Submissions matter. They are an integral part of the policy making process, but also put public concerns on the record. They can provide a snapshot of what was of interest to people at any given time.
Lots of experts use submissions as a formal way to crystallise their own internal policies. Groups, such as ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service), may call for input from their membership, and refine that down to one single submission on behalf of many groups. They can then use this information to advocate on behalf of that membership. The BCA (Business Council of Australia) does a similar thing.
With submissions now available online, they can tell stories to researchers, and journalists about a particular issue. A fantastic example of this is the responses to the Productivity Commission report on the NDIS. I still use these – both the technical and the personal – in my writing. They are well worth a read. Some of the power of these submissions is the desperate, heartbreaking stories of need and neglect. It was these stories that got the NDIS such bipartisan support.
Leaving submissions on the specifics of the tax paper to just those who have a specialised interest, means that the discussion will be dominated by those interests. But what about your interests? Don’t they deserve to be heard as well? This discussion can be broader, and this is one way to make that happen.
Tell your story
Have a think about what you do everyday. Make a list. Think about the things that make that list easier, and harder. What are the three changes that would help you the most? Is it more resources at the local school? More medical specialists nearby? More affordable housing, or childcare? A job that was secure and not having to travel so much? A new library or a better oval?
Are you worried about trying to fit older parents, small children and work all into one day? Or about climate change, or drought, or fires? Or people in detention?
Why put this in a submission? Some of these things are local and state responsibilities after all. Because tax, collected by the Federal government, is what eventually pays for most of this anyway, via COAG squabbles and doling out grants, so you may as well start at the top.
Tell the story of your life, your family, your community. Tell the story about the things that matter to you, about what you imagine, what you dream about. After all, Hockey uses the anecdote of a friend using Uber to explain the complexity of tax collection, so hey, follow his lead. Your stories are important, and they matter just as much.
Stories have power. Any story about policy works better with a case study or an example. The people reading your submission will remember a story, and be able to retell that story to illustrate a policy point.
How to get started
Most parliaments will give you a general guide to the nuts and bolts of a submission. The tax paper website has specific instructions for making a submission. It is important to follow these so your submission can be part of the tax paper.
Before you start, read the discussion paper.
I know this sounds daunting, but if you can, have a go and read the whole thing. At least read the Executive Summary, and the Summary Discussion Questions as a starting point. (There is no Easy English version or other accessibility features – I’ll update this if they pop up. There is a video with a brief outline.)
Don’t be put off by the jargon, and you don’t have to respond specifically to the questions. Make notes as you go, including questions that you’ve got about the discussion paper. By the time I’ve read documents like this, they usually covered in scrawl and occasional swear words!
Write your initial thoughts down all at once, then put the whole thing down and don’t look at it for a few days. You have until June 1 to get the submission finished, so take a bit of time.
Then go back to your notes and have a think about the questions you had a think about in the first part. Where are the overlaps? What questions are missing? What is the story you want Hockey and the Treasury staff to hear? Then get writing.
Your submission can be short, or long. It can be about one thing, or about many things. It can be about you, your family, your community or your passion, or all of those things. The most important part is that it is your story, in your words.
If you are making a submission that is more than a page or so, put the key points into the introduction. For a submission on a particular topic, say how your submission addresses that and what you want the government to do. This helps staffers and public servants to know that your submission is relevant to their policy area. Then you can provide more details as you go on.
Submissions are due on June 1, so get reading and writing!