MCM Strategic Communications

MCM Strategic Communications
Leading Canberra-based government relations and media relations consultancy firm.

16 May 2017

Unique insights into effective ministerial engagement

Dennis Richardson AO delivered one of the more memorable and entertaining addresses to the National Press Club last week, a speech which also included an enormous amount of extremely valuable advice for anyone who is or who is thinking about engaging with a government minister.

Indeed, the principal points about this which were made by Mr Richardson – who, until his retirement as Secretary of the Department of Defence last Friday, was one of our most experienced and respected public servants – apply to engagement with all key political stakeholders.

In short, Mr Richardson said engaging with a Minister, particularly when communicating information the Minister might not necessarily like, is similar to engaging with a member of your family – carefully consider the person you are about to engage with before doing so. Among other things, think about whether they are a “morning person” or not; think about how and where you will deliver the information, notably what would be the most effective setting. Mr Richardson said it might just be that the message is most effectively delivered halfway through walking the dog.

Mr Richardson went on to state there is virtually no point in getting upset at a Minister. While this may make you feel better, it is highly unlikely you will achieve the outcome you are seeking.

In other words, potentially, the two most important aspects of ministerial engagement are to determine what outcome you are seeking and decided on what is the most effective way of achieving this outcome.

If you are new to communicating with government or even if you have been engaging with government for years, it’s well worth taking time to analyse Mr Richardson’s points – ahead of interacting with all key political stakeholders. His points should directly inform the development of your strategy for engaging with key political stakeholders and at all times during the implementation of the strategy. Doing so will maximise your chances of success.

These rules of thumb certainly served Mr Richardson well in a career in the public service which lasted almost 50 years. We wish him a happy and fulfilling retirement.

- By Hamish Arthur

20 March 2017

Transparency for Australian consumers

Australia’s consumer law framework and its watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), rarely draw praise.

As is the case with many other areas of regulation, if the laws and the regulator are meeting their objectives, then there is little or no public commentary. However, if there are challenges, the public outcry can, at times, be loud.

On a recent trip to the US, it became apparent that a part of Australia’s consumer laws and the work the ACCC has carried out in this space has many benefits – and it’s important these benefits are highlighted.

Specifically, there is no standard obligation in place across the entirety of the US which makes it compulsory for businesses to display the final price that a consumer will actually pay out of their pocket for a product or service. Therefore, if you are to walk into a café in Washington and ask for a flat white coffee, the cost displayed on price boards inside the café might be, for example, $3.79, however, the amount you actually pay might turn out to be $4.05, once taxes are included.

A couple of other examples stood out on this recent trip. One retail outlet in New York charged tax on a cap, yet a similar cap at a similar shop in a similar area did not. It was an almost identical situation for a six-pack of the same type of beer in Los Angeles – at one liquor store, the beer attracted an additional $1 in tax, while at another liquor store less than 200m away, there was no tax on top of the amount paid for exactly the same product.

One of the central themes of the regulatory framework in Australia is transparency. When a consumer drives past a petrol station and sees price boards next to the road, sees a price displayed above (or below) an item at their local supermarket or when they visit an aggregator of travel products online, it should be very clear to the consumer the final price that they will be paying.

The ACCC over-reached a few years ago when it issued a ruling that restaurants would have to introduce different menus on Sundays and public holidays to reflect any different prices they might offer on those days of the week (due to higher staffing costs), but, sensibly, this changed such that as long as restaurants made it very clear to consumers there was a percentage surcharge on top of standard pricing on days when this applies, then this would be acceptable.

Yes, on the whole, when it comes to clarity of pricing for consumers, Australia is doing extremely well.

- By Hamish Arthur