Why Do I Write Letters to Politicians?

I believe that within a democratic form of government, our elected politicians work for us and not the other way around.  So if we are the boss of them, how do we tell them what we think is important in our lives other than at election time every 4 years or so when all those citizens over 18 years old get the opportunity to vote based on the party’s published policies?  Especially when it comes to an issue as important and time critical as Climate Change.

Well, I suppose they could commission a survey of a small sample of their electorate, but these survey results are not always a true indication of public opinion, especially if the sample size is small.  The results can be manipulated or misinterpreted to show an outcome that is rigged in favour of the desired outcome.  So, this is not a reliable and fair method of getting your message across.  How many of us wait by the phone waiting for a survey company to call us for our opinion?  Very few of us, I bet.

The politicians could simply wait for the election results, but how would they know before hand if their party’s policies are popular with the people, thus ensuring a vote for them?  Back to the survey again!

I believe that there are only two effective ways of showing our politicians that we want them to act on big issues such as climate change sooner rather than later, and that is via civil activism (either peaceful or disobedient) or by contacting them directly and let them know what you want them to take action on.

Civil activism does capture governments attention, especially if it is large, organised and peaceful.  When it gets nasty, then not only do you turn off the channel to effective communication, but I believe that any public support you did have for your cause will vanish in an instant.  Sure, it gets media attention, but is it effective?  Climate Campaigns like Walk against Warming and Human signs are somewhat effective especially when large crowds are present.  Sometimes local politicians join in to show that they actually support the cause.  Civil activism takes a lot of time and effort to organise, and you will never be quite sure if the message gets across effectively, unless of course the government instantly evokes strong legislation the very next week!

This is where I reckon that personal action by contacting your local MP directly is the best way to get your point across.  Here are some ways of contacting your MP which I have scoured the net for advice on the most effective to least effective;

  • Face to face meeting:
    Face to face meetings with your representative and/or a relevant member of their staff are the most effective. A meeting usually needs to be arranged at least a week (and often more) in advance, and may be particularly difficult to organise for a day during weeks when Parliament is sitting.  I have only done this once, and then it was by chance.  See below for a description of what happened.
  • Letter:
    A handwritten, or typed and signed letter, is the most effective means of communication (other than a face to face meeting). It is far more effective than photocopied form letters, postcard campaigns or emails. Some politicians regard handwritten letters more highly than typewritten letters (some of these are technologically illiterate, and some find it convenient to claim the sender probably just cut and pasted what someone else said without thinking about the issue themselves). I find that this method will get an useful reply, usually with a plan on what they or their party intends on doing about it.
  • Telephone call:
    A phone call to your representative’s office (local electorate office or at Parliament House) is generally more effective than sending email, but is less effective than writing and mailing a letter.  From experience, is difficult to actually talk to your MP directly, and you usually have to book a time in advance.  Otherwise you will get a staffer, who may not give a hoot and not pass your concerns on.
  • Fax:
    The effectiveness of fax communication is higher than email, but less than a mailed letter and roughly equivalent to a phone call.  I have not tried this method, simply because I don’t have a fax machine!
  • Email:
    Email is by far the least effective way of communicating your views to your representative/s.  Some politicians may regard email as “second class mail” and some do not even read email, but their staff do. Others receive so much email that they and their staff have difficulty managing it. However, when you are unable to find time to mail a letter or make a phone call, it is better to send an email than do nothing.  I find that when sending an email to your representative, that it is better to personalise it, rather than send off a bog standard form letter.  Put your views in the email, show them that you are passionate about climate change!  Otherwise it will be in the recycle bin before you know it.

So to get my views known about the governments efforts so far regarding climate change action, I write to my Federal MP, The Prime Minister, My State Premier, and local State MP regularly, and at least every six months.  I usually receive a reply even if I just send an email.  Here is a link with some letter writing tips from the Australian Conservation Foundation that may help you out.

As I mentioned above, I even met my local State MP a month ago to let him know my views about how the Victorian Government were not acting fast enough (in my humble opinion), and that they should support renewable energy, therefore taking action to move away from brown coal fired electricity generation.  He was attentive enough and said all the right things, but mentioned that I should contact the Minister for Energy to raise my concerns.  I told him that I had written many letters to this minister, and that he understood my position on renewable energy.  That was the end of that.  The only reason I managed to get an audience was because I had a market stall next to his and I struck up a conversation about the environment.  He even gave me his card and said that our Sustainable Living Group could photocopy stuff at his office!  I either made an impression or he was just trying to get votes.  Possibly the latter.

So, hopefully I have informed and inspired you to write a letter to you local politician, voicing your concerns about the lack of action regarding climate change and how important it is to convince them that we need to reach a binding agreement at the Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen in December.  Fingers crossed.  All of them, and my toes too!

Here is a sample Climate Change campaign letter, just to get you started that features at G Magazine.  I sent this one off to the PM yesterday, just in case he was missing me after the Kev’s Patch campaign!


  1. says

    Hi Gavin
    I really appreciate and applaud the fact that you write politicians – so many people just complain about issues but do nothing to try and change them. I like a pro-active approach! Good for you! And thanks for the gentle reminder to do likewise!

  2. Susie says

    Gavin, this post is really helpful – thanks! Have you thought about putting these kind of info posts in a separate section of your blog as pdf files – it would be easy to find later on, and easy to print out. You could even have them as handouts for your group, or for people wanting more info.

  3. says

    “Some politicians regard handwritten letters more highly than typewritten letters”

    Maybe the politicians think highly of handwritten letters, but the departmental staff who draft the reply for the Minister would normally prefer typed because it is usually easier to decipher. (says someone who has had to draft ministerial responses & who hates having to read really bad handwriting :-). When you can’t even decipher the signature to work out who to address the reply to, you know you’re in for a bad day).

    You’re definitely right about them preferring a personally written letter compared to a form letter. Form letters are generally not regarded highly and often won’t get a response. But anyone who takes the time the right a letter themselves will generally get a personal response (maybe from the Minister, maybe from their Parliamentary Secretary, maybe from a Department Head – that depends on what your issue actually is & how many letters that particular Minister gets).

  4. says

    Sorry Gav, he wasn’t going out of his way to help you with the photocopying. Politicians’ offices provide photocopying services to all community groups – I think it gets paid for in some kind of allowance they get.

    It can also be good to invite pollies to your community events, especially if they’re not particularly ‘political’. For example, if you had an information session on solar hot water, it’s a great opportunity for the local member to come and tell everyone about the great rebate scheme the government provides (assuming your local pollie is in govt!). They get to look like they’re helping, and it only costs them a little time. But it allows them to see how much public interest there is in these issues, and it gives people an opportunity to chat with them over a cuppa afterwards.

    I always believe that writing a letter is worthwhile. My theory is that most people don’t ever write a letter to a pollie, so each letter they get probably represents the views of maybe a hundred or so non-letter-writers.

    If nothing else, sending a regular stream of constructive, well-researched, helpful, respectful, non-zealot letters will raise your profile with your local member. Next time they’re looking for someone to sit on a sustainability committee, or they want some advice on potential public initiatives, they might ask you. It certainly can’t hurt!

  5. says

    It’s been a while since I wrote to a politician. I’ve written to a few over the years – especially when I lived in Sydney and John Howard was my local federal MP. At first I would receive replies but after three or four letters (over time) that polite acknowledgement stopped.

    I’m sure that my letters made no impact on policy, but it did give me a small collection of autographs of Prime Ministers and potential Prime Ministers; assuming they signed the replies themselves.

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