Monday, December 17, 2012

Back Home

Parliament has broken up for the year, and all the politicians are on holiday.

Well, not really.

No doubt many of those representing rural electorates will have headed back home. Their constituents (and, very possibly, their families) don't get to see much of them during the year.

This time of year is also a valuable opportunity to attend to matters back at the electoral office and to meet with their branches.

Importantly, however, it t is a key time to try and build more of a connection in their local electorate.

Hailing from the North Shore of Sydney, their has long been a view that the local members (both at the State and Federal level) have taken their seats here for granted.

In many cases, that is a fair criticism. Being a state member can and should be a about far more than simply showing up at Macquarie street and voting the way your party leader tells you to.
Parliament House at night
This was something that occurred to me recently when the Federal Coalition "strongly discouraged" their members from tweeting in the lead-up to the Federal election some time next year. Many people made the point that, if they can't be trusted to tweet responsibly, then what on earth would make us think that they can be entrusted to lead the country properly?

My response was:
Is there much more to being a backbencher than voting the way you're told? It depends - but unless you have a very safe seat there certainly is a lot more to being elected as a local member.

Mumbletwits has done a great deal of work recently looking at the "personal vote" of many Federal politicians. In short, the personal vote is the extent by which the primary vote of a local members exceeds (or is exceeded by) the proportion giving that same party their vote on the upper house ticket.

Some of the differences are striking, to say the least.

There are many reasons why a member's "personal vote" might be strong - but I think an obvious and effective way to build it is to have a close connection to the community.

And this is the best time of year to make that happen.

It does, however, mean more than passing letters onto the responsible Minister or Shadow Minister, or having your staff draft meaningless responses to the letters you receive from your constituents.

It means showing up at schools' local fete. Giving the keynote address at the speech day. Addressing the local Rotary Club.

It may often seem like politics on a painfully small scale - but it doesn't cost a cent (as opposed to those mailouts that my local politicians seem to favor) and it sticks wtih people.

I still remember Brendan Nelson (then my local Federal member) speaking at some event at my school well over a decade ago. I don't remember what the event was or what he said, but I know that he took the time to come and speak to us. People remember that stuff, and when they get to the polling booth and only recognize one name, it pays off.

It has been instructive over the last few weeks to see which local members are (I can only assume) spending the break depleting their wine rack, and which are getting out into the community and actually being a local member.

It will be even more interesting to then see the size of the swings for or against those members come 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, and far too often ignored by ambitious backbenchers. Did you hear the RN interview with Anna Burke? She spoke a great deal about what being an elected MP means.

    It's also about sticking their necks out (or at least being seen to) for a local issue/cause/road etc. Case in point is the Cronulla Fisheries issue, or for the previous State Government, Koperberg on power privitisation.