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Advocacy for Legislation and Regulation

Sometimes your advocacy is targeted directly at specific changes to specific pieces of legislation or regulation. You could also be advocating for new laws to be enacted, or for old laws to be revoked.

Here are a few things you should take into consideration when advocating for legislation or regulation.

Communicating with legislators

When communicating with legislators (your parliamentary representatives) you may need to alter your tone a little bit. Your presentation should include fewer of the the sound bites that can dominate other advocacy-based activities and take in more well-reasoned arguments based on solid facts. You'll need to communicate the importance of the issue, how many people it affects, and how significant the effect of new (or reformed) legislation will be.

It's also worthwhile to consider how the legislator will be able to sell your issue to the public. What are the electoral benefits of adopting your position?

Do your research

Make sure you know your facts. You're probably already well-read on the topic you are advocating for and know all the arguments backwards, but have you got the statistics to back up your position? You might have to generate these statistics yourself by running surveys and focus groups to back your position up. Ask yourself what sort of information you might need that isn't available, and start to collect it.

It's also important to make sure that your research methods are sound. If legislation is to be based on this information, it needs to stand up to the appropriate scrutiny.

Freedom of Information (FoI)

Government departments, local councils, public hospitals, and statutory authorities and boards are all required to make most government documents publicly available. To access this information it may be necessary to lodge a freedom of information form to the relevant body. These bodies vary from state to state and federally.

FoI requests can be rejected for a number of reasons set out in the appropriate act, and the process may be delayed or complicated if the gatekeepers feel it is in their interest to do keep the information out of the public domain, but FoI can nonetheless still be a highly useful tool. Be prepared to be vigilant and keep pushing to ensure you finally get the information you need.

Hansard

Hansard is the verbatim record of all parliamentary proceedings and can be a fantastic research tool, as well as a great method of holding politicians to their word. Parliaments have detailed search facilities and all the documents are readily accessible.

An electronic version of federal Hansard from 1981 onwards is available at: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/

Get legal help/advice

The value of proper legal advice is hard to over-estimate. Lawyers understand the processes, the terminology, and what stands up in court better than anyone. Lawyers working in the particular field you are advocating in is particularly useful.

Of course lawyers' help is notoriously expensive. If you have the resources and feel that it will be money well spent, this may be an expense you are happy to wear - and if you win your case it will be worth it.

Remember too that many law firms provide pro bono assistance - find out who coordinates the pro bono work of the firms that have a good fit with your issue and get networking.

Drafting alternative legislation

Some organisations actually choose to draft their own legislation. Needless to say, this is no small task, and it is not advised unless you have expertise in the area. However, under certain circumstances few things are more useful.

While success in this area is particularly limited, it is not unheard-of for a bit of draft legislation devised by an interest group to be used as the basis for other legislation, or to be introduced into parliament as a Private Members Bill (although these are also notoriously unsuccessful).

Government Enquiries and Submissions

If an issue is contentious, there has been a public outcry, a law is dated or if a law is up for review then governments will often hold an 'Inquiry' into the matter. The public will often be invited to make submissions within the terms of the inquiry. This is now easier than ever before - usually, you can make submissions by email, online, or by post.

Enquiries are always publicly announced with an ad in the paper, and they often get a bit of press coverage. Submissions do not have to be long; many are just one or two lines. What is important is showing that you care enough about an issue to take the time to make a public submission.

More detailed submissions with lengthy recommendations will also be taken into account, and often have a considerable effect on the outcomes of the inquiry. If a submission is felt to be significant enough, you may even be called upon to give a presentation to the inquiry.

However you decide to make a submission to a government inquiry, make sure that all your submissions are within the terms of reference.

Court Challenges

Very rarely, legislation may be deemed to be illegal, particularly when it is found to contradict the Australian or State constitutions. This perceived contradiction is always the source of considerable argument, however, and you cannot simply arrest the legislator; any challenges to the constitutionality of a law must be contested in the High Court. Whilst this has been done on shoestring budgets with enormous amounts of pro bono assistance, it's generally very difficult and very, very costly, and you'll be up against very senior lawyers working for the government. We remember the story of David and Goliath because it is unusual; generally the giant wins.

Attend local government meetings/town meetings

Local Government authorities conduct regular council meetings that members of the public are invited and encouraged to attend. These meetings are the council's formal decision-making forum.

Often members of the community are invited to give presentations or ask questions at these meetings - however, these usually have to be submitted prior to the meeting, and you should ring the council to find out what this process is (or check their website).

Council meetings can provide an excellent opportunity for you to raise concerns that fall under the council's jurisdiction. Once again, though, make sure that you are well prepared, that you can show that you have done your research, and can demonstrate significant community support.

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