Getting your way with the Pollies
For decades, specialist lobbying firms have sent their brightest men and women to Parliament House in Canberra, to knock on political doors.
These go-to people help business get what they want – whether that is a taxpayer-funded grant or fighting an unfavourable policy.
Some firms are unashamedly Labor-aligned, such as Hawker Britton, which has more than 125 clients on the federal lobbyists register. Its director Simon Banks has worked on five ALP election campaigns, including the successful Kevin 07 pitch, as former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s chief of staff, federal Labor’s director of policy and a senior policy and media adviser to several ministers.
Banks says his approach is “constructive”. “As a Labor-aligned firm, we don’t criticise government,” he says. “Obviously there’s times that you will disagree. But it’s more about messages you use to resolve those differences. If it reaches a point where we haven’t been able to achieve what they want through constructive negotiation .?.?. we’re happy to send the client elsewhere. I’m glad to say we haven’t lost a client yet.”
Banks says some businesses frequently meet politicians and are sophisticated in their approach. For others, “there’s a mystique about the way in which government operates”. His advice for those new to the game is “do your homework”.
“Government is very process driven and evidence driven,” he says. “They rely on basic data about what’s going on; why things are happening.
“Understand who makes decisions and what information they need to make decisions and get that information to them in a timely, concise and accurate way.”
Banks says recognise that senior people in government are busy and it may take a few meetings to reach your objectives.
Hawker Britton director and powerful Labor government lobbyist Simon Banks gives his tips on how businesses can better lobby.
1. Be clear. What do you want from government, what is the benefit for government and can government afford and deliver it? Don’t waste time on a problem with no solution.
2. Make sure you know who in government makes the key decisions (parliament, cabinet, a minister, a public servant or regulator), how they make it and who influences them.
3. Develop a plan. Know what you need to do, why and when you need to do it.
4. Audit your capital. Who and what do you know about government. What knowledge or expertise don’t you have and can you acquire it?
5. Prepare. Develop supporting evidence for your case. Be accurate and concise. Understand that different people in government may need to know different things.
6. Speak the language of government. Help it understand you and know the government’s history, priorities and what is important to it.
7. Set goals. Whether meeting a minister, a public servant or regulator, or making a submission, know what you need from a meeting and confirm the next steps.
8. Be reliable. When government asks you for action or evidence, provide it on time and be accurate and concise.
9. Build support. Work with stakeholders who agree with you. Anticipate the arguments of those working against you.
10. Evaluate and learn. Always review your progress and be prepared to adapt or change. You may not get what you want but make sure you get what you need.
This article has been edited