Last month, Association Executive Services hosted a webinar focussed on advocacy to government, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards. The objective of the webinar was to explore traditional methods of influencing government policy, how those have changed in the last two years, and how associations can build strong working relationships as we move into a post-pandemic recovery.
Executive Director of Association Executive Services Nick Koerbin was joined by Anna Yerondais, CEO of Myotherapy Association Australia and Elaine Abery, Director of Unravelled Red Tape.
Anna Yerondais has been working in the complementary and allied health industry for many years and has forged close networks across the industry, both as a practitioner and practice-owner, an industry association President, and in her current role. She is a dynamic leader with extensive experience in community and professional development and events organisation, governance, and statutory regulation of professional sectors.
Elaine Abery spent over a decade in the Australian Federal Government, designing law and creating solutions to challenging policy issues. She moved into the association sector and has worked with the Property Council of Australia and Private Healthcare Australia. Elaine believes that all organisations and individuals should have the same access to high-quality government decision-making as large organisations. She created Unravelling Red Tape in 2018 to work with associations, industry and government to fulfil this goal.
All associations hoping to influence government decision making and policy need to develop their own policy platform. Policy platforms should closely align with an association’s strategic direction, as well as being coherent with the resources available to the association.
Elaine stressed the importance of recognising the timeframes available to government when making decisions. She said that short term objectives weren’t going to be useful for government, which makes decisions a minimum of eighteen months in advance and often begins planning for ten years into the future.
She also stated that the association Board needs to decide on their top priorities based on outcomes, or what they want to see happen in the policy and legislature space.
Elaine said that a policy platform should align with what the government already wants to do in some areas, to create a starting point for discussions and long-term relationship building. She said that associations should choose something that is achievable as the cornerstone of their policy platform, rather than a “big ticket” item that doesn’t match government priorities.
Anna said that associations should consider the needs and wants of their members as well. She suggested that associations consult with members and understand what’s important to them, what challenges that are being faced with, and how these could align with the policy platform and strategic direction.
Both experts stressed that influencing can be expensive and association’s need to carefully budget their resources to pursue the outcomes they want. Associations have the option of working with a professional for influencing government (such as Elaine), if they have the budget to hire someone. It’s important to remember that you’re never going to get a guarantee with advocacy – sometimes, influencing and relationship building doesn’t result in the desired outcome. Associations need to be prepared to identify priority areas, invest their money and clearly articulate what they’re looking for.
When it comes to working with government officials, Elaine said that it was best not to go straight to the top. Communicating directly with the Minister’s office, she said, often results in no outcome or response. Instead, associations should work to build relationships and influence with levels of government that can act in their interests.
Elaine said it’s a balance between finding someone senior enough to have autonomy, but also someone who has the time and energy to devote to understanding the association’s cause. Sometimes it’s best to find someone more junior and get them to escalate it within the internal government structure.
It’s important to remember that government and public servants cannot be the experts in every subject area. It’s the role of the association to clearly communicate their points and help the government to become more knowledgeable.
Government submissions often take the form of community consultation via websites and subscription lists. Elaine recommends monitoring these platforms and being ready to put something together when needed. However, she also said that this form of consultation will focus on what they want to know and be a structured set of questions rather than free form submission. When this is the case, she suggested writing a targeted and focused email to the listed email address. Keep the letter to one or two main points so that the reader understands the objective and what they need to be doing.
Anna stressed that associations need to think about the purpose of a submission. They often require lots of time, research, and resources, and associations need to consider if this cost matches the expectation of outcome in value.
Finally, the panel discussed the upcoming Federal and State elections and how this may influence advocacy next year. Anna said it was important to stick to a policy platform regardless of whether it was an election year, as this provides the foundation for an association’s advocacy.
Elaine said that advocacy during election campaigns can be frustrating. Politicians aren’t held accountable to promises made during this time, and public servants can’t communicate and can’t commit the incoming government to anything. She said not to be surprised if people with whom you have a strong relationship won’t speak with you anymore, but that this will settle down after the election results.
With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.
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