When the for­est land­scape meets the po­lit­i­cal land­scape: why ad­vo­cacy mat­ters for our in­dus­try

Australasian Timber - - ASSOCIATIONS - By Clare Scriven State Man­ager SA Branch of the Aus­tralian For­est Prod­ucts As­so­ci­a­tion and na­tional man­ager of AFPA’s soft­woods man­u­fac­tur­ing group

ASTROKE of a min­is­ter’s pen can af­fect your busi­ness, your prof­itabil­ity, your vi­a­bil­ity and the fu­ture of the in­dus­try.

Changes to air qual­ity pol­icy can add mil­lions to pro­cess­ing costs for a sawmill. A change to wa­ter pol­icy can im­pact a grower’s plans for com­ing decades. Changes to in­ter­na­tional trade agree­ments can hit prod­uct ex­ports or see huge in­creases in com­pe­ti­tion from im­ports.

That’s why it is vi­tal to have ac­tive ad­vo­cacy for the whole for­est prod­ucts value chain.

Pol­i­tics is a fas­ci­nat­ing beast. So many op­por­tu­ni­ties to make changes for the bet­ter. So many ob­sta­cles to pre­vent those changes hap­pen­ing!

Hav­ing worked as a po­lit­i­cal ad­viser for four years, I saw many worth­while pol­icy pro­pos­als pre­sented to Min­is­ters. Some were adopted and im­ple­mented, but many were not. Some that didn’t make it to im­ple­men­ta­tion had been wel­comed by min­is­ters and their de­part­ments, but still never got off the ground. By un­der­stand­ing the rea­sons good pol­icy fails to get trac­tion, we can bet­ter po­si­tion our in­dus­try not to fall into the pile of ‘no fur­ther ac­tion’.

Ini­tially it was a mys­tery to me why some good pol­icy made it, whereas other good pol­icy was never heard about again. On re­flec­tion though, there are three threads that are com­mon to the suc­cess­ful ini­tia­tives.

Right po­si­tion­ing

It is a tru­ism that when an idea catches some­one’s imag­i­na­tion, s/ he be­comes per­son­ally in­vested in its suc­cess. When that per­son is a min­is­ter, and the idea is a pol­icy, such a per­sonal in­vest­ment can tear down ob­sta­cles and make things hap­pen quickly. So a key to pol­icy suc­cess is find­ing that spark in a pro­posal that will speak to the min­is­ter’s imag­i­na­tion; is it a cre­ative way of pro­gress­ing a long­stand­ing is­sue? Is it a cause for which the min­is­ter has held a long per­sonal com­mit­ment? Does it speak to a top­i­cal party po­si­tion?

Right tim­ing

Tim­ing can make or break a pol­icy. Some great pub­lic pol­icy ad­vances in­volve ac­tions that may be ini­tially un­pop­u­lar to the pub­lic, or need a lot of prepa­ra­tion to reach un­der­stand­ing and pub­lic ac­cep­tance. The time to push th­ese is­sues is not in the lead up to an elec­tion. Whether it is Fed­eral or State, is­sues that get un­pop­u­lar head­lines will not be wel­come dur­ing such a time. How­ever, in other parts of the elec­toral cy­cle, such an is­sue can be pur­sued suc­cess­fully.

On the other hand, a pol­icy that cre­ates pos­i­tive head­lines (or avoids neg­a­tive ones) dur­ing an elec­tion pe­riod can be gold. It can be a great time to get com­mit­ment from ma­jor play­ers, in­clud­ing get­ting match­ing pledges from dif­fer­ent par­ties.

Out­side of elec­tion pe­ri­ods, pol­icy ad­vo­cates need to be aware of what is­sues are dom­i­nat­ing the po­lit­i­cal sphere – even if they seem to­tally un­re­lated to our in­dus­try and its in­ter­ests. If a gov­ern­ment is suf­fer­ing from a dom­i­nant, dam­ag­ing is­sue in the me­dia, it may be a per­fect time to launch a big pol­icy in a dif­fer­ent field – even if it is just to start a pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion. I have seen good pol­icy that was strug­gling to get at­ten­tion be quickly de­vel­oped un­der this kind of sce­nario – some­thing that takes air (me­dia) space au­to­mat­i­cally re­duces airspace for other (con­tentious) top­ics. Rec­og­niz­ing and cap­i­tal­iz­ing on th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties de­liv­ers re­sults.

Per­se­ver­ance

The fi­nal key to achiev­ing good in­dus­try pol­icy is per­se­ver­ance. Min­is­ters are busy peo­ple. Their de­part­men­tal heads are busy peo­ple, too. The im­por­tant can very fre­quently be pushed out by the ur­gent. The only way to make head­way with pol­icy pro­pos­als is to never stop! To keep phon­ing, hav­ing meet­ings, send­ing copies of me­dia re­leases, knock­ing on doors and so on. In essence, to be the ‘squeaky wheel’ that just keeps on mak­ing noise un­til it gets the oil!

So there are the three keys to suc­cess­fully achiev­ing pol­icy change: right po­si­tion­ing, right tim­ing and per­se­ver­ance. Clearly, most com­pa­nies don’t have the time or re­sources to pur­sue each of th­ese and to al­ways be look­ing at the po­lit­i­cal land­scape. Even if they did, a com­bined in­dus­try voice will usu­ally achieve more than in­di­vid­ual com­pany voices that may be at vari­ance with each other. To both avoid poor pol­icy out­comes and achieve pos­i­tive pol­icy ini­tia­tives, ad­vo­cacy needs to be co­he­sive and de­signed with an un­der­stand­ing of the po­lit­i­cal needs of the day.

AFPA’s core work of ad­vo­cacy and pol­icy de­vel­op­ment, and strong po­lit­i­cal acu­men means that we can make our in­dus­try’s case loudly and force­fully to the po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ers.

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