15 April 2019

Advocating change: the power and the passion

Policy

Neurosurgeon Professor Brian Owler is no stranger to the lobbying game. So when he offers advice on how to get the best results, doctors could do worse than hear him out.

A former president of the AMA and now the Labor candidate for the Sydney-based federal seat of Bennelong, Professor Owler says doctors have to not only be persistent in their advocacy pursuits, but also create a compelling narrative to help make their case.

Professor Owler’s high profile “Don’t rush” anti-speeding campaign in NSW is a study in how to achieve cut through at the highest levels of government. 

“As doctors, we have a very strong voice … we engage in a broad aspect of the community and we experience things other people are never likely to see,” Professor Owler told the emergency medicine annual conference (SMACC) in Sydney.

But it’s not only medical experience which will help get the point across.

Professor Owler said while many people put in submissions, few of them stayed the course and became involved with government at every step of the legislative process.

He said while his campaign for safer roads took only six weeks, he’s also advocated on projects which have taken up to 10 years.

“Being patient, being persistent and working with the political and economic cycles is sometimes really important,” Professor Owler said.

He also said doctors should try to work on crafting a compelling “narrative for change,” rather than relying on facts alone.

“A passionate narrative gets the attention of the politicians, but also the media. It is one of the most important and strongest things you can do when you are being an advocate,” he said.

While making your cause relatable is important, Professor Owler says it’s also important to be able to relate to the politicians you are meeting.

“You start to realise the rich amount of experience these people have, just like everyone else in the community and that often shapes their views. They often have personal connections with friends, family or even constituents that have had a certain problem or disease or illness or trauma that will actually shape their thinking,” he said.

And if you manage to score an interview with a minister, make sure you manage your time effectively. Try to get your point across in under a minute, Professor Owler said.

Equally, politicians don’t want to be overwhelmed with excess information.

Professor Owler says this can be overcome by swapping contact details with ministerial advisers or other staff.

“You can offer them a ‘two-pager’ and then offer them more information, should they request it,” he said.

Professor Owler’s final piece of advice was to encourage engaging with political operators across the spectrum.

This included the minister, local members, assistant ministers, shadow ministers and staff, and also government departments.

“Make sure you are broad in your level of contact,” he said.