Michelle, Hasi and Leila celebrating their forum success 

What We Learned from Attending Our Local Candidate Forum

by Leila Stennett, Campaigns Director RESULTS International (Australia)

Last night Global Health Campaign Manager Michelle Imison, RESULTS grassroots advocate Hasanga Weerakoon and I attended our candidate forum, in Sydney’s inner western suburbs, which was organised by the local paper. On a cold evening about 120 people turned up to quiz a panel of sitting Members and candidates from the seats of Reid (currently held by Liberal Craig Laundy, Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs) and Grayndler (where the local member is Labor’s Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Cities and Tourism). Forum attendees asked a really wide range of questions – heartening evidence of a desire to engage with the political process. Here’s what we learned from attending the forum.

  • It’s intimidating. We can’t lie: it was a large crowd of people, quite a few of them pretty fired up about some hot local issues. That’s why RESULTS advocates work in groups: we support each other to stand up and ask our questions, in spite of our nerves, and keep one another motivated.
  • Wearing red gets you noticed! Right before the end of question time, Michelle asked candidates where they stood on Australia’s commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. We were sitting in the back row, but she stuck her hand straight up – and I’m sure that the sleeve of her red jumper got the MC’s attention!
  • Beginning an engagement with candidates. After question time the three of us split up and each approached different candidates. We thanked them for something they’d said during the forum that we appreciated or agreed with, creating a point of connection between us. Many others at the forum wanted to engage with (or even just to harangue) the candidates on a variety of issues. The RESULTS difference is that this pre-election period is just the start of our dialogue with future parliamentarians, not the end of it.
  • Making the ask. Having connected with the candidates, we then briefly introduced ourselves and RESULTS, explained our campaign for the Global Fund (which they’d just heard mentioned during question time) and asked if they would sign the Pledge. When they said yes, we then photographed them with their signed Pledge, asked if we could share the photo online – and thanked them!
  • A ‘no’ can become a ‘yes’. One of the candidates was interested to hear about the Global Fund but his advisors were wary of him signing the Pledge on the spot. (In hindsight, we should have just had our photo taken with him instead.) But on the upside, he gave us his card and insisted we get in touch to set up a meeting during the campaign. The dialogue continues…
  • Success! We thanked the Green and ALP candidates for their commitments to Australian aid and were able to get two Pledges signed (plus that offer of a meeting). (One of the candidates had already signed the Pledge but we still had a chat and made sure RESULTS remained memorable!).
  • Next steps. Immediately afterwards we tweeted each of the candidates, saying that it had been great to meet and speak with them, and either thanked them for signing the Pledge or for the offer of a meeting: a very public and positive follow-up. We also included the hashtag for the forum, ensuring that the local paper would see that their event had produced some ongoing discussion. The next morning, we also wrote a letter to the editor of the paper thanking them for organising the forum (and mentioning our interest in aid and the Global Fund).

Click here for some HANDY TIPS on How to get the most out of your Electoral Forum or other Event

It’s worth noting that not only “national” issues were raised in the forum. This challenges the popular belief that elections are – and should be – only about domestic issues and not wider questions like climate change, refugees and international development. In fact, the panel was very open and responsive to our question, wanting to know more about the specifics of the Global Fund. When we follow up later with our interested candidate, we’ll be able to demonstrate what a good investment the Global Fund is – supporting an end to AIDS, TB and malaria as well as health security and economic return for Australia.

The experience of going to our electoral forum was a bit scary but also very rewarding, and we’re looking forward to building on the connections we made on the night. Best of all, we celebrated our successes with gelato afterwards!