No matter what sort of job your MP is doing, we believe an Electorate Action Group in your electorate can improve the way you are being represented. When voters come together and articulate their values, ideas and needs it’s more likely that positive change will follow. This is active democracy at work.
To find out if there is already a group in your electorate, go to the Your Electorate pages. If there is a group you may wish to join it. If there isn’t a group (or there is one but it’s not what you’re looking for) you can get together with others and start a new group. Here’s how:
Starting an Electorate Action Group
You can start a group with any number of people – even two!
First, you need to start talking, to make sure you’re all broadly on the same page. Share your concerns about democracy and politics and how you’re currently represented in your electorate, what’s needed to make democracy work better, the actions your group could take to help get there, and the values you think should guide the process (check out ADA’s Values statement as a starter).
Then you need to build up your numbers, and here are two ways of doing so. First, there may be other people from your electorate who have registered their interest with ADA, or with other organisations promoting democracy in Australia. Ask us about this. And second, there are many things you can do to reach people in your electorate. These include:
- talking with friends, neighbours, family, work colleagues, fellow students, and people you know through clubs and organisations you belong to
- telling people about the group through social media
- putting up notices in shops and other public places
- contacting local organisations
- setting up stalls in shopping streets and at community events
- arranging events such as ‘kitchen table conversations’, speakers’ nights and discussion groups (or online versions of these).
Arranging kitchen table conversations
This is a great way to get people involved in your group and learn what voters want our democracy – and local representation – to look like, so you can share these views with your MP and the community.
Kitchen table conversations (KTCs) are groups of up to ten people who discuss how they would like to see Australian politics and local representation improved, in response to a set of questions and for up to two hours. Anyone can get a group together, and the idea is to generate as many KTCs as possible to get a sense of what voters in your electorate want. Participants’ answers are noted down (anonymously) and then turned into a report that can be circulated in the electorate and shown to the MP.
Read more about how to run kitchen table conversations and how to produce a report on them. And check out how you can build up the numbers and representativeness of your group over time.
Communicating with your MP and other candidates
Make an appointment to deliver a copy of your report to your MP and discuss it with them. Tell the MP about your group (if you haven’t done so already) and say you’d like to have regular discussions as a group that represents any constituents who wish to be involved. Be polite and listen to the MPs responses. You may or may not like the MP and the job there are doing, but being polite and respectful gives you the best chance of keeping communication channels open.
Of course, voters get to choose their MP at each election, so you should be in communication (and share the report) with other candidates as well – when they are announced – especially the ones with a fair chance of being elected. One of them may be your MP after the next election, and during the election campaign you can later share what you know about candidates’ records and policies with other voters, so they are more informed when voting (more on this below).
Read further on communicating with your MP and other candidates.
Helping constituents to know more about policies
The policies required to solve difficult societal problems can be highly complex. People have busy lives and they’re not necessarily interested in politics, but electorate action groups can help voters to understand policies better. It doesn’t matter that you may only reach a small proportion of voters, because elections can turn on a swing of just a few per cent of votes, and these voters who have become more informed are likely to be the ones in touch with MPs, candidates and other voters.
There are many ways to enable voters to become better informed about policy. These include speakers’ nights, webinars, discussion groups and deliberative forums, as well as and articles, videos and audios accessed via your website or social media page (including links to other sites).
Also, your electorate may face particular issues – for example, high unemployment, specific environmental problems or inadequate transport – so your group can research these problems and policy solutions for them – and advocate for these solutions in communications with voters, the MP and other candidates, as this page describes in more detail.
Help constituents to know more about the record and policies of candidates
Voters will be able to make a better choice at election time if they know the policies each candidate (or their party) is advancing and their record and experience to date. Groups can research this, including by interviewing them, and share this information with voters in a range of possible ways. See more on this.
What if you want a better candidate?
Like all of us, MPs and candidates have their strengths and weaknesses. We want capable, public-spirited people to represent us, and we also want people who ‘look like us’ and thus understand our lives and issues. If the candidates in your electorate are not as capable, public-spirited and diverse as you would like, there are things you can do about it, including:
- encouraging suitable people to stand, either for party preselection or as independents
- speaking with party branch members involved in preselections about this
- as a group, choosing and campaigning for a particular independent candidate (read more).
Other possibilities once electorate action groups are more established…
When there are many electorate action groups across the country and they are recognised as a force in politics, groups can collaborate to seek discussions with senior figures in parties about 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. Read more here…
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, a practice that would also benefit parties electorally. Read more here.
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.
You will also want to ensure that your group functions well…
Over time this could 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.