Happenings on the Hill – Budget Edition

Tanck’s Neil Pharaoh dives into your options, challenges, and opportunities from the recent Australian Federal Budget.

The Federal Budget was the night of nights for many seeking regulatory, policy or legislative change, or funding from the government, but the big question is what’s next for those who didn’t get funding, for those who did get funding, and for those in between?

Social purpose and for purpose organisations are in a unique position when it comes to Federal Government advocacy, and now that the Federal Budget has been handed down, we should all be trying to increase our profile and the causes we feel passionate about.

The first thing to do post-budget is to check what projects have been funded in the areas of interest to you – typically these are contained in budget paper 2- which lists the changes (increase and decrease) to certain areas and projects.

A deep dive into this piece is invaluable for every organisation, and even a skim read can give you an idea of who is getting more, or less, funding from the budget.

An additional source of information is the Minister’s and local MP’s media releases to give you a good idea as to what is being funded and new commitments. If you see projects you are interested in, or that are in your local area, reach out and engage with the local MP or contact to try and get a bit more information – often projects are funded but some of the detail or allocation is yet it be mapped out.

If you do secure funding, or there is a potential for funding to be secured, start your engagement with local MPs now. This is a great way to build a profile and connect politically.

Backing in government of any political colour will be critical, so small things like thank you emails, or acknowledgements can also show that you are “backing in” or supporting a policy or initiative.

If you can’t get the detail about local projects, look back to Budget Paper 2 and see if there is any new initiatives or programs that align with areas you might be involved in.

For instance, you may have a focus in the health space, so look through the health announcements in budget paper 2 and try and see if there is an opportunity to engage with any new funding priorities. 

The first step is to get your house in order – does the funding align with what you are doing at a high level? Do you have something you can contribute to in this space? Can you be profiled as a success story in this new funding stream? Spending time to reflect and connect your strategy and programs to the budget is time well spent.

Whether there is or isn’t an opportunity to secure new funding in the budget, there are several small things you can do to up your political engagement.

  • Add your local MP, Minister, or Shadow Minister (and Candidates during elections) to your social media.
  • Include them in your newsletter or mail out, and make sure they get information on projects, including things like case studies and your annual report.
  • Scan ahead and look for opportunities and events where the MPs & Senators can come along – invite and engage early.

What happens though if you didn’t get any money in the budget, or your focus area wasn’t a government priority? Fear not, government engagement is a medium to long-term game, and while the budget is over for the year, there are many other opportunities to engage.

No sooner is the budget delivered, public servants switch their focus on the mid-year economic and fiscal update (MYEFO) and preparing for the 2024 budget. The 2024 budget may in fact be an election budget, which makes it even more critical to do your preparatory work now.

Organising to engage with the budget is time-consuming, and resource-intensive but valuable – it gives you the opportunity to engage with policy and decision-makers, position yourself in your space, and articulate the value (economic and social) that you deliver.

Government processes are indeed slow. Those who secure funding have often worked on it for several years in advance, but there is no better time to start than after one budget is handed down.

Mapping your requests, timeline and agenda is a great first start, engaging with submissions, discussions and reviews continues to build on that, and having a great relationship with several key backbenchers, and other political stakeholders helps you secure that budget goal.

Remember, just as there are many things you can do to drive outcomes in the budget, so too there are several things NOT to do. Despite how amazing your work may be, nobody will read your media release about the budget.

Firstly, although this entire Budget process probably needs to consigned to the recycling bin as a waste of time and talent, complaining about the budget doesn’t help the situation, as most organisations who got funding, or secured policy announcements have done the work to get there.

Most often they have worked with Labor in opposition to secure announcements before the change of government. While governments cannot do everything at once, MPs are great at telling the difference between fair-weather friends, and those who worked with them in opposition.

Government engagement is always a medium-term game and trying to shortcut it (for instance thinking the Minister is your only stakeholder) will not improve your chances of success.

Today’s candidates are tomorrow’s Parliamentarians, next week’s Minister, and next year’s feather dusters. Recognising and engaging across the entire life cycle is critical.

Remember too that governments can’t do everything at once, and priorities and pressure build over time – while slow, often advocacy takes years not months to achieve funding, regulatory and legislative change – it rarely happens overnight.

Neil Pharaoh
23 June 2023

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