A net negative

I live in Canberra. A bubble, which encompasses more than just house prices and government jargon. I also get to see two very different ways of political promotion. As an ALP member, I get delivered emails on an almost daily basis. Local politicians, the ACT branch and federal campaigns. All of this stuff finds its way into my mailbox (willingly I must add).

Some is a lot better than others. Obviously there is a strategy around what should go out to members and what should go to the general public. I reckon there would be demographic profiles of different platforms and who uses what. Yet for the life of me, I cannot understand the purpose behind some of rubbish that gets published.

This is a copy of an email I received on March 11, 2011:

Dear Henry,

Mr Abbott has been pleading with his Party Room to keep their real opinions about Climate Change in the dark.

Senator Nick Minchin has spoken out and showed just how divided the Coalition is over the issue. Mr Minchin’s attack on climate change science shows just how determined the Coalition is to run a misinformed scare campaign and stop action on Climate Change.

The Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Greg Hunt, has been desperately running around attempting to trick the public into thinking the Coalition believes in taking action on climate change, but this proves they are the party of inaction. Tony Abbott’s divided party are too busy fighting with each other about whether to stand still or go backwards to actually address the serious issue of Climate Change.

The Gillard Government has an economically sound plan to tackle Climate Change. We want an Australia with future, not one stuck in the past. We need to act now – check out how you can help us do the right thing for Australia below.

The Team @ LaborConnect”

I have two major issues with this email.

First, the issue at hand is Climate Change and the proposed Carbon Tax framework. Why does the email start with ‘Mr Abbott…”? Why is the issue immediately framed around the political implications? To my mind, the ALP needs its members out there explaining the benefits of the proposed Carbon Tax to others in the community. Are you more likely to believe in a Carbon Tax by listening to a Greg Combat  7 second sound bite, or a close friend/relative who explains the detail over 30 minutes? I have not read the email which helps me to do that, because I don’t believe it exists. The only people who actually care that the opposition might have division in their party room are the ALP, the hard to define ‘Canberra press gallery’ and special interest groups looking to exploit the situation. Fighting a carbon tax by highlighting the opposition is divided might result in a short-term, ill-defined gain, but it will not help change attitudes on climate change over the long-term which is what is required.

Secondly, the options for ‘acting now’ are simplified garbage that will fail to help the ALP and enacting their climate change policies.

The first two of these prompts (Write a Letter and Call Talkback) send you to the LaborConnect website and walk you through writing a letter to the editor of any local or metro paper in Australia and provide you with the numbers for talkback radio stations. I’m not sure if other people think this, however I think it’s a bit ironic I am being directed by email to call and write letters to people. It’s a mismash of current and rapidly aging technologies. This is not to mention the fact that a letter to the editor has a very slim chance to be published while talkback stations are often loathe to engage in an actual debate about climate change. I’d say the possibility of the user changing anything through these first two options is close to zero.

The second two calls to action are perhaps even worse. One is a call to donate to the ALP. Helpfully, on the right hand side of the page, the viewer is told how much things cost. Emails, pamphlets, candidate signs, voter phone calls and election ads are all mentioned as examples of communication methods that cost money. Given evidence of such communication above, I’m not too sure I want to be contributing.

The final option to ‘act now’ on tackling climate change is sharing the email in question. This involves me forwarding the email to people. Presumebly I think people need to know more about the internal working divisions of the Liberal party? Well, I don’t think this at all. I think people need to know more about the positive impacts that ALP policy will have on the environment. And until I get that email, without the vicious undertones that the Liberal Party is actually the devil, I will not be sharing it with anyone. There is also no option to share via facebook, twitter or any other social media. Given the year is now 2011, I think the ALP need to seriously reconsider how they link their supporters with the wider community.

Perhaps most disappointing is the lack of information relating to action that I can personally undertake. We all know about turning off lights and not just putting devices on standby – but how many people actually do this? How about local events that can I can assist at? Positive messages that I could talk about with friends, family or how to interact climate change with other social groups such as sports teams or community forums? I need information on how to do this, or ideas on going about it. For example, I current coach an under 12’s boys basketball team. They are a funny, insightful bunch who are also highly intelligent. I try to engage them about homework, respect for their parents and teammates and other values I consider important through learning basketball. What is the information I need to share with these kids about climate change? About the environment? About how to learn and engage on this issue with their schools? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do know that the answer is not about donating money to produce more smiling candidate signs or sharing vitriolic emails.

Thankfully, this is not the only communication I get from the ALP. Perhaps the best political platform I have ever seen is Andrew Leigh’s monthly ‘e-report’. It is an email designed as an email should be. Full of links, information about upcoming events and outlines past activities. As an added bonus for those who like our politics positive and fuzzy, there is no negative connotations attached to the Liberal Party. Debates with opposition members gets a mention without pre-judging what they have to say. Perhaps best of all, it opens with what is good about the ALP:

In my first speech to parliament, I argued that Labor is the true heir to the small-l liberalism tradition in Australian politics. So far as I’m concerned, that means a commitment to tolerance and openness, an acceptance of the power of markets in achieving efficient outcomes, and a belief that government can be a powerful tool for improving people’s lives.

I don’t know how you could put it any better.

Now, of course there are some political factors which allow this. Andrew Leigh has zero chance of losing his seat to the opposition in the near, medium or long-term future. He is a back bencher with no ministerial responsibilities. Yet too often excuses are made for behaviour that should just not be acceptable. The email at the top should not be acceptable to the ALP as an organisation. Circumstances certainly dictate political action and communication, but the ALP needs to do better if people are again to believe in the party. It can be done – Leigh’s eReport demonstrates this – it just requires some strength of leadership to point the right way.

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