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What date is too late to prep for the federal election?

25 October 2021 at 5:20 pm
Neil Pharaoh
Neil Pharaoh gives a rundown of election basics and shares some of the key questions every for-purpose organisation needs to start thinking about in relation to the election.

Neil Pharaoh | 25 October 2021 at 5:20 pm


What date is too late to prep for the federal election?
25 October 2021 at 5:20 pm

Neil Pharaoh gives a rundown of election basics and shares some of the key questions every for-purpose organisation needs to start thinking about in relation to the election.

The clock is ticking. Some pundits are claiming the next federal election will be 11 December, others are saying as late as May, and the majority are coalescing around a March election – whichever date the prime minister chooses means that the clock is ticking for your election planning. 

It is a busy time of the year for every social purpose organisation chasing advocacy, funding or election commitments as part of the federal election. We have been busy working away with our clients in relation to election asks (what we call both proactive and responsive asks), as well as the landscape entering a “COVID normal” space. 

While longer than my preferred list of things to do, the below are some of the key questions you need to start thinking about in relation to the election. Think of this as the election basics, for not just you, but shared more broadly with your team. 

  • When is the election?
  • Who are the major players?
  • Who are you/we?
  • What do we want?
  • When should we start?
  • What do we need to do?
  • Who should we speak to?
  • Other considerations?

Do not worry if you do not have all the answers and detail for each of these, I am going to try and step through a little bit more detail for each in this article. We at Tanck are also running an election readiness webinar which is complementary for the social purpose sector on Tuesday 16 November, you can register here if you need extra help!

When is the election?

It is a million dollar game, however we are betting it is still most likely in March, but there is a reasonable chance for mid-December or mid-May as well. Historically December has been our most popular month for elections since Federation, although in the past few decades it has been less popular. We have never had an election in January or February, and split elections (where the House and Senate are called separately) have also not been popular in recent years. 

Either way, urgency is now the key. Given candidates and MPs will spend their final three weeks on pre-poll and voter contact, and the weeks before that busy with phone calls, door knocks and street stalls, whatever election date is set, you need to get a move on now. 

Who are the major players?

Recognise the role of government, the opposition, and also the crossbenchers (see this article specifically about the crossbench). All politics is local, so your candidates, electorate and their margins will also be key. 

Who are you/we?

Every organisation in our sector has goals, ambitions and aspirations, however converting your vision/mission and values into something succinct, easy to understand and legible for a political stakeholder is key in this space. What this means practically is to not use a document which is generic in nature and attempt to tailor it for political audiences, design a document specifically for that audience – and remember even within political and government audiences there are multiple types of stakeholders. 

What do we want?

What do you want from government? Is it realistic? Achievable? How does it align to government or opposition policy? What are the local consequences and outcome of what you want? While these questions are fairly straight forward, the answers are not. Being clear over horizons and quantum is critical. Making it relevant and real locally will also make a big difference. A great way of thinking about what you want is to have a proactive list (what you are aiming for) and a responsive list, based on external circumstances which may create a cause to be the de jour for the moment. 

When should we start?

If you consider that the final three to four weeks of the election campaign are a write off when it comes to engagement with candidates and MPs (unless of course it is voter contact from them trying to secure votes) – build your timeline back from here, and work out your steps from there. 

Given effective engagement involves building meaningful relationships with political stakeholders, it’s vital you begin as soon as possible (there won’t be a better day than today!) so that you can nurture these connections before posing your ask.

What do we need to do?

Take a moment to reflect on the calibre of your relationships, and no, meeting the minister once doesn’t mean you have a great relationship. If you do not feel 100 per cent comfortable sending a text message or calling someone on their mobile to discuss, then your relationship isn’t as good as you think. As well as mapping relationships, look at your theory of change, and capacity and staff resourcing to execute. 

Who should we speak to?

If you need help, it is best to ask. While I philosophically disagree with the lobbying angle (they are expensive, don’t teach you anything, and are heavily conflicted when it comes to who they represent, just to name a few) they do provide value in some circumstances. 

Other considerations?

Think through anything else now, while you still have a bit of time, as the election will creep up sooner than you think. 


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. Neil is co-founder and director of Tanck, which focuses on better engagement with government, and regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems.

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.

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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