YOUR VOICE MATTERS: How to be heard

While it is easy to agree and disagree with other people’s opinions, it’s actually rare for someone to take a stand and speak up either in support or against an issue in a way that counts. Why? Sometimes, it’s because they think their voice doesn’t really matter. Sometimes they are scared to let others know what they really think because it might not agree with the overruling sentiment. And sometimes, they really just don’t know how to go about it.

When it comes to issues that affect society, often the best way to be heard is to add weight to the voices of others.

Below is information about different ways you can do this such as starting or signing a petition, organising or joining a protest or demonstration, writing to Members of Parliament and making submissions.

Petitions

Politics often comes down to numbers. Why? Because numbers give an indication of how much support an idea carries and indicates the way people will vote in an election.

At one time, only petitions with actual physical signatures were available. Paper petitions require people to validate signatures. Now, online petitions are gathering momentum. They are easier to circulate to gather digital signatures that can be electronically validated.

Social media, websites, email and messaging apps facilitate gathering support for ideas. There are even websites that run regular campaigns gathering online support for a number of issues that affect the community in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The NZ Parliament website contains a section specifically for petitions. On it, you can:

  1. create a petition,
  2. find active petitions that you can follow, sign digitally, share and see how many signatures they have gathered, and
  3. look at petitions that are closed

They also provide a guide for petitions that includes details of how petitions work and the process involved to make and present petitions.

Pixelated or paper, this Spotlight on Parliament video is all about the mighty petition! What happens to a petition after you sign it, and how can it help to change New Zealand? Charlotte and Inika from the Office of the Clerk take Jay through the full life cycle of a petition. Source: Office of the Clerk.

Protests & Demonstrations

It is an important aspect of our democratic society that people should be able to assemble peaceably in order to express their opinions on a subject. Perhaps the most favoured venue for demonstrations of a political nature is Parliament grounds.
Speaker Harrison, 1999

While outside the Beehive is a popular place to stage a protest, it isn’t always the best location. Particularly if it is a local issue you are standing up for or against.

Check with local councils regarding requirements for holding a demonstration or protest, particularly in a public place. Concerns for public safety are paramount, which includes access for emergency services. Permits may also be required which should include the conditions you are obliged to maintain during the protest.

Email/mail Members of Parliament

Just the discipline of sitting down and writing your concern or support is important. Not just for the person receiving it, but for you as well.

A few things to keep in mind when writing to an MP:

  1. Give your email or letter a subject line that is simple, clear and concise. This is just as important as the content because, at a glance, this is a numbers game. If the minister is too busy to read your message in full, they should at least be able to tell if you are supporting or against the cause you are writing about.
  2. Use formal language and address them by their title, unless you know them personally and are on familiar terms.
  3. Identify yourself and the constituent you live in. Politicians are more likely to listen to people they know might vote for them.
  4. Show respect and take the time to write your own words. They are more powerful than something cut-and-pasted from another source. Start by stating the issue and what you want done about it. Then, focus on 2-3 main points that support your view and use evidence to flesh them out. Conclude by requesting a specific action and sign off with a simple salutation, e.g. regards, yours sincerely, thank you.
  5. Send your message to your electorate MP, local list MP, any MPs that are directly associated with the subject you are writing about and the party leaders. Typically, letters are sent to local MPs, either list or elected, with a request for it to be forwarded to the appropriate Minister.

The New Zealand Parliament website has a directory with contact details for all current and former Members of Parliament. You can filter the directory by seats, gender, party, role, portfolio and Select Committee. Each Member’s listing includes their title, so you can address them appropriately in your correspondence.

Submissions for or against proposed bills

The Government appointed Select Committee needs to hear from thinking members of the public. The reality is, if people do not make a submission, silence is interpreted as assent. 

New Zealand Christian Network urges churches and individuals to make submissions on proposed bills. Below, we set out how this may be done, and provide resources.

Bills & Submissions

Select, read, follow and make submissions

Guideline

It is very important that all submitters write in their own words, rather than cut and paste from other sources. Form letters carry little very weight.

It is also crucial that submissions be respectful, reasoned, and to the point.

Check each bill for the correct information to address the Committee Secretariat and include:

  1. Your name
  2. Heading:
    “SUBMISSION – Name of Bill”
  3. Your own details:
    Name of Individual / Family / Organisation
    Address
    Phone
  4. Your signature
  5. Whether or not you wish to make a verbal submission, appearing before the committee (YES / NO)

Writing to your MP does not count as a submission, but does let them know where you stand on this issue.

Submissions made by post must contain TWO copies

Click on the section titles below to view their contents.

Remember, there are people on both sides of any debate. Be respectful. Even opposition can be constructive.

Pray before you write. If you get stuck, pray. When you finish, pray. Sit on it until you feel you have expressed yourself well and pray for the recipients to be open to hearing your heart when they read your message.

Double-check your evidence and provide sources. Ambiguous arguments are easily dismissed and can be detrimental to the overall message other people send.

Demonstrate grace.

Give encouragement and support when MPs make a stand or go against the majority or party line – especially on conscious votes. Theirs is often a thankless task. Pray for them to be strong under the pressure they face.

Suggested openings FOR

I support the…

I want Parliament to legalise…

I am totally for…

… should be legalised because…

I want the ________ because…

I agree with what this Bill stands for because…

I agree with making ________ legal because…

I am for________ because…

I support any sort of…

I support the passing of this Bill because…

Suggested openings AGAINST

I oppose the…

I don’t want Parliament to legalise…

I am totally against…

… should remain illegal because…

I don’t want the ________ because…

I am against what this Bill stands for because…

I oppose making ________ legal because…

I am against ________ because…

I oppose any sort of…

I oppose the passing of this Bill because…

REASONS

Add 2-3 reasons and evidence, if available, to support your view. Ensure your evidence is reliable and provide the source. Personal experience also carries weight.

Before the Submission-writing Session

  1. Print one form template for every person.
  2. Gather a small team of helpers who can assist your congregation.
  3. Announce in the Notices that there will be an opportunity to make a brief submission at the end of the service. If anyone is able to speak briefly about the Bill, that would be excellent.
  4. Please provide a good supply of ballpoint pens.
  5. Each person needs to write their name and other contact details on the front.
  6. If a person wishes to speak to the Committee to explain their viewpoint further (ie making an ‘oral submission’), they should make sure they tick the appropriate box.
  7. At the back of the form, people should write their message (see the guide for ideas).

Office or Supervisor Role

  1. Photocopy the back of the form (the side with the handwritten message).
  2. Staple each of the photocopies and their respective forms together.
  3. Put all the forms into an A4 envelope. Put $3 postage on the envelope.
  4. Write the address on the envelope:

    Committee Secretariat

    Name of the Committee
    Parliament Buildings
    Wellington 6160
  5. Please mail the envelopes and allow a week for post
    If you live in Wellington, you can take the envelopes to Parliament in Molesworth Street and give them to the reception desk. You don’t need to stamps on if you drop them off, but you do need to write the address on the envelope. Parliament should will take envelopes until the closing day.

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