How to end up with the best hand after a shuffle
4 July 2022 at 2:36 pm
Angus Crowther and Rory Parker reveal the ace that social purpose organisations need to keep up their sleeves following changes in government.
When playing politics, it’s easy to forget that the deck gets shuffled from time to time – but it’s an important part of the game. Elections happen (just look at the changes of government federally and in South Australia), leaders fall (like Berejiklian and Barilaro), and sometimes a hand is played (like the Cabinet shuffle in Victoria) that will cause major ramifications across the state.
Changes like these can be major setbacks for social purpose organisations advocating to government, but there’s an important ace to keep up your sleeve.
And that’s to not go all-in. Too often we hear from organisations who have bet all their chips on their primary minister – leaning too heavily into a single-point-of-failure, by speaking to just one office. It can be nice for a while. You may build a strong relationship that can get your organisation some strong short-term wins. But as the house of cards falls when they ultimately leave their portfolio, you can be left high-and-dry with no relationships to lean on.
Instead, you can future-proof your government engagement strategy by planning for the future. Build a diverse hand of relationships: with backbenchers, parliamentary secretaries, senators, and bureaucrats. Keep an eye on the wildcards, the up-and-comers who are currently being overlooked by most advocates, who may well become the leaders in a future Parliament. Always remember that today’s backbencher is tomorrow’s minister.
But say you’ve been caught out by a recent shuffle, without broader established relationships – what can your next steps be?
Firstly, write to all outgoing ministers with whom you have a relationship to thank them for their ongoing support: some will remain a useful voice in Cabinet for your organisation, while retiring ministers may take up useful positions on government boards (or cushy commissioner jobs in New York…).
Secondly, write to all incoming ministers who will be taking a relevant (or adjacent) portfolio, welcoming them and offering to brief them on the state of the sector. Keep it sincere and congratulatory – don’t raise any significant issues that could scare them off.
Thirdly, don’t forget about the staff. While many advisors may choose to move portfolios to remain with their boss, some may stick with the portfolio and be a foot-in-the-door into the new ministerial office. For those who leave their portfolio, reaching out to thank them for their support can go a long way – and could even land you with a warm introduction to the new advisor.
But, most importantly, map out your political engagement for the next few months: what could be the impending challenges as well as the upcoming opportunities. For example, there’s elections coming in Victoria and New South Wales within the next year– after which there will no doubt be another shuffle of portfolios – so think ahead to how you can prepare your organisation by building a broad base of relationships ahead of time.
As the political ecosystem changes, and increasingly more “safe” seats become marginal, who knows, even a backbencher could ultimately become your trump card.
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.