First, a question to consider. Do you think your electorate needs an electorate action group? You may believe that your MP is doing a reasonable job, and, if that’s the case, why form a group? Active Democracy Australia believes every electorate needs such a group. Here are ten reasons why.
We recommend a three-stage process of actions, as outlined below. Click on the underlined phrases to learn more, and then you can start to make it happen in your electorate!
- Create an electorate action group, if there isn’t already one that you wish to join. (Your Electorate page will tell you what’s happening there.) You can start with any number of people – two, three, six, a dozen. Just get together and start talking about what you want to do. If you contact us we can connect you with any others from your electorate who have also made contact. Again, see your electorate page to learn more about this.
- Think about the values you would like to see in politics – values you can also practise in your group. Our system urgently needs a values change.
- Organise kitchen table conversations, groups of up to ten people who have two-hour discussions about the policies they would like to see in place, and how they want to be represented.
- Arranging these conversations will probably be the main way through which you reach and involve people in your group at this stage. So try to get as many conversations going as you can, and try to ensure that participants in them reflect the diversity of the electorate, with regard to gender, age, ethnicity, location and other factors. Here’s how you can grow the number and representativeness of participants, and reach more voters.
- Produce a report on what participants said in the kitchen table conversations. Show this to your MP and other candidates, and make it available for all to read.
If you do these things you will have already made a huge contribution to building a more active democracy in your electorate! All sorts of ideas, discussions, connections and actions are likely to flow from them.
As your groups gets going, you will also want to ensure that it is set up to function effectively and democratically. Over time this will involve setting up a governance and decision-making structure, perhaps creating a legal structure, ensuring that the group’s participants are happy, productive and stick around, obtaining the resources to do what you want to do, and documenting, evaluating and researching what your group is doing. While this may sound like a lot, these are matters that many thousands of community groups in Australia have managed to address, and your group will also be able to do this.
What people say in the kitchen table conversations and how your MP and others respond to this will shape what you do next. But you are very likely to do some or all of the following:
- Continue to communicate with your MP and other candidates. Your MP is the person elected by and representing you and other constituents at the moment. Voter will have a chance to replace that person if they choose to at the next election, but for now, your MP is your representative, and the things you learn in communicating with this MP will serve you well when it comes to communicating with future MPs. Also, one of the other current candidates may be the MP post-election, so you need to communicate with them as well.
- Provide opportunities for constituents to learn more about the policies that best meet people’s needs. This can be through events or written information. You can arrange speakers, panels and group discussions, and distribute policy information online. Deliberative forums are a great way to both inform people and to have a group of informed voters come up with sound, evidence-based policy recommendations. To avoid unnecessary duplication you can collaborate on these activities with other electorate groups.
- Help your electorate to know itself better by researching the life circumstances, needs and views of people across the electorate and sharing this with other constituents, which will encourage them to consider the needs of all when voting or campaigning.
- Encourage the best possible candidates to stand, especially people who have served the community and know it well, who have expertise or experience of value to the community, or who are from a section of society underrepresented in public life. Such candidates may stand for parties or as independents, and possibly as an independent endorsed by your electorate group.
- Raise voter awareness about your MP and other candidates, so they’re better informed at the ballot box. This means keeping track of how your MP is performing, including their voting record and communications with constituents, and their party’s election platform, as well as the record and policies of other candidates. You can then share this information with constituents.
This is the stage where there are many electorate groups across the country and they are recognised as a force in politics. At this point groups from different electorates can collaborate to seek discussions with senior figures within parties regarding the following:
- Having parties systematically consult voters in each electorate when formulating policies, which would be in parties’ electoral interests, as policies adopted in this way are likely to be better aligned with voters’ views and better known by them, and the party would be seen as more democratic.
- Having parties consult voters as part of their candidate preselection process, a practice that occurs in some other democracies and has been tried by several Australian parties, and a practice that would also benefit parties electorally.
- Having parties (as well as independents) address the question of how the working conditions of MPs can be improved. Given voters’ feelings about politicians, it’s not surprising that this matter receives little attention. But we, the public, are in effect their employers, and as such we are obligated to ensure that their working conditions are satisfactory. What’s more, better conditions would attract more people of calibre to stand, and almost certainly enable MPs to do a better job.
The time has come for voters to get organised in a new way. Till now they have either joined parties or supported specific-issue campaigns. Both of these are still very important, but they are not enough. They are not ensuring that the system is responsive to voters’ needs and views and bringing about the critical policy changes that voters support. Voters need to come together in their diverse electorate communities and engage with the political system in ways that are more active, more open, more inclusive, more informed and more strategic. The state of our democracy is at stake here.