into the “aloof and elitist and not one of us” picture of Hillary and insider Democrats, which Republicans have so assiduously used to take working class votes away from Democratic Party candidates.

Third, it wastes valuable airtime and distracts your campaign from more important messages.  Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s recent discussion of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party were heading down a much smarter road.

Fourth, it makes campaign workers and down-ticket candidates think that’s the message they should be sending, which locks them into maximising the first two bad outcomes.

She won’t say “deplorables” again, and she’s sorry ever she did, but four weeks of draining campaigning is a long time for a campaign which has shown itself capable of such an error to make no more biggies.

The Russians are coming.  And Wikileaks.

They’ve both got more files and more emails to leak.  They both seem to want Hillary to lose, though I imagine the Russians might back off in exchange for a less aggressive Foreign Policy posture from Hillary.  The harmfulness to her campaign of what’s been leaked so far seems relatively inconsequential, but these leaks might be more important for the signal they send of how deeply they’ve both seen into her secrets – sending a message about what might yet be released.  Not knowing what they’ve got and when it might be released means we have to be open to the prospect that future leaks might significantly harm Hillary’s chances … and that she’s expecting it.

(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from mid-October: this year, US election day is 8 November.)



US Elections – Voluntary

hill-and-donClose observation of US Presidential election campaigns shows the enormous and negative impact of voluntary voting.  Starry-eyed* Australians say voluntary voting simply means voters won’t be forced to choose between candidates they dislike.

They’re wrong – the differences between voluntary and compulsory voting are far-reaching.

US election campaigns – Presidential particularly – must devote massive resources to enrolling voters** which raises the cost, which puts pressure on candidates and parties to be constantly in fundraiser mode.  Many senior campaign advisors say candidates should spend half their time fundraising.  The voluntary nature of voting puts even greater pressures on the system and contributes to making US elections the money-pit and money-deformed system they are.

Four weeks out from election day, every last bit of local activity on the ground switches from being about voter enrolment to nagging people to vote – forget any thought of a high-minded contest of ideas.  Every.  Last.  Bit.  Of.  Local.  Activity.

But the bigger problem is the way voluntary enrolment and voting change the discussion.

In Australia’s compulsory voting system, knowing*** every voter is likely to vote, candidates and campaign strategists have to generate in each voter merely a mild preference between, say, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten.  In the US system, candidates and campaign strategists have to generate in each voter a preference so strong that it motivates them to vote, usually on a working day when they don’t have to bother – a motivating preference.

That’s done through the use of language and persuasion tactics much more extreme than we usually see in Australia – the kind of campaign Australians say they find revolting: blowing minor differences into massive schisms, the most hyperbolic descriptions, careful mischaracterisation of the other side, pressing questions as though they were fact, aggressive and divisive language, and so on.  They all go to minimise any prospect of bipartisanship, political dialogue, or cross-party cooperation, anywhere in the political system.

In seeking to de-legitimise the opponent, they trash the institution; to save the village from falling to the enemy, they destroy the village.

There’s another issue, too: there’s a contract involved in voting – an exchange of obligations, a reciprocity – that lends the outcome legitimacy, and burdens the victor with obligations.  Those who participate in society by voting have a stake in its institutions, behaviours and success, and in exchange for them participating in elections, society and in particular the elected Government owes voters respect and recognition.  Acknowledgement of reciprocal obligations and legitimacies is weaker, and hence the existence of those things is weaker, between Governments and non-voters.

These consequences, driven so much by voluntary voting, tell a substantial part of the story behind the complete inability of the US system of Government, to govern.




(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from today up to US Election Day on 8 November.)


* And some who just want electoral advantage

** Enrolment is voluntary, too.

*** Presuming rather than knowing, but that’s another discussion entirely.




US Elections – What’s Different?

hill-and-donThere are so many differences between US and Australian elections it’s hard to know when to stop listing them:

  • Whilst some Australian legislatures have four-year terms and some have terms fixed, most US elections happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday, quadrennially (see;
  • In Australian, it’s prohibited – without special permission – for National, State or local Government elections to happen on the same day; in the US they mostly happen on that same day;
  • National election voting rules – polling places, hours of opening, early voting, postal voting, and so on – are in the US managed by States and counties, while in Australia the Federal and State Governments manage their own, respectively, and States generally manage local government elections;
  • It’s changing, but in most cases US States (sometimes counties) independently manage voter lists/electoral rolls, while in Australia the State and Territories, by agreement, have the Federal Government manage theirs;
  • Enrolment to vote is optional in the US and mandatory in Australia;
  • Voting is optional in the US, and mandatory in Australia;
  • In most parts of the US, enrolment to vote is partisan – i.e. you identify yourself publicly on the voter roll as a Democrat, Republican, independent and so on, while political alignment is private in Australia – and that partisan enrolment is a significant component of their primary and caucus system of choosing candidates;
  • In Australia, we vote on a Saturday (still a day off work for most people) while in the US it’s Tuesday, a working day; and
  • Election campaigns in the US are not, as they are in Australia, the cooperative meshing of a party machine’s structures and a leader’s staff – US campaign organisations and structures (for big elections anyway) are mostly completely rebuilt from scratch every four years, at the individual candidate’s direction.


Several of these points have quite big implications, and we’ll post articles about these in the coming days.



(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from mid-October: this year, US election day is 8 November.)




Last Week in Queensland – 25 July 2016

last-week-logo-2This week in Queensland we saw who’s in the new Federal Ministry and Shadow Ministry; we heard about State Parliament’s Estimates Committee hearings, and the Government made each Minister a “champion” for a major indigenous community.

Federal Government

  • In consequence of the recent Australian Election, the new Federal Ministry has been announced, and the Shadow Ministry.  We’ve done the hard work of matching up Government office-bearers against their Opposition counterparts, for you to download, here
  • If you prefer, here’s the Ministry and here’s the Shadow Ministry for you to download, also.




MP for Bundamba Jo-ann Miller


The Opposition and Crossbench

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls



Independent candidate for Toowoomba South Di Thorley

Independent candidate for Toowoomba South Di Thorley




Economy and Infrastructure


ParliamentOpening Parliament 2015

  • Queensland’s Parliament is busy but not formally sitting: we’ve had Estimates hearings on the State Budget this week, and again from 26 to 28 July: the schedule for hearings is here:
  • The Queensland Parliament’s summary of what’s new, including newly-introduced and passed legislation, is here
  • The Federal Parliament was prorogued for the Federal Election held on 2 July, and the first sittings days for the new Parliament are Tuesday 30 August to Thursday 1 September – see


Sleeper Issues?






* We’re not representing that this is a complete coverage of news in Queensland – it certainly isn’t, and it’s what we find interesting or important, and sometimes what’s unusual.  Some of the links will require subscriptions to read content.