You have a desire to change the world for the better and think you can make a difference. You’re curious about getting involved in politics. And why not you? Especially if you are young, or female or from a diverse cultural background. Take a look around at who’s representing you and you will find that one thing’s for sure – we need greater diversity in our parliaments and councils.
Before you dive into campaign mode, here’s six things to ask yourself before you ask others to ‘VOTE FOR ME’.
1) Why are you running? Capture your issue clearly.
First, you must be clear why you are running. In my experience it’s usually one of 3 things; Candidates are pissed off, or they are passionate, or they are political.
Some candidates are so angry with the government or local council that their outrage drives them to run.
Others are so passionate about a cause that they want to get into politics in order to make things better for their community, or the environment or the local economy.
Then there are those who see politics as a way to acquire power. Generally, these people are either be altruists or love the combat of Party Politics.
Once you are clear on why you are running, write it down in a simple sentence to articulate why someone should vote for you (and not the other mob).
2) What is the job and can you do it?
It’s one thing to want to run for office, it’s quite another thing to have the ability to do the job well and confidently represent your constituents.
In a democracy anyone can run for office but it doesn’t mean everyone can do it.
- Are you eligible? The citizenship fiasco showed that many politicians failed to read and understand the fine print when they ran for federal parliament in 2017/18. Don’t make that mistake. Make sure you read the eligibility criteria in the Candidate Handbook which is printed by the Australian Electoral Commission. Follow the rules for eligibility on where and when you can nominate to run for office.
- Are you competent? Consider doing a ‘personal skills audit’ to see if you have what it takes to do the job, or identify where you need to build your experience (for example in public speaking).
- Do you have the confidence? It helps to have both personal confidence in your abilities as well as the confidence of a support team to assist your campaign.
3) Where will you run? Pick your level of government.
There are over 5700 opportunities to get elected at a local, state or federal level in Australia.
- Local government – approximately 5000 Councillor roles across 530 councils
- State and Territory government – several hundred roles in various Lower and Upper Houses
- Federal Parliament – House of representatives (150) and the Senate (76)
To decide where you will stand, do your research. Perhaps chat with a local councillor or State or Federal member about his/her role. Also, check out #AusPol on twitter.
4) How will you run? Will you join a party or be an independent?
Traditionally, the simplest route into politics has been to join a major party. It’s certainly the pathway for the vast majority of candidates get elected. However, with the increasing dissatisfaction in party politics, more voters are putting No. 1 next to independent candidates or those from minor parties.
Consider- will you join a minor party or stand as an independent? Maybe you could even start your own party! Or, will you go the major-party route and seek the backing of the ALP, Liberal, Nationals or Greens? But beware. It can be a bruising experience to fight for pre-selection to be the representative candidate for one of the major parties.
Will you party or not? It comes down to your personal philosophy, preferences, and pragmatism.
5) When to run? Time your race.
Currently, in the federal system, the Prime Minister can call an election any time, as long as parliament doesn’t run for more than three years. It’s a bit more complicated for the Senate.
However, for State and Local Governments, most elections are now run on a ‘fixed term’ basis. This means that election dates are set by law and everyone knows the date of the election day well in advance. For instance, in Victoria, the state election is held every four years on the last Saturday in November and two years apart, local council elections are held on the third Saturday in October.
There are three times to run for an election; now, later or too late.
Politics is a hard job. The toll on your personal life can be brutal as Federal MP Tim Hammond explained as he resigned from parliament earlier this year. It may also disrupt your professional aspirations. If you need to consider family obligations and career options, later on, may be an option.
If you leave it too late to start your run for office, you can miss the boat. When elections are only every four years you may lose the chance to swing support behind your cause because the electorate may have moved on.
If you are serious about public office, the best time to think about running is now.
That’s because with fixed terms, campaigns can run over four years and your competitor’s campaign has probably already started. There are opportunities right now to think about running with a Federal election coming up, local council elections in Tasmania and South Australia and Victorian State elections in November.
6) What will you do? Time to decide
Finally, there is only one more thing to do; decide if you will run for public office.
You’ve thought about:
- Why you are running – on the issues important to you
- What is the job – whether you can do it
- Where you will run – the level of government
- How you will run – independent or with a minor or major party
- When you will run – now or later or too late
If you decide that your answer is ‘no, not for me’ then I hope you can support someone else to run for office on their campaign team or financially.
However, if you say ‘YES!’ then, hello candidate and good luck!
Ruth McGowan OAM is a community activist, councillor coach and consultant to local government. She is a champion for more women in local government and delivers training on political campaigning. In 2018 she is writing Get Elected! an Australian guide to political campaigning follow her on twitter @hula_grl