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Lobbying in the age of COVID-19


23 March 2020 at 5:22 pm
Neil Pharaoh
Neil Pharaoh explains why you should use this time to position your organisation to get the assistance you and your communities need during this unprecedented period.


Neil Pharaoh | 23 March 2020 at 5:22 pm


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Lobbying in the age of COVID-19
23 March 2020 at 5:22 pm

Neil Pharaoh explains why you should use this time to position your organisation to get the assistance you and your communities need during this unprecedented period.

While COVID-19 is throwing all sectors of the economy into chaos, some players are already tallying the success of their “virtual” lobbying in Canberra. But how does government decide which industries are more important, nationally significant or valuable than others? 

Let’s take a look at the first industry that received government assistance – aviation – with $700 million announced last week. 

The airlines who received that money were Virgin, Regional Express and Qantas. When you dig a little deeper, its clear Regional Express is already one of the world’s most profitable airlines, if measured on the basis of return on capital. Qantas too, while certainly nationally important, has banked billions of dollars in profit over the last few years. Yet they were the first Australian companies to get a bailout. Think what the social purpose sector could do to prepare for the further incoming impact with a bailout of that size.

Governments across Australia have their attention firmly fixed on the issue of COVID-19. With the day-to-day business of government coming to a standstill, what does this mean for you? As a social purpose organisation, do you chase the prospect of an immediate bailout, or plan for what is still to come? 

In short, you need to be doing both. 

Firstly, this is the perfect time to get your government engagement systems in order and review and update your strategy. Why? Because COVID-19 has effectively paused the clock on the government schedule, and while COVID-19 remains the primary focus of governments there is likely to be little routine interaction with stakeholders regarding policy formulation, funding or programmatic changes.

Secondly, start collecting information and data on measuring the impact of COVID-19 on your organisation. Map and cost the impact of COVID-19 on you and your sector as it impacts you. With the announcement of the federal government’s multiple stimulus packages over the last week, it’s clear state and federal governments are prepared to spend when it’s been clearly demonstrated it’s a need that serves the Australian community’s interest.

What cancellation of projects or reduction/increase in clients, donations or service provision due to the downturn have you encountered? What is the subsequent loss of revenue and donations, impact on staff hours (reduction of hours for casuals, risk of loss of salaried staff) or loss of revenue flowing into the community/localities where you serve (or spend). Mapping all of this will be critical.

The purpose of beginning to map the impact of COVID-19 now is so you can make a tangible, credible and compelling case to government when the occasion presents itself.

How does this look in practice? It could be a program proposal drafted by you for funding to drive economic growth or deliver your services at a local/regional level. Or a response to a grants program introduced by government to drive economic growth or deliver services to assist in community recovery. 

In the meantime, get your staff, volunteers, members and donors to make some noise to their local media and/or approach their local, state and federal MPs. You need to start getting the word out there that there is a case to be made for you receiving support, and to start demonstrating your footprint in their various electorates.

Finally, decide now who the organisation spokesperson will be, should you be impacted by COVID-19 directly (i.e. a staff member, volunteer or program participant becomes infected by the virus). Preparing now as to how a media enquiry will be answered or how communications to members, staff, customers etc. will be shaped will place you in the strongest possible position, should this eventuality occur. 

Whether working from home or a safe 4 metres squared away from your office colleagues, use this time to position your organisation to be able to achieve the assistance you and your communities need during this unprecedented period.

About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. He regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems. @neilpharaoh on Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

Happenings on the hill is a new fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.

If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at neil@neilpharaoh.com.au or reach out to him via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.


Neil Pharaoh  |  @ProBonoNews

Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy.

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