How to write senate submissions
Do you want to provide massive support for marriage equality without leaving your computer? Would you like to provide support for marriage equality without having your name published?
Right now there are three bills before The Parliament about marriage equality. Thanks to the processes of Parliament, any citizen can have a say on any proposed law. It’s called “writing a submission”.
That sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Don’t worry – it’s easy and I’ll help you through it. And the best part: you can do this without leaving your computer!
A submission is a fancy term for a letter from a concerned person, group, or organisation.
This blog entry will take you through preparing submissions, but I want to take a moment to remind you why politicians behave the way they do.
It is a universal truth that politicians believe that they are the best people to be in power and that the opposition would be disastrous for the country. Of course they don’t want to come across as power-hungry megalomaniacs (that’s bad for collecting votes), so they say things like “I’m just here to represent my community”. If a politician feels strongly enough, they will take action that differs from community expectations (a later blog entry will explain how they justify this to themselves).
If an individual politician isn’t particularly wedded to a particular side of a particular issue, a side-effects of this belief leads to an amazing property of democracy: your government wants to listen to you.
Listening to you is the way an individual politician can retain their position so that they “can do good”. The politician understands that by listening to you they can take actions you approve of, and get your vote at the next election. This is why the loudest voices in your community get the most attention – they have the most votes.
Keep this in mind as you read the rest of this blog-post.
In any given year there are literally tens-of-thousands of changes to laws and government regulation. Each of these changes goes through more or less the same process. Here is a very quick-and-dirty outline of how a law comes to exist:
- A Bill (a draft-law) is written. If it is written by the government of the day, it’s called a Government Bill. If it is written by a politician who isn’t a member of the governing party it’s called a Private Members Bill;
- That Bill is introduced into Parliament (either the Senate, or the House of Representatives) and it’s title is read (this is called the first-reading for historical reasons);
- The general pros & cons of the Bill are debated, rather quickly (this is called the second reading) and then the House will vote to send the Bill off to a committee;
- The committee will ‘invite’ concerned members of the public to send submissions on the Bill (that’s the step this blog entry is about). Some committees will hold hearings and invite people to give testimony about the issue;
- The committee will then consider those submissions, discuss the pros and cons and so on. The committee will then report back to the house what the public thinks about the Bill;
- The Bill will have it’s ‘Third Reading’, where amendments (changes) are discussed;
- The House then votes on the Bill and sends it to the other house where it goes through the same process;
- Once a Bill has passed both houses, it is now an Act of Parliament goes off “Royal Assent”, in the UK this means the Queen signs the Act and it is proclaimed as law in the Government Gazette. In Australia and Canada, the Governor-General (or Governor of a State/Province) provides this “Assent” on behalf of the Monarch. In the United States, the President (or State Governor) signs the bill into law
So what makes a good senate submission? (I’ll answer that after the ad)
Many submissions will be written by professors and academics, but you don’t need to be an expert on the matter to write a submission – passion is more important. You also don’t need to be the best author in the world – just write from your heart. The most moving submissions are written by ordinary people like you and me.
There are no hard and fast rules or dos and don’ts for submission writing. Having said, though, that a good submission:
- is well-informed take a few moments to use Google, you will want to cite statistics about the people affected by the law, what the experts on your side says about issue, and studies that indicate support and benefits of your position. You might also want to talk about growing political support (like Newspolls and such);
- should cover the major issues raised by reform. In same-sex marriage, for instance, you’re going to want to talk about the right to be recognised as a couple in the eyes of the law. You might discuss families with same-sex parents and how those families would be better served with the protection of ‘marriage’. will want specific examples;
- must be respectful and constructive don’t dwell on why your opponents are dick-heads, but do take time to deconstruct their argument. Talk about what you think your opponents really want to say;
- includes a personal story that explains why this is important to you. You need to give the reader some reason to take your side over that of the haters. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to be gay to write a submission on gay-marriage – you don’t. Your personal story could be as simple as “I am disgusted that in our country people can be considered less worthy because of the gender of the person they love – I find blatant discrimination abhorrent”… The ‘personal story’ is why you want change; and
- is used to encouraged others to write a submission of their own – share it with your friends, your family, like minded community groups (or in my case 32001names).
Submissions are an easy way to show support for an issue you care about. Because they’re not as common as voting they’re taken very seriously. You can ask the committee to keep your name withheld from the public record, and the best bit is that anything you write is protected by parliamentary privilege. Provided you wait until it’s reported back to the Parliament before repeating it, no one can sue you for anything you say in a submission (ok, so that’s less important if you’re not evil).
Here what to do:
- Visit the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs website here
- If you need some inspiration, have a look at some of the other submissions received from ordinary people like you and me, community groups and academics