Successful lobbying and advocacy for change
- Case study: Victoria, Australia
A successful campaign will require a strategic approach to political lobbying and advocacy. The Victorian experience, which used a three-stage approach to lobbying, has been well documented.
The first phase involves convincing the Cabinet, or the equivalent of the parliamentary executive, that it should act. It is important that the Minister for Health is supportive from the outset and the Prime Minister or Premier is also a crucial ally. Another key individual in Cabinet is the Treasurer (or Minister of Finance), who will be required to support the taxation increase and hypothecation aspects of the Bill when it goes forward.
Relevant parliamentary committees also need to be persuaded and these may include the committees that consider matters concerned with government finances and health policy. It is also useful to have support from the Minister who controls the legislative agenda in Parliament. Other key Cabinet personnel may be identified as potential supporters, such as a former Minister for Health, a Minister for Sport or even a parliamentarian who is a former smoker. One of the tasks of the coalition is to identify key potential supporters and work on them.
After the proposed legislation has received Cabinet support, the second phase of lobbying involves gaining the support of the Parliamentary Opposition. Ideally, legislation of this type would have bipartisan support. If that is achieved, the legislation will pass smoothly through the parliamentary process, leading to smooth implementation of the new structures. In the likely event of there not being unanimous support from the Opposition, it is certainly worthwhile trying to win support of at least some key Opposition members. Important individuals include the Opposition Spokesperson for the Health and the Opposition Leader.
In Victoria, phases one and two overlapped in their timing. They were also backed up by carefully planned publicity activities designed to raise the issue high on the public agenda and to increase political interest and resolve.
The third phase has been described as ‘the public battle’. This took place in Victoria when the Government made public its intention to pursue the piece of legislation, the Tobacco Control Bill. It is at this stage that the health lobby must be very active in countering opposition from the tobacco industry, their allies and other vested interests likely to make huge efforts to stop the progress of the Bill by pressuring politicians into rejecting it. Parliamentary lobbying must focus on reinforcing and strengthening government resolve at this crucial stage. Lobbying must counter the often underhanded tactics of the tobacco industry, which, at this stage in Australia, publicly opposed the proposed legislation with a media campaign based on misinformation and fear.
- Letter-writing campaign
A powerful lobbying strategy is to make contact with parliamentarians through an organized letter-writing campaign as well as making personal visits. This will dispel the line generally put forward by the tobacco industry that tobacco legislative changes are merely the wish of a minority group or anti-tobacco zealots.
Suitable mailing lists should be planned and compiled using the contacts and networks of coalition personnel. Potential letter writers should be provided with short briefing notes about the health issues, reasons for the proposed legislation, and an outline of what the legislation should cover. The writer should be asked to use their own background and expertise to frame a letter that will reflect particular individual concerns or those of the organization represented. The letters should be sent to all members of Parliament as well as other community leaders and decision-makers.
In Victoria, it is estimated that well in excess of 150,000 letters were sent within a month. The Opposition Spokesperson for Health estimated he had received more that 10,000 letters on the issue from both sides and many parliamentarians reported that they had never before received so many communications on a single issue.
A second strategy is to ask coalition members to visit their own parliamentary representatives to discuss the matter.
A number of lessons have been learned from the unsuccessful Western Australia attempts to introduce legislation in the early 1980s:
- As it is not possible to match the tobacco industry’s rate of expenditure, it is unwise to try to compete with the industry in the arena of paid advertising and publicity.
- The health lobby must set the agenda for debate and that agenda should focus on the health of adults and children. The tobacco industry may raise arguments about the unpopularity of raising tobacco taxes, on the lack of impact of advertising and sponsorship on consumption, and that the proposed measures take away the freedom of choice of individuals. It is important not to buy into these arguments or other diversionary issues that may be raised.
- If the banning of advertising and sponsorship is part of the plan, it is important to publicize early and widely that alternative replacement funds will be available so that no individual or group will suffer immediate hardship. This may limit anxiety and concern among those who may be affected, and will also limit potentially damaging publicity.
It is recommended that the length of the period for public debate be kept to a minimum. The longer the time, the more opportunity the tobacco industry has to use its massive resources to sway public opinion in its favour.
World Health Organization. (2004). The establishment and use of dedicated taxes for health. World Health Organization Regional Office for the Western Pacific.
World Health Organization. (2016). Earmarked Tobacco Taxes: Lessons Learnt from Nine Countries. World Health Organization. Geneva.