Election Date announced – all voters can advocate for their concerns with candidates

Just do it!

The first Muslim politician in the NSW Parliament, a Royal Commissioner and a former (Christian) politician met… no, not in a pub (although they might have at some point)… in a zoom call.

And while there were one or two jokes and plenty of good humour, the point of the webinar for the Christian media sector was a discussion about how to engage with politicians.

The webinar, hosted by Christian Media and Arts Australia (CMAA), was facilitated by former NSW politician and deputy chair of CMAA, Stephen O’Doherty, in conversation with Jihad Dib, member for Lakemba and the Hon John Ryan AM, now a Royal Commissioner with the Disability Commission in NSW.

The question about how to engage with politicians was peripheral to a more personal conversation about what it means for these men to have been or still are, serving their constituency at the state level of politics.

Dib was elected to the Lower House in 2015, the first Muslim MP in NSW. He told of meeting a young woman wearing a hijab who said to him that she might consider standing for parliament because of him.

His comment to the webinar, “You can be a role model without realising it”.

However, it speaks to the oft-spoken concept that it is hard to see yourself in a place if no one like you has been there before.

The Life of Public Service

Both Dib and Ryan had a story to tell about what led them to a life of public service. The Hon John Ryan is able to use the honorific in recognition of his long service of 16 years as a member of the Legislative Council.

Ryan became a Christian at 16. He spoke in passing of growing up in a boys’ home, which he said was mostly about survival, as he was the subject of neglect and abuse as a child. Ryan was open about his faith when a politician, explaining that it was his time as a teacher and teaching students who struggled to read and write, which made him realise that “so much could be addressed through politics”.

“The Scriptures are about seeking to serve others and serving others is a very important part of being a member of parliament,” Ryan told the webinar.

“Parliament is starting to look a little like the state does.” – Jihad Dib MP

Dib was keen for the webinar participants to understand that “great things happen in Parliament”.

“Those with shared values, we do a lot of things across party lines. It’s really enjoyable. It’s not adversarial,” he explained.

“Sometimes you have to be a bit cranky but you have to do things in a respectful way, to be honourable. I’ve always treated everybody with respect. When I walked into parliament, the fact that I was a Muslim gave hope to people. Parliament is starting to look a little like the state does.”

Both Dib and Ryan agreed that the best part of being a politician was solving a constituent’s problem.

“My best lobbying is when someone has a problem, and you don’t let it go,” – John Ryan

“When I am with the community and I help somebody who needs it, using whatever networks I have to solve the problem,” Dib said. “That is what servant leadership is and we are servants.”

Dib shared a story of a woman who came to him seeking help getting new dentures. She had been lobbying the health department with her problem to no avail.

“My best lobbying is when someone has a problem, and you don’t let it go,” he explained.

“They were the wrong dentures. She had stopped smiling and couldn’t eat because the dentures were painful.”

Dib had to accelerate the issue as high as the health minister to finally get action. He was rewarded with the biggest smile from the woman, whose confidence had returned as her pain had diminished.

“That is effective advocacy, that is not lobbying,” he said.

How to engage with politicians

The webinar also spoke about how CMAA members can engage with their local members, particularly advocating for the value of Christian media in their constituency and, more broadly, given the extensive reach of Christian radio across Australia.

The CMAA Social Impact Report 2021, prepared by McCrindle, found that 1.9 million Australians tuned into Christian radio every week, for up to 9 hours across that week. As the webinar heard, that is significant pulling power.

With the election called by the Prime Minister yesterday, now is a critical time to engage in conversation with local members.

1.9 million people tune into Christian radio across Australia weekly

A government engagement specialist with Brickfield GE, Dr Vanessa Finlay, stressed to webinar participants that any time is an important time to build relationships with your local member. They are there to serve you.

She reflected that the Impact Report is a compelling document for politicians. She said she had done a number of briefings of senators online who were astounded by that 1.9 million figure.

Dr Finlay said politicians are also attracted to the evidence that 38 per cent of listeners do not profess to be Christians but have tuned in because of the uplifting content, which impacts the community positively.

“That is very attractive from the point of getting to your community as a politician,” she said.

Be persistent, don’t give up

With a much broader reach than just Christian voters, Christian radio’s relevance becomes much broader, Dr Finlay explained.

Other data in the report is also of interest. Listeners tend to be very engaged in volunteering and community building.

When asked how one goes about organising a meeting with a politician, Dr Finlay explained it was pretty straightforward, and they are duty-bound to meet with constituents who ask. The way we usually are in touch with people works just as well with politicians – email, phone calls, personal networks, snail mail.

But, “don’t get disappointed if you don’t get an immediate answer. Keep trying,” the government engagement specialist said. “If the issue is important to you and can demonstrate its importance, you will get fair time. Keep trying.”