Do the old campaign rules still apply for aspiring Independent Candidates?
I feel there is an old political myth, that in order to get elected into parliament, you have beg for donations to cover the cost of annoying your electorate during your campaign.
Surely I am not the only one whose eyes roll back as I pass by cheesy election billboards full of false promises and oversimplified policy slogans. Billboards, advertisements, flyers, magnets — all these “old school” approaches seem a relic of a time gone past.
I recently came across an interesting article published in 2013 titled “An inconvenient truth: what life is really like for an independent election candidate”, as this is a topic I’m keen to explore.
The greatest challenge for Independent Greg Ross was the lack of funding to support the traditional “political campaign”.
The Electoral Commission people are fabulous, I went to see them in early October and they continue to offer constant advice. The first thing they said to me, was, “Have you any idea how much it will cost? You will need to spend a minimum of $25,000.00 just to be in the game!”
In fact, it’s looking like $40,000 — $50,000. I know the big parties regard each seat as needing around $100,000 but sometimes even their candidates have to get by on much less than that — the Liberal Party is cashed up, the Labor Party less so. The Greens? Who knows? Independents, in my case, day-to-day, Dusty Springfield’s hit Wishing & Hoping springs to mind.
The costs? Well, stickering up my car was $2000, buying a campaign trailer $1800 plus signage, (a further $1200), banners $750, brochures $2500 and so on. Campaign T-shirts $2500 . Door knocking is free … sort of, you’ll find you’re filling up the fuel tank every three or four days and even your car insurance and excess goes up once the stickers are on the car. Then there’s advertising. 
So…. I’m just putting it out there, I don’t vote based on signage, advertising, slogans or party colours. I do my research before I vote and determine whether or not there is an independent running in my electorate, and if that is the case (sadly it’s not looking good for me in Hasluck), then I will look up their website and check out what they have to say and make sure they appear to have a good heart, honourable intentions and a desire to listen to the people. If those boxes are checked, for me that gets #1 and i’ll vote my preferences from the least vile to the most vile from there. It’s rare that I haven’t looked up the calibre of character behind all the names on the ballot sheet, I come to vote, and I come prepared.
Am I alone?
Not sure. It appears to me that the existing political elite and politically involved believe I am. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of support for approaching an electoral campaign in any other way then the way it’s always been done.
But there, I believe is the opportunity for disruption.
So how can potential Independents “hack” the traditional election campaign?
First, you need to be electable, so you need to pass the following qualifications as detailed below from the AEC website
If you want to run for the House of Representatives, you need to send your nomination to the Divisional Returning Officer for the division where the election is to be held (this also applies to by-elections) with a cheque to cover the $1000 deposit for the nomination.
Nomination forms are available from the AEC and must contain the following information:
- full name, place of residence, occupation and contact number;
- for unendorsed candidates — nomination by 100 electors of the relevant division, and an indication whether the word ‘Independent’ is to be printed adjacent to the candidate’s name; and
- a declaration by the candidate that they are:
1) constitutionally and legally qualified to be elected;
2) have not nominated for another election to be held on the same day; and
3) are prepared to act if elected.
For the Senate, nominations should be sent to the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for the relevant State or Territory, and Senate candidates must pay a $2000 deposit with the nomination.
Assuming the basics are done, how can election campaigns be done differently.
- Build a website
Not everyone has epic Wordpress or Squarespace skills but there are enough people out there willing to give you a hand. (Follow and engage with Independents of Australia if you need help!)
A good website would include a bio, options for people in the electorate to submit ideas or content to form policies (e.g. what Adam Blakester has done), links to social media, whether or not you intent to have any policy positions (or intend to listen to the people) and details of any community events you will be attending to give the community an opportunity to meet you in person (as opposed to at the polls).
2. Create Digital Content
Digital content offers an incredible opportunity for your electorate to get to know you, what you are about, judge the calibre of your character, without knocking on their door and interrupting their latest Netflix binge. I accept there is the reality that some of the older/ageing population in your electorate are less than tech savvy, but the number of people not on social media reduces every day, and at least you can touch a wider group of people with less time, effort and money. If you are regular with your digital content, then that should free up your time to spend genuinely getting to know the members of your community who aren’t aware of your Tweets, and I would highly recommend spending as much time as possible in retirement homes and with the older generation, there is so much wisdom and amazing experiences that will enrich your role as their representative.
A great example of good utilisation of digital content to update and inform voters has been set by none other than NZ Prime Minister,
Jacinda Ardern [check out her video posts here]
3. Utilise free media attention
The business model of the media isn’t hard to work out. Journos and media outlets will cover what gets clicked and what turns newspapers, simple.
Considering todays climate, and after talking with so many people equally pissed off by the current climate of political bullshit, just being honest and speaking truth to power might be enough to get your name and Independent candidate status in the news. It appears honesty, integrity and a passion to improve the broken system is newsworthy in itself, especially if you are a local and doing it without a tonne of funding (and corporate interest).
Focusing on local newspapers and ensuring that you have an important story to share with them about why you’ve decided to be an Independent candidate will be critical, especially so with the baby boomer generation.
4. Connect with your community
Most suburbs have a community Facebook page, whether it be to report local crimes, give updates on local shop opening hours or sales, or simply a local chit chat. These online communities offer an incredible opportunity to be regularly involved with the day-to-day challenges (or wins!) in your community, and if you aren’t actively involved in them, if you aren’t using that opportunity to listen and engage with your community — then you are making a massive mistake.
Its also a good idea to make time to visit your community as the local Independent candidate. You could inform your community of your plans to attend the farmers markets on the weekend, offering them the opportunity to have a chat with you in person ahead of election day. Do things like that, as much as you can add to your schedule and this should allow your community to be at least aware of your presence.
The #auspol community is complex, fierce, diverse and exhausting, but the chances of success as an independent representative will be significantly improved if you become a regular in the #auspol Twitter community, in addition to a regular poster on Facebook. You may need help to manage all the content across all the channels, which is exactly why having a crew of volunteers is essential. If you are struggling for volunteers please ask Independents of Australia for help.
Quick fire suggestions to hack a political campaign together;
- Media training helps. On a small budget this can be challenging but it’s a well worth investment
- Transparency is best. If you are taking donations on your website (and I suggest it’s wise you offer the community that option), then it’s a good idea to make all donations to your campaign fully transparent, of which is easy enough to do with Nation Builder and most crowdfunding campaign websites.
- Give the people a voice. The future of politics, in my mind, belongs to those who regularly ask their people what they want, and most independents now do. Whether it be an online survey, a Twitter or Facebook poll or a blockchain vote — asking your electorate for their opinions is on the right side of political history.
Any other advice please make a comment below, and feel free to share with anyone brave enough to put their hand up to run as an Independent, and break all the rules made by the political elites!