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Sharing some expert advice on working with minority governments to advance public health

Introduction by Croakey: The election result in lutruwita/Tasmania prompted this question: how might public health advocates engage effectively with minority governments?

Professor Michael Moore brings insider expertise to this issue, both as a leading public health advocate — he is former CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia and a Past President of the World Federation of Public Health Associations — and a former crossbench member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, who was Australia’s first Independent Minister (of Health and Community Care).

In the article below, he offers insights into advocacy with minority governments, with tips on the questions to ask about and of politicians, and how best to approach them. Bring praise as well as brickbats, he advises.

This is the first in a two-part series on working with minority governments.


Michael Moore writes:

Public health advocates can expect somewhat more work when dealing with minority governments. However, there will also be much better opportunities to deliver strong public health outcomes.

This is important over the next decade as I suspect that predictions of stronger cross benches and more minority governments will become much more the norm in Australia.

Tasmania has just gone to an election with the Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, arguing “minority government is destabilising, it destroys confidence, it is bad for our state and it is bad for Tasmanians”. The voters in Tasmania have illustrated a very different view.

The opportunities for public health advocates have now increased. However, it does mean a constant run of reaching well beyond those with responsibility for health in the government and opposition parties. Decisions will be made by negotiation with all members of parliament.

It would be a mistake to ignore independents and cross bench parties. This is already a key component of public health advocates successfully working with Senators in the Federal Parliament.

Although it is over two decades since I was a crossbench member of the ACT Legislative Assembly during a period over four terms where there were a series of minority governments, there are some perspectives that I think are important to keep in mind.

In all public health advocacy work, there is a key element. Persistence!

In fact, Professor Rob Moodie, argues there are just three essentials in public health advocacy … Persistence! Persistence! Persistence!

What inspires MPs?

Almost all elected members that I have known are keen to achieve better outcomes for their community. How they define their community and what they mean by “better outcomes” defines big differences between MPs.

With minority governments, it is even more important to understand both the party perspective (whether a major or minor party) and the perspectives of individual MPs.

The inaugural speech of an MP provides interesting insights into the background and the reasons why an elected member chose to get involved in politics. These initial speeches delivered to the parliament are easy to find.

For example, search the Parliament of Tasmania for the former Labor leader Rebecca White, and note that there is immediately a link to her Inaugural Speech. This is the same for parliamentarians and parliaments across Australia.

White preempted her main points by stating, “I am fortunate to have grown up in a supportive and nurturing community environment”. She then went on to argue that “access to services in regional areas should be comparable to that which exists in the cities”.

Understanding that she grew up as a “farm girl” and joined Labor to achieve better community outcomes for others, along with her reference to Albert Facey A Fortunate Life, provides an understanding into her drive and optimism. These insights provide a very helpful awareness for any public health advocate.

Questions to pose

This sort of background research is important for a major party leader. Such research is even more important if an advocate is intending to approach a new independent or, for example, one of the Jacqui Lambie Network candidates. These have had a relatively low profile in the lead up to the election and it is not clear just what is driving them.

What issues are important to new or existing crossbenchers? Is there a way in which a public health proposition can be framed to appeal?

The next question a public health advocate should be asking themselves is: which groups or individuals are seeking the same public health goal? Do they already have a relationship with the elected individual? Is it a positive relationship? How can we work together? How can we expand our network?

An MP is going to be much more strongly influenced by a series of advocates than just one approach (although, on rare occasions a specific approach does touch an individual). Working with networks that are as broad as possible is an important aspect of effective public health advocacy.

Some advocates feel that an MP who has been elected with a relatively small primary vote and a large preference is somehow a lesser MP. Wrong! Once elected, an MP has a full voice and a full vote in any parliament. Respecting them as such is a key to successful advocacy.

Finally, it is important to recognise the positive actions of an MP and to do so publicly. MPs are used to the brickbats. Praise is not so common. When a politician is publicly acknowledged for their contribution – whether it be raising an issue, attending a public forum or introducing legislation – it is really appreciated.

Minority governments are not the silver bullet. However, they are helpful in facilitating broader accountability and they provide opportunities for greater influence by public health advocates.

Professor Michael Moore AM PhD is currently Chair of the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) International Taskforce on Immunization as well as a number of other health networks. He is the former CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia and is a Past President of the WFPHA.

He is a Distinguished Fellow at The George Institute for Global Health, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra and is a Visiting Professor at the University of Technology Sydney. Michael served four terms as an elected member of the ACT Legislative Assembly from 1989 to 2001 and was Australia’s first independent Minister when he was appointed as Minister of Health and Community Care. In 2017 he was honoured by being made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).


See Croakey’s archive of articles on the lutruwita/Tasmania 2024 election