I was in Canberra last week, and it was insane…
14 February 2022 at 5:20 pm
Last week, Neil Pharaoh was in Canberra for a number of work meetings and stumbled across the “Convoy to Canberra” protests, which made for an interesting few days in the national capital. This week, he asks what impact all this will have on the election in 2022?
My story in Canberra last week begins with an attempted visit to Parliament House. Whether it was the suspension of all sponsored Parliament House passes, the closure of the public car parks, the closure of the Parliamentary mall, or even no public access to the building – it was certainly my weirdest trip to Parliament House.
The consequences of the protests are probably very slight for broader society, however the logical leaps required to understand the protestors may explain why good public policy outcomes are so hard in Australia.
For those of you who saw the protests online, a number of things stick out – let me dive into what these all mean. Firstly the red “naval ensign” flag – apparently this is because the protestors believe they are “sovereign citizens” and only subject to the law of the seas, which is why they are flying the naval flag. As someone who studies the law of the seas at law school, the logic required to come to this conclusion is acrobatic in nature.
Second point, the Australian flag upside down – at sea this is a sign of distress, and so using it on land, the protestors believe this is a way of expressing their distress. Again, not quite sure of the logic, but the RSL in Australia is furious with the use of both the naval flag and the upside down Australian one.
In between the upside-down flags, and naval ensign are various other quirky beliefs, ranging from the “lizard people” to secret child exploitation rings run by government. An ACT MLA visited the protestors mid last week, and was confronted by the genuine belief that all politicians are being controlled, and we will be having a public hanging of all politicians shortly. We live in curious times.
But what does all this mean for public policy, as well as social sector advocacy into the election? Every electoral cycle I throw my hands in the air over the lack of ambition around public policy, and the dumbing down of announcements, as well as the increased pork barrelling that we are seeing. Reactive announcements are never the most impactful, and are often solving an immediate problem, rather than creating longer-term solutions.
When increasing numbers of people genuinely believe in sovereign citizenship and large conspiracy theories, coupled with the political class and their tendency to react as opposed to think strategically, we are at a point in time where facts do not seem to matter, which makes the stories we tell increasingly more important than the facts and figures behind them.
In the absence of political will, and increasing presence of fringe groups, the best vaccine to both of these is actually sharing genuine in-person stories, relating things to real people, and sharing impact in a very personal storytelling kind of way. For your advocacy this year, make sure you have examples, case studies or information relevant to each electorate, as well as photos, stories, insights and numbers – as it will be personal stories and personal connections which will make a difference in 2022.
Last week we flagged the path to victory for Labor is quite narrow, and the numbers are not as bad for Liberals as they seem, so focusing on stories will be a really good objective for 2022.
I lecture some Masters students in leadership and governance, and we had one of our intensives last week – one thing I imparted upon them, which is very prudent given the chaos of the protestors, as well as the political climate we are in, is that we need to make sure we focus on building bridges, as well as bonding with people who agree with us. The long-term viability of the social purpose sector requires personal storytelling – and reaching out to those who are not like us, will also be key.
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.