Meet your local MP
Visiting your MP takes your advocacy to the next level! By meeting a politician you can communicate more than in a letter, but even more importantly you can have a discussion and build a relationship.
If you’re active in a local community or social justice group you can join with others as a delegation. A local group is more likely to secure a meeting, than a single concerned citizen.
Getting an appointment
You should write to request a meeting by email or post (see tips for writing to your MP). Say who you are, if you are representing a local group, and what you want to meet about. Conclude by saying you will be in touch to find a suitable time.
Follow up in the next couple of days with a phone call to the electorate office to advise that you have written requesting an appointment and would like to discuss when might be suitable for a meeting. Be patient if you don’t get a response immediately. MPs are often busy and can take time to respond. It’s likely the MP’s electorate office will not book an appointment straight away and will tell you they’ll get back to you, but this will put your letter nearer the top of the pile.
If you think you’re not getting anywhere, a further reminder never hurts. If you keep contacting your MP, they will realise how important you feel it is to meet with them.
Before the meeting
So you’ve secured a meeting with your MP – well done! Now it’s time to prepare.
Learn about your MP
It’s important to find out about your MP so you can tailor your argument and anticipate their response. Find out:
• Do they belong to a Party?
• Do they hold any position in government or the shadow front bench?
• What speeches have they made?
• What issues and causes do they support?
• What are their interests outside parliament?
Look at your MP’s website, their Party website and other sources such as They Vote For You (www.theyvoteforyou.org.au) and Open Australia (www.openaustralia.org.au) which provide an independent summary of a politician’s policy positions.
Research your issue and know your key messages
Be clear about your ask
Go into the meeting with a specific action that you want your MP to take.
Assign roles within your group
Are there a number of you meeting your MP? If so, it’s often helpful to assign specific tasks or roles within the group. Decide who will introduce each member of the group, who will raise which specific points and in which order, who will make the request for action and who will take notes.
Print-out briefing material to leave with your MP
Giving your MP a short document that outlines your key points (and pertinent facts and figures) can be an effective way to ensure that your message receives further consideration.
It’s often useful to bring along some information to leave with your MP. We’ve developed a two-page briefing paper that you can print out and use for this purpose.
Make sure any briefing you provide for the MP is concise and no longer than a double-sided page. Your information should help your MP understand what the problem is, who is being affected, what can be done to tackle the problem, and what specific actions you are asking them to take.
In the meeting
You are likely to only have 15-30 minutes. The first few minutes will be taken up with introductions and you thanking them for taking the time to meet with you.
Make your case
Tell the politician exactly what you want him or her to do. Be brief and to the point. Give the MP compelling reasons to take the action you are requesting. Try to demonstrate that taking such action is in their best interests.
You may only have 15 minutes of their time (even if you have a longer meeting scheduled, MPs often have to change their schedule at short notice) so you’ll need to make your point and leave enough time for them to respond.
Understand your MP’s point of view
Your MP might be completely new to the issue you are raising, or they may have been working on it for years. If you are not able to find this out before your meeting, try to listen carefully to how your MP responds to what you are saying and tailor your message to your MP’s level of knowledge.
In addition to how much they understand about the issue, you also need to know what your MP thinks about it. This will help you to respond to any misconceptions or false information they may have. (See Newstart myth busters: Separating Fact from Fiction.) You can also use knowledge of their views to help make your argument relevant to the way they understand the world.
Listen carefully to gain valuable insights into the political process.
Secure a commitment
Once you’ve spelt out what you are asking for, seek a commitment from your MP.
Examples include asking them to raise your concerns with the relevant Minister, to raise a question in Parliament, to talk to fellow MPs or raise the issue in the Party room, or to table a petition in Parliament. Establish what they will do and when before you leave the meeting.
Even if your MP does not support your position, being asked to justify their differing view is a valuable and fundamental part of the democratic process.
Approach the meeting as an opportunity to build a relationship
Rather than thinking of your meeting simply as about extracting a promise from your MP, think of it as having two primary aims – one is to convince your MP to take action, and the other is to build a relationship with them on a human level.
As a social justice activist, it’s often necessary to take a long-term approach. Your first meeting with your MP may not be the last time you’ll want to see them, so take a long-term approach. Even if you don’t agree with their policy stance on a particular issue, you’re more likely to influence your MP if you can connect on a human level.
If the MP says things that are offensive or upsetting, it’s best not to get angry or argumentative, but to politely hold your ground and offer an alternative view. For example, ‘I can see we won’t agree on this point, but I want you to know that I think we can do better than this’.
Leave a good lasting impression
When the meeting has come to an end – and regardless of how successful it has been – take the time to once again thank your MP for meeting with you. Ask for the business cards of any advisers present at the meeting. Indicate that you appreciate their time and would be happy to meet with them again at any stage in the future.
After the meeting
Write to your MP to thank him/her for meeting you. Take the opportunity to restate your main points and confirm what action you agreed on. Send them any information you promised during the meeting.
Make sure your MP honours their commitments to you. If you don’t hear anything within a month, give their office a call or write to ask them whether they have taken the action they committed to take. Once again, persistence is the key.
Tell us about your meeting!
We want to know if you lobby your MP. If your MP responds or takes action, please tell us! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This will help us to track MPs’ positions and target them better, and you can also help to inspire others!