The Punch, Miles Heffernan, 27 March 2012
Here’s some advice for interest groups who want to influence a conservative government with such a stonking majority – pack away the hemp shirts, love beads and sandals and deal with them like professionals.
It might have worked in 1983 in Tasmania, but it won’t work in 2012 in Qld…
No protests, petitions or snippy social media campaigns. Publicly congratulate their win. They don’t need to listen, so you need them to want to listen. For every one Labor MP in Queensland now there will be 10 opposite numbers. How do less that 10 people, however talented, even stay abreast of government business, let alone the controversial stuff?
The LNP’s superior and unequalled bargaining position should give pause for thought for any interest group that wishes to influence or change the government’s position. How do activists get the attention of a government or opposition (who now just sleep at the office reading briefing papers)? By being strategic.
Just by sheer numbers of LNP parliamentarians, it is now a party of great diversity. From inner city martini sippers through to the deep, deep west, where men are men and tariffs and protectionism are the cornerstone of any good government. This gives interest groups a great opportunity to engage with a “broad church” and find their internal advocates.
Before the election, various groups feared the change of government. These include concerns over Coal Seam Gas (with the shotgun marriage of Greens and farmers), youth boot camps and the promised repeal of civil unions. Opportunities and lessons have come from clever (non-CIA) operatives that know how to play the game.
“Tough on crime” mantras are standard operating procedure for would be premiers who lay waiting in opposition. If every “tough” policy was introduced and added to at each election, a teenager that knocked off a bag of lollies would be jailed for seven years under mandatory sentencing laws.
So what happens between promise and delivery? The real work is done through engagement with the government, quietly and in private. These legal types know the real problems with “tough on crime” slogans and they also have a clear message, which is reasoned and persuasive.
While a good protest for CSG or Civil Unions might hit the press, does it help the cause get their prize? Faced with the reality of Mr Newman looking like getting the big chair, activists resorted to name calling and desperate appeals for voters to backflip. More than one special interest group leader traded in any moral authority by making it grubby (see below).
Influencing this extraordinarily powerful government is possible. Old tricks of talking to those in marginal seats won’t work. Negative or rogue social media attacks will almost certainly harm the cause.
The vengeance that was taken to the Bligh Government for doing things it said it wouldn’t was gladiatorial. “Great big taxes”, asset sales, civil unions, mining rights are not whims. These form detailed pre-election policies and the electorate wants a say.
In the case of civil unions, the Bligh government may be the worst friend of gay unions. So close to the election, with over two years of poor polling, it rushed through what appears a cynical attempt to save inner city seats. This makes an activist’s ability to influence so much harder on what could have been a non-issue if handled differently.
The good news is that social media, blogging and even comments on news stories all help to understand sentiment and to help influence it. The challenge for those seeking change is to put away the feistiness and become influencers. That may include a combative activist being replaced with a more conservative operator.
Take a leaf out of the “tough on crime” opponents. Engage with sympathetic community leaders that the LNP respect and who are not tainted with partisan politics. The real work is done behind the scenes, where trust will be built with government officers.
The Queensland election was won on doing what you say you will. So some causes may be about to be dealt a blow. Suck it up and don’t throw the toys out of the cot as the people have given the LNP a mandate on steroids.