A federal election is a great time to get active on issues that matter to you.
In 2016 Australia elects the government who will lead the country for the next 3 years. Young people, and the issues they care about, are rarely given much attention by the media or candidates during an election campaign.
Youth Action spoke to 3400 young people from around Australia about the most important issues this election. The results are in, and now, we’re taking the report straight to decision-makers.
But it doesn’t stop there. From asylum seeker policy to tax reform, young people are passionate about the issues impacting Australia, and our future.
You can make the issues you care about, and the issues in the report, a priority this election.
Your ideas can influence what decision-makers are talking about. You can change the conversation to what matters to you. This guide offers some tips and tricks to make sure your local candidates hear your opinion and the voices of 3400 young people across Australia.
This guide will step through:
- What's an election all about?
- What matters to you and other young Australians?
- What do I need to know about my electorate?
- How can I engage my candidate?
- What actions should I ask candidates to take?
- How can I support other community campaigns?
- Telling Youth Action about your great work!
- Example email, letters and social media posts to aid your campaign
What's an election all about?
An election campaign provides candidates the opportunity to show the community why they are the right person to represent you in Parliament. In Australia, most candidates are members of a political party and follow the party’s policy platform. It is a good idea to look at each party’s federal website to see the details of their policy platforms.
You can find out more about political parties here!
Shortly after an election is called, both Houses are dissolved, and all proceedings of the Senate, the Lower House and all committees are brought to an end. This means that the government does not make major decisions, except in consultation with the opposition. This is called ‘caretaker’ mode.This creates time for MPs to return to their local areas to campaign.
Election periods are a heightened time of activity among candidates and parties contesting the election.
A lot of attention in the mainstream and national media is directed towards the leaders of the major political parties. Local MPs and candidates are often more focused on getting attention in local and specialised media and appearing at local events.
Meeting your local candidates is a powerful action to influence the conversation during this election.
It is important during this time for candidates to hear from you about what issues you care about. Meeting your candidates, with the ‘Agenda for Action report’ to help you, is a very powerful way to make sure what matters to you stands out.
What matters to you?
During an election, candidates compete to be the best representative for a specific area, like the area you live in. If you want change, or if you’re concerned about an issue, your local candidates are likely to listen to you and respond to your concerns.
Here are some questions to get started:
- What matters to you? Your friends? Your family?
- Why does it matter? Who else does it matter to?
- Do you have any facts about your issue?
- Do you have any experiences to share about the impact of this issue?
In 2016, over 3,400 young people spoke up about what issues they want action on this election. What does our survey tell you about your issue?
Still not sure where you stand?
If you’re unsure about what matters to you or if your concerns are relevant to this federal election, you can do the Vote Compass online survey. It will help you understand the range of issues that our federal political parties are debating, and allow you to work out how your views align with candidates in this election.
Everything you need to know about your electorate
What is an electorate?
Australia is divided up into local areas called federal electorates. At each election, people who are eligible to vote elect a person to represent their local area in the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament. This person is called a Member of the House of Representatives or a Member of Parliament (MP) for short.
Australians also elect Senators who represent their whole State or Territory in the Senate. There are 12 Senators for every state and two Senators for each territory.
There are 150 Members of the House of Representatives and 76 Senators.
At this election everyone is up for re-election.
You can find out even more about current MP’s or Senators at the Australian Parliament House website here!
Who is your current representative in federal parliament?
Find which federal electorate you live in, and who is currently representing you as your ‘sitting MP’ at the Australian Electoral Office website.
How do I find out who else is contesting the election?
It is important to give some attention to the other candidates contesting the election. They might win and become your new MP. You can check out who else is running in your electorate here!
What are marginal seats?
When an electorate had a very close result between who was elected and who wasn’t in the previous election it is described as a marginal seat.
Marginal seats are given lots of attention.
Political parties focus on marginal seats during an election as they often are decided by only a few votes. Other seats that have a history of predictable outcomes are described as ‘safe seats’ for a party. If you live in a marginal seat, you have more leverage on your issues. All of the candidates are aware that they must maintain their supporters as well as convert new supporters to win the election.
44% of our survey respondents lived in marginal electorates.
Are you in a marginal seat?
You can see if you are in a marginal seat here!
Your vote always counts, but can have more of an impact in marginal seats.
But I’m too young to vote
You won’t always be too young to vote. Candidates know this too. Don’t let your age stop you from engaging with this election campaign and beyond. What you can do now is make sure you’re enrolled to vote for when you turn 18. You have to register yourself. Check out how to enrol here!
You can also influence how others vote – your parents, teachers, friends, etc. Don’t underestimate the power of your voice!
How can I engage with candidates?
This section will help you:
- Find your candidates
- Meet with them in person (and be well prepared for it!)
- Engage them in other ways
Where are my candidates?
In real life
All MPs have an office in their electorate and during election campaigns they will often be out in their local community attending events and public spaces where they can engage with residents. Usually candidates who are running in an election also have a campaign office from which they conduct their campaign and meet people. Candidates also attend as many public events as possible.
You can also find and engage with your MP and candidates online. A 2014 study showed that 92% of Australian Federal Politicians use social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Most MP’s and candidates also have their own personal website. These can be good resources to provide you with some background information about who your candidates are and what they stand for. They can also provide you with the latest information about where they will be attending in-person.
Elections are a busy time - you have to go where your MPs are!
How do I talk to them directly?
Anyone can contact their local candidates during an election campaign. It is part of the election campaign to engage with the people they represent. We think it is most powerful to meet in-person, or send a letter. But you can always tweet, email or engage your MP on other social media platforms.
Meeting with candidates
It’s a pretty straightforward process to meet with your MP or candidate at their office.
Once you’ve worked out who the candidates are:
- Send their office an email requesting a meeting. Let them know your name, your address, and what you want to discuss. This will help them to be prepared when you meet in person. If you are planning on going with a friend or family member, let them know this too. Include some dates and times to show you’re serious. We’ve got an easy-to-follow example letter here that you can use.
- Follow up your meeting request with a phone call. Call the campaign office a day or so later to confirm that they have received your email and to see if you can set a meeting time.
It is your candidates’ job to engage with you and listen to your concerns.
It’s your job to be prepared!
Before the meeting – know who you are dealing with
Researching a candidate can provide an indication of where they stand on issues and help you start a conversation. You might not agree on the issue, or you might discover that you share the same position. Even if you agree, it is still important to meet them so they know they have your support.
Here’s some questions to help you prepare:
- What party does the candidate belong to?
- Does the candidate hold a position in the government, in their party, or in the community? For example, are they a Minister or Shadow Minister, or do they participate in any parliamentary committees or community organisations?
- Are they in a marginal seat? If so, then every vote counts even more.
- What issues and causes are important to them? You can search for this information on the internet and by looking at their social media posts. This will help you discover if they already engage with young people or the issues you care about, and to what extent and how.
- You can also check out their website or their party website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Do your research on your issue, and on the candidates.
Before the meeting – know what you want to say
Candidates are often very busy, and meet with many people who want to speak with them about their concerns. You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to try to be clear and concise with your messages:
- Think about what you know about the issue. If you feel uncertain about any facts then do some background research.
- What facts do you know for sure?
- What real stories do you have to back up your concerns?
- Identify up to three key things about the issue you think are important.
- Identify an action you want your candidate to commit to. See our 'taking action' section to find out what actions you can ask a candidate to commit to.
It can be useful to have these written down to keep you on track in the meeting. Check out our example to help you structure your talking points.
During the Meeting – be your best self
You want your candidate to engage with you about the issues you care about. So this means you need to be respectful and purposeful. Arrive on time and make a good first impression. This means dressing nicely and being polite to everyone in the office.
- Start by introducing yourself and your purpose for meeting.
- Ask your candidate their position and understanding of the issue.
- Introduce your three key points and supporting stories and facts.
- Ask for their response.
- State the action you want them to take.
- Remain positive, polite, and purposeful. You don’t have to agree.
- If you have any supporting documents, leave a copy for them to keep.
- Thank them for their time and attention.
- Don’t forget to take a picture with them! And then share it on social media and with Youth Action.
You can bring someone with you if you’re nervous or you think it will strengthen your arguments. Just make sure you let your candidate know beforehand.
After the meeting – there’s more to do
Follow up after your meeting – write to the candidate, thank them for their time and restate your main points and requests.
Let other people know what you have done on social media. Encourage your friends to do the same.
Writing to Candidates
You can send candidates a letter in the post or email them. Written correspondence can help you be clear on your message and to attach pictures or links to supporting information. You can follow our template to help write your own letter.
- Address your candidate correctly.
- Introduce yourself and the reason for your letter/email. Highlight that you live in their electorate and any other connections you have, such as your high school, sporting or community clubs.
- Briefly write what your concern is and back it up with facts and stories.
- Clearly identify what action you want them to take.
- Be yourself – candidates get a lot of correspondence so you don’t want to sound like everyone else. They also receive a lot of ‘form letters’ as part of campaigns. Even if you use a form letter, take the time to personalise it with some of your own thoughts.
- Include your contact details so they can reply.
- If you don’t receive a reply, call the candidate and check whether it was received.
Let your candidates know that you are raising your concerns with all local candidates and that their policies will impact your voting choices.
Using Social Media
Track down your candidates on social media to engage them or even start a conversation. You can write on their Facebook wall, tweet them or respond to items they post. Check out our example posts for some social media support!
You can track down election candidates by searching their name and/or party name.
Again, let your candidates know that you are raising your concerns with all local candidates and that their policies will impact your voting choices.
If you are interested more broadly in the election you can follow the hashtag #ausvotes and #election2016 to see what the general vibe of the election is. You can also follow or like interest groups, journalists, and non-government organisations to find out what is happening in the election. Remember, to engage with the election campaign more broadly, you don’t need to be an expert or know everything about politics. You just need to be clear about what you care about and what you want your candidates to commit to doing about it. The same rules apply: be respectful and purposeful.
What actions should I ask candidates to take?
It is vital that you ask your candidates to commit to some form of action, otherwise nothing changes!
These actions can take many forms, from raising awareness publicly or within their party through to a commitment to attempt to legislate change. If you get a commitment from a candidate, publicise it so that other candidates and the community know. This will also make it harder for the candidate to backtrack on the commitment at a later date.
Actions that get your issue on the public record
Actions relating to proposed legislation or policies
If your candidate’s party has proposed legislation or a policy about your issue for the new parliament you can ask them:
- to vote for or against it
- make changes that are more favourable to your position
- advocate within their party for your position.
Keep it simple, you don’t need to go into detail.
It might be as simple as: “please only support legislation that recognises climate change as a problem and creates new economic opportunities through renewable energy industry”.
Raise your issue in a speech
Candidates can raise issues of concern through a speech to parliament if they get elected. This puts your issue and concerns on the parliamentary record and can expose your concerns to a larger audience. You can also ask your candidate to raise your issues in other public forums. You can choose to give them permission to use your name and story too.
If elected, your candidate can ask a question in parliament to gain further information about your particular issue. This can gather you more information and draw attention to your concerns. If this happens, make sure you share a link to the video on your social media, tag other media outlets and allies, and send a note of thanks to your candidate.
MPs can initiate committees to inquire into issues they believe have broad interest and support in the community. The committee process will draw attention to your issue. Ask your candidates to commit to establishing a committee on your issue. Committees take time to produce outcomes. So keep in touch with your MP and thank them when they take action. You can be helpful by giving permission for them to use your story and gathering stories from your friends.
Ask your candidates to commit to actions within their political party.
Actions that influence within a political party
Raising your issue with the portfolio holder
You can ask your local candidate to raise your issue with the relevant Minister, Shadow Minister or portfolio holder within their party. This is the person within the party who takes the lead on an area of policy. The aim is to build momentum within the party to adopt a position favourable to yours. You can send a letter or email to the portfolio holders too. This will make sure that your concerns are heard directly.
Talking about your issue with colleagues and at party events
You can ask your candidates to champion your issue within their party by talking with colleagues. This can raise awareness that may contribute to longer-term change. Send your concerns to other party members too. You can adapt your letter so that it is relevant to their electorate. For example, choose marginal electorates where our survey found lots of concern for climate and environment issues amongst young people.
Remind the candidates that your concerns are shared by others and will influence their vote.
Ask your MP to engage within your community to build community awareness and support.
Invite candidates to attend a community event or place that will allow them to engage further with your issue. This will help you strengthen your relationship and possibly gain media attention. Invite your candidate to visit the local community centre that has installed solar panels on their roof and halved their energy consumption. Make sure you have other supporters ready to be able to add to your story.
Raising your issue in the media
Ask your candidate to talk about your issue in the media. This will help you spread your message widely and help your candidate see the level of support it has. But don’t just leave it to them. You can engage with the media directly by tagging them in your social media, writing a letter to the editor, asking them to write a story about your concern or ringing talk back radio.
Use your candidates election material
Candidates send out lots of printed and email material during the election. Ask your candidates to feature your issue or concern and suggest an angle for the story.
Ask your candidate to feature your story and highlight why it is a problem and what can be done about it. You can help by offering to get some of your mates together to provide a photo opportunity.
How can I support other campaigns?
You can also get involved by supporting campaigns run by other organisations or groups:
- Search to see who else is campaigning on your issue. This is as easy as searching *issue* and *election2016*.
- Campaigns will often ask interested people like you to send an email, make a phone call, sign a petition or attend a rally, for example.
If there isn’t anyone else campaigning on your issue, you could start your own campaign, or use some different methods to publicise your issue.
- Tweet about your issue using #election2016 or #ausvotes hashtags.
- Mention your local candidates and MPs in tweets about your issues (don't forget to @ them).
- Comment on online stories, blogs and websites that are discussing your issue.
- Encourage your friends, colleagues and family to raise your issue with their networks.
- Attend public events related to your issue or where your MP will be in attendance.
You can join the conversation online with Youth Action using #agenda4action.
Or add your voice to the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition election campaign at #youthontheagenda.
Tell Youth Action!
If you meet or speak with any of your candidates we would really love to know about it, and hear how it went.
To get in touch:
Phone: (02) 8218 9800
Example Talking Points, Letters & Emails
In this section you will find some examples we've created to help you talk to candidates, in person, in letters or in emails. Examples you will find below include:
- Talking points for in-person meetings with a candidate
- Emailing or writing to a candidate
- Engaging with the election on social media
Talking Points with Your MP
Issue: I care about stopping climate change and protecting the environment.
The three things I want to say are:
- Climate change is real and happening now.
- The natural environment needs protecting from over-development.
- There are new economic opportunities in new industries like renewables.
- The Youth Action survey showed that climate change and the environment were top issues of concern for young Australians in this election.
- This was particularly so for young Australians living in marginal electorates.
- 2/3 of young people were yet to decide their vote – this could swing them.
Story to support: My uncle runs a business installing solar panels on houses. He works in Western Sydney and he can barely keep up with demand from people who want affordable and sustainable energy. But they struggle with the initial installation costs.
So I want you/your party to introduce a policy that enable lower income families a subsidy on the installation of solar panels on residential properties. This will create economic development and be better for the environment.
Example Email or Letter
Spend some time writing down your concerns. You can post or email these to your MP, candidates in the election, or other politicians. You will need to adapt each letter to ensure it is tailored to the recipient. Keep it simple, include some facts and experiences, and always ask them to take an action.
Insert name and address of MP
Dear Mr/Ms [enter first name and last name]
Re: Young people and solar power
(Paragraph 1: Introduce yourself and your connection to the electorate)
I am an 18 year old about to vote in my first election. I have lived here in ELECTORATE since I was 6 years old. I went to ELECTORATE Primary School and ELECTORATE High School. My extended family have grown up here and run small businesses. For the past 2 years I have worked on the weekend at my Uncle’s solar company, just down Main Street from your office. Next year I hope to go to university and study Environmental Engineering.
(Paragraph 2: State your issue concisely)
I am writing to express my concerns about the current state of renewable energy policy in Australia. In particular, in ELECTORATE every weekend at work I see families struggling with their energy bills and unable to afford to install solar panels. If they could it would be a win-win outcome; cheaper, cleaner energy, a healthier environment and new economic development for ELECTORATE.
(Paragraph 3: Show some facts or research)
I am not alone in my concerns. A recent Youth Action survey showed that environment and climate issues were very important to young Australians and would influence their vote. Only a third of young Australians have decided their vote, so you could gain support by listening to our concerns. Many of these people are located in marginal seats. I also ask you to look at the report by Solar Citizens that shows the economic benefits of solar energy.
(Paragraph 4: Share experiences that describe the impact)
Families in our area are struggling to pay their bills but they also understand that there is a cleaner, cheaper way of generating energy through solar. I also point you to the local community centre, which has installed solar panels and halved their energy consumption. It is the upfront cost of buying panels which is the barrier to getting affordable and clean energy.
(Paragraph 5: Describe what you want your MP to do)
As your party are currently in opposition, and do not have any policies that would enable easier access to solar energy for families, I am asking you to consider this issue and advocate for it with your party colleagues to get it on the agenda in this election and the new parliament.
I am also asking what you, as the representative of ELECTORATE, will do to ensure that locals, like my uncle and cousins, will be able to get employment in the new jobs that solar will create. I want secure jobs, a healthy environment and affordable energy. This issue will decide how I vote this election and beyond.
I have attached a copy of the Youth Action report and [another report or research about solar power]. Thank you in advance for considering this issue.
[enter your name]
Social Media Posts
Social media can be a powerful tool to engage candidates and a broader audience with your issues and concerns. Remember it’s often more effective to use the platform that your candidates are using, even if it is not your favourite one. Remember too that whatever you write or share on social media is there forever. So stay on point.
Whichever platform you choose – use pictures, memes, videos, photos, and links to help tell your story.
These are just examples. You should make sure to correctly @ or tag the candidates name and party, as well as your issues.
- Just wrote to @IrmaMP from @PoliticalParty to raise #SolarEnergy on the #agenda4action #ausvotes
- Check this out #auspol @youthactionNSW surveyed 3400 young ppl, environment & climate policy among top issues. @IrmaMP @PoliticalParty
- Going to #ELECTORATE shops on Sat? Visit @IrmaMP in the food court and tlk to him abt solar solutions. #auspol #agenda4action
Example Facebook posts:
On the MP’s page:
- “Just wrote to you about my concerns about access to solar panels for cheaper, cleaner energy for families. I’m a first time voter and I work at a solar installer on the weekends. Heaps of families come in wanting to reduce energy costs but can't afford the installation cost. ELECTORATE is full of families like this. Where’s your policy about cheap and clean energy? This matters to young people.
On a post about your issue on Facebook:
- “I encourage all young people to go and speak with their candidates or write them a letter. I let my candidates know that families can’t afford basic energy needs in ELECTORATE and want clean cheap alternatives. As a first time voter, this issue will sway my vote.”
- “ISSUE is a big concern to young people around Australia. See this survey of 3400 young people. Environment is one of the top 3 concerns.”
- “As a first time voter I want to elect an MP who supports renewable affordable energy. It’s a top issue for young people around Australia and affects the future of ELECTORATE youth.”
Example Instagram Posts:
Though not all MPs will have an account, Instagram is a great place to connect with your peers and community groups.
- Photo of you with an MP: I met with @IrmaMP to talk about #climatechange. Looking forward to seeing the policy action she takes!
- Photo of you campaigning: The election is in a few short weeks, so I made my voice heard on #climatechange.
- Graphics that support your issue: I’m really worried about #climatechange. Share this image to spread the word that it’s a serious issue this election!
- Snaps of you out campaigning: Out campaigning on climate change!
- Snaps of you talking briefly on a key issue (A video with a quick summary of why your issue matters to you: consider this your 10-15 seconds to make someone care about your issue)
- Snaps of ‘proof’ of your issue: Is there physical evidence of your issue? (say damaged environments/lack of jobs advertised) Snap a pic and send it to your friends to remind them your issue exists.