Connecting with your elected representative is a powerful advocacy tool you can wield to take action on the issues you care most about. In this guide we summarise some tips for having effective meetings with your Member of Parliament (MP), and provide links to further resources.
Why meet with your MP?
Our democracy is active and alive, and functions best when citizens are engaged beyond the ballot box.
For every person who writes to, calls, or meets with their MP about an issue, there’s an assumption that there are many more who feel the same way. Your MP cares about what the people who elected them think – we cannot forget the power we have simply by virtue of being constituents in an electorate.
Our MPs are accessible, generally willing to engage and are interested in what you have to say – and it matters that you let them know how you feel.
When it comes to protecting nature and climate, we need cross party leadership with individuals engaged and interested across the political spectrum. Your MP might hold private views that conflict with the policies of the party, and with encouragement from their constituents will be willing to raise these issues in the party room and possibly beyond.
It's important to remember that you might not see an immediate response but that doesn’t make this action any less important and powerful. Personal conversations and connections can stay with people for a long time, and appear down the track in unexpected ways.
How to organise a meeting
- You can find your MPs contact details on their website via any search engine. If you aren’t sure who your MP is you can find out here.
- Email the office a request, and you can call to follow up if you don’t hear back within ten days or so.
- In your email you should cover who you are, why you are requesting a meeting, and why you care about the issue you’d like to talk about. Here’s a sample email template you can use if you need guidance!
- Consider when the MP will be in Canberra for parliament sitting and request a meeting date outside of that. Check out the parliamentary calendar to inform your request (be sure to switch it to “yearly” view!).
- Consider also if the meeting will take place online or in person dependent on social distancing requirements where you are at the time.
Preparing for the meeting
It’s good practice to know a bit about who you’re meeting with before you walk in the door or log on to Zoom. This will not only help you get a feel for where your MP sits on the issues important to you, but it’ll help you find a way to make a connection with them, too.
Where to start:
- The website TheyVoteForYou records how your MP has voted in Parliament
- The MP’s personal and parliamentary website has their biographical info, news from the community, and all their speeches.
- Particularly, their Maiden speech is a goldmine for information - people use this opportunity to tell the story of why they were called to politics, who it is in the community that they seek to represent, and the issues they care most deeply about
- Follow them on social media!
- Don't underestimate the value of word of mouth! Perhaps someone in your network has a great repository of local knowledge, or perhaps they know someone who does. Maybe your suburb has a Facebook group that you could join to see what issues people in the broader community are concerned about.
What to look for:
- What does your MP care about?
- Who do they listen to? Who do they meet with or showcase in their public communications?
- When have they previously taken action on the issue you want to talk to them about?
Find a friend
We recommend you don’t go to these meetings alone if possible. It’s useful to bring someone else to the meeting with you for a few reasons:
- As a group you can share roles like taking notes or keeping time
- For solidarity! This can be a scary thing to do, a fun thing to do, an empowering thing to do, and sometimes a bit of a disappointing thing to do - all good reasons to have someone to debrief with
- Allows for accountability if the MP makes any commitments - you have a witness
- Is a stronger display of collective power and organisation
Think back to your reflections on your role in your community – is there someone else from your street, or club, or workplace, or kids school that also cares about climate and nature issues? Ask them to come with you, or even request the meeting together.
Plan an agenda
It’s useful to have a clear plan for your time in the meeting. You may end up only having 15 minutes with your MP and need to make sure you make the most of it! It’s easy for meetings like this to go off track or accidentally be dominated by something adjacent to what you intended to talk about, and a plan can help avoid this!
You’ll need time to introduce yourselves and maybe ask a general question about how the MP is interested in your issue. This is a good time to acknowledge anything good you’ve discovered in your research too.
Go into your meeting with a clear idea of what you’re going to talk about, and ideally an ask and commitments you’d like your MP to agree to. If you’re passionate about an issue, there’s probably lots you’d like to say, but plan to have just one key focus.
There might be a local environment issue you want to raise, or a key piece of legislation or debate underway at a national level. Be specific about what you want your MP to do - and choose an achievable commitment, like raising the issue in the party room, voting a certain way or speaking out on social media.
Don’t forget this is a relationship building and collaboration exercise - a great commitment to ask for is a followup meeting!
During your meeting
Tips for managing the meeting:
- You don't have to be an expert! If they ask you technical or very specific questions it’s okay to say you don’t know – but that you can follow up with the resources later (we can help with this).
- Try to listen as much as you speak. It can be tempting to want to use the opportunity to make sure you are heard, but this is letting your representative off the hook! Make time to ask what they think about the issue and what they are going to do about it.
Support from ACF
Here are some ways we can provide ongoing support as you dive into your advocacy journey with your local MP and beyond!
- Join our Facebook group, Taking Action Together for Climate & Nature, where you can connect with others to ask questions and share stories of success or setbacks. If you do get a specific question about the science, technology, or policy detail of a climate and nature ask from your MP, this is also a great space to ask for help and we might be able to provide some relevant resources. Keep an eye on emails from ACF. We run regular advocacy and campaign information sessions for our community, as well as producing reports and videos that may help arm you with some facts to back up your case.
- Our Government and Business Relations Manager writes monthly politics updates filled with juicy insights and info! We’ll share these in the Facebook group.
- Check out the more detailed toolkit, How to get your local MP to listen to your community
Revisit the recording of our Effective MP meetings training from March 2021 below for a more detailed version of this summary
What if my MP refuses to meet with me?
- Why have they said no? If it’s an issue of timing – ask for another time.
- Using your research, think about who they might be more likely to listen to, and work with others to request another meeting. This might look like a collective request from a sports club, or the voice of a community business leader or young person.
- Ask whether you can meet with their staffers instead!
My MP is dismissive or doesn’t care
Unfortunately you may have had the experience that your federal MP really refuses to engage on the issue you care about, or is completely dismissive of the issue of human caused climate change. You might like to:
- Consider meeting with Senators or your state representative instead. These are also powerful meetings with influential lawmakers.
- Think about who the MP does listen to. Meet with that community to find where your interests overlap and support them to speak to the MP about the issue
My MP says they agree with me but there’s “nothing they can do”
Sometimes a non-government MP may use the fact they are not in the majority party as a reason not to take action. But even if an MP is not in government, they still have an important role to play in questioning the government and holding them accountable. You can respond by:
- Reminding them of how important the role of non-government members is, and
- Pointing to an example where they have played that role on other important issues
Don’t forget you can also bring challenges to the wider community on Facebook for ideas and support!