While Australians received some positive news this week that governments will cautiously start to wind back the many COVID restrictions, it unfortunately won't be business as usual for a while, especially for government relations. Parliaments will remain shut, face to face meetings will be restricted, and most policies and law reforms will continue to be on hold while the government focuses almost entirely on suppressing the virus and its economic effects.
While the natural inclination might be to follow the lead and put all other policy interests aside, doing so would be foolish. Although it's prudent to adjust expectations to allow for greater delays and longer project horizons, it's also an opportunity to engage the many highly skilled advisers and public servants who have been sidelined during COVID, and are keen to keep the wheels turning.
Here's how to navigate government relations throughout the crisis.
- Be sensitive to changed policy priorities, but don't give up on yours. It's inevitable that MPs and public servants will be focused on either resolving the health crisis, economic recovery, or both. When engaging with government stakeholders, the best thing you can do is focus on how your plan can supplement the economic recovery (like create jobs or stimulate investment and growth), especially in their local electorate.
- Be flexible with your communication methods. There have been mixed reactions from MPs to virtual meeting requests - some will readily jump on a Zoom, Skype or Google Meet, while others are struggling to adapt to remote working and the many technologies that have suddenly become available. Also be aware that Ministers' communications platforms are often approved by their respective departments, so can vary greatly. This just means you need to be flexible with how you communicate, and be prepared and set-up accounts with multiple service providers.
- Leverage industry bodies. With less time on their hands for 1:1 engagement, MPs and public servants are increasingly relying on associations to consult with their stakeholders and drive industry consensus on policy issues. There's never been a better time to put your membership fees to work, and use industry bodies as a vehicle to get your organisation's interests across.
- Write a submission to the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19. The Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 has been established to inquire into the Australian Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an opportunity to make a formal submission on how the Australian government has handled the crisis to date, and put forward suggestions for how it should respond going forward. The Committee will be taking submissions until the 28th May 2020, handing down an extensive final report on the 30th June 2022.