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Rethink and refresh: What government engagement looks like in 2021

26 November 2020 at 7:00 am
Jo Scard
Jo Scard shares some key insights into successful government engagement, strategic communications and public relations as we end a challenging year. 

Jo Scard | 26 November 2020 at 7:00 am


Rethink and refresh: What government engagement looks like in 2021
26 November 2020 at 7:00 am

Jo Scard shares some key insights into successful government engagement, strategic communications and public relations as we end a challenging year. 

The extraordinary events of 2020 have no doubt made us stretch our thinking caps to their absolute limits. 

The communications world has been forced to consistently re-adapt to the climate, take advantage of immediate political opportunities and analyse the long-term effects of our COVID normal world. 

There is no question that the devastations of the bushfire crisis and global pandemic have disrupted typical government engagement plans, lead to online fatigue and made securing interest harder than ever. 

For NFPs that have spent a bulk of the year trying to sway federal or state budgets, you will have seen first-hand that the normal government cycle has been completely thrown out the window.

So, where do we go from here? How do we approach government relations? Better yet, how do we improve that approach?  

1. Rethink your assumptions 

Before you do anything, it is important to be mindful of the broad political and economic context. There is a lot happening in our world, and it is crucial that you’re aware of the various political factors affecting government budgets before you start lobbying or going hard with your media. 

However, it is also really important that you don’t let COVID-19 deter you from your goals. Government cycles have shifted dramatically, and so too have their budgets. 

Governments, as a whole, have had to change their financial strategies. You might have ordinarily believed that a goal was too ambitious, but this might not be the case in our current climate. In particular, all governments, state and federal, will need to implement significant measures to recover and rebuild.

This means you need to reject everything that you think you know about government budgets and, instead, approach these engagements with ambitious goals. Each state will take different steps to rebuild. So, do some research. Where is the money going to go? How can you use these shifts to your advantage?   

2. Refresh your approach 

It’s time to think big and pitch big. As we recover from the pandemic, spending constraints will be lifted, and roadmaps will be released. You can refresh your approach by preparing research, collating evidence and prepping proposals for government you might not have ordinarily considered. 

Start those conversations early. Every minister, adviser and department that isn’t directly responsible for the immediate COVID-19 response, is already thinking about the recovery – talk to them now. The sooner you are on their radar, the better. This will avoid some last-minute scrambling and phone calls.

A refresh also means that you’ll need to avoid the same old pitfalls. You need to be creative, make use of your online channels and approach your communications with multi-dimensional thinking. Importantly, your goal needs to be clear.

Remember, you have a very short amount of time to capture the attention of an MP so refine your reports, be clear with your requests and, of course, keep pushing. 

3. Prepare your pre-budget submission

The second half of 2021 is the earliest time that the next federal election can be called. The 2021 federal budget will be an opportunity for the government to position itself as it approaches the next election and so, whilst we are emerging from a recession and pandemic, deep budget cuts are unlikely and stimulus and investment will remain.

2021/2022 pre-budget submissions will open soon and may close as soon as the end of the year. Now is the time to start putting together your budget bid – it does not need to be long or complicated. Focus on one or two ideas that you think will garner support. Make sure you know that the ideas will fly before you include them.

Google “pre-budget submissions” for examples of what other NFPs have done, there are lots online.

Once submitted it’s then time to arrange online or face-to-face meetings with Coalition members to rally support for your ask. Focus on portfolio ministers, influential Coalition backbenchers and relevant committee members.


If you want help to navigate government, come up with a winning engagement strategy or assistance with a strategic communications strategy or PR outreach, get in touch with Jo Scard at Fifty Acres on 02 6281 7350 or visit

Jo Scard  |  @ProBonoNews

Jo Scard is the founder and managing director of Fifty Acres.

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