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The 12 days of advocacy

30 November 2020 at 5:49 pm
Neil Pharaoh
Neil Pharaoh presents his very own, government engagement version of the festive classic “The 12 days of Christmas”. 

Neil Pharaoh | 30 November 2020 at 5:49 pm


The 12 days of advocacy
30 November 2020 at 5:49 pm

Neil Pharaoh presents his very own, government engagement version of the festive classic “The 12 days of Christmas”. 

So, I caught a flight to Canberra last week, a few days after the border opened. My reason was very personal – I had not seen my father or sister for months, and this was to be only the second time this year. As I boarded the Dash 8 to Canberra (which somehow true to form was late boarding, even though there were only 10 flights that entire day from Melbourne! Thanks QANTAS – great to see some things don’t change, even after COVID!), I noticed some familiar faces, and some familiar orange passes – lobbying is back. 

For those of you who don’t know, orange passes in Canberra are sponsored passes, some given to great organisations and advocates, but a fair few more given to professional lobbyists – which is now a multi-billion dollar industry in Australia. My big worry is that while the for-purpose sector is busy trying to finish 2020 with increased demands for services and pressures on fundraising and philanthropy, corporate Australia is already back in the game of lobbying and they are hitting Canberra hard. They have arrived cap in hand ready to jump into “stimulus” measures being rolled out by all levels of government. 

Since the festive season is upon us, I thought I would be creative and use a favourite Christmas carol, “The 12 days of Christmas”, but instead present you with the government engagement version! So, bear with me, here goes, be sure to try and sing along.

Twelve demagogues drumming – Whether Trump or Boris, there was much fear that 2020 would be the year of the demagogue. Demagogues are often portrayed as populist, as we saw (and continue to see) with border closures in some states and territories. It’s clear that a political leader who rhetorically exploits an issue for political purposes in a way calculated to appeal to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people is still alive and well in Australia – whether Scomo and his Australian flag mask, or Premiers and their border rules. While we do not have 12 governments in Australia, we certainly have at least 12 demagogues at any one time. Remember if you come across them, they appeal to populism and prejudices and not rationality – so at least mount your argument accordingly. 

Eleven porky pork barrels – While in NSW the government admitted that one of its election programs was a pork barrel, other governments tend to dress and veneer their pork barrels differently. Remembering that in most elections around 11 seats are the key focus of government or opposition, be sure to line up where those seats are now, and watch for the bacon along the way. 

Ten left wing loonies – I often say that it takes extremists to make me look moderate, and this is true on the left and the right. Ideology of perfection and purism run counter to the compromise required in democracy. So, if your organisation is struggling in the sensible middle path, don’t be afraid to point out the loons, as they help make you look sensible. 

Nine governments dancing – Australia has nine governments: federal, states and territories. But all dance to very different tunes and often the electors per politician impact that. NSW has 135 state MPs, 59 federal politicians, and just over 1,000 local government politicians. This is one politician for every 6,200 people. On the other side of the story, Tasmania has 40 state politicians, 18 federal politicians, and 29 local government areas with over 250 councilors, mayors and deputy mayors – one politician for every 1,600 voters. NT has 17 local councils, 150 councilors, four federal MPs and 25 territory ones, meaning one politician for every 1,300 people. 

Eight lobbyists milking – Well, 612 lobbyists actually who are registered on the federal register; with many more in the various states and territories. Check you are not inadvertently being added to the register – it looks good for lobbyists to have social purpose and pro-bono clients, less so for you as the social purpose organisation when your lobbyist also represents big tobacco, gambling or other industries. 

Seven safe seats swimming – Your strategy needs to be different in safe seats. Be sure you know where you can apply pressure and engage and get your strategy in safe seats coming along swimmingly. There are over 59 seats considered safe federally, and mainly more “fairly safe” – be sure to know your pendulum

Six caucus members laying – Be sure to spend some time understanding how caucus works. Does it have committees? Who are the leaders? Are they actively engaged by cabinet or the leader, or more a rubber stamp? Who speaks up, who doesn’t? The dynamics of caucus are different in every jurisdiction, and even with small changes to ministries and roles the dynamic shifts are measurable. 

Five neo-liberal rings – Just as I went after the 10 left wing loonies, we are entering the fifth decade now of the era of neoliberalism (Thatcher, Regan and their contemporaries – for those watching The Crown with the killer lines about individuals over community). After five decades we have almost fallen to the neo-liberal adage: that inequality is virtuous as the market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve. Sadly, the Gini coefficient for income (which measures income inequality) has increased steadily from the mid 20s in the 1970s, to the mid 30s today. The Gini coefficient for wealth is sadly much higher, sitting in the mid 60s (100 being one person owns everything, 0 being all wealth is equally shared). How many more decades we have of this will depend a lot on demographic changes, in this next election baby boomers will no longer be the largest voting demographic. 

Four captain’s calls – Whether it was the reintroduction of knighthoods, or some seriously flawed appointments, we have had a few less “Captain’s Calls” in 2020 than in previous years. Sadly, during COVID, some jurisdictions close to my heart felt it necessary to prorogue Westminster processes for political expediency and to enable Captain’s Calls. We should be cautious, critical and vocal in resisting these attempts. It isn’t called “responsible government” for no reason, and while COVID called for some critical and risky calls, it also set the precedent for others to follow, perhaps without the same good intent. 

Three elections in a year – QLD, NT and ACT, all returned Labor governments in 2020. After the WA state election in March, we have a rare window of 12 months without state or federal elections due to be scheduled. My advice – use it wisely and get planning for the break now. Remember, preselection occurs 12 months out more often than not, so if you are not planning for Victoria and the federal election already you will miss out. 

Two precarious polls – What we have seen increasingly is how polling is getting it wrong. No longer do two polls spell disaster. What it will mean going forward is anybody’s guess. 

And a PM in a pear tree – In the beloved original version of “The 12 Days of Christmas”, apparently a partridge represents Jesus, because it’s a bird that will sacrifice its life to save its children. And while we have a biblical PM and the original meaning of Jesus, the sad fact is – partridges do not actually nest in pear trees. Which is probably the most poetic reminder of 2020 – things are not as they seem! 


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 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 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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