Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

committed to preventing tragedy that arises from illicit drug use

Election Guidelines


The purpose of these guidelines is to help members raise awareness about the issues surrounding illegal drugs among candidates for election.

Approaching candidates during an election is important and it can be fun too. These guidelines will make it easy for you. It provides information and hints that should prove most effective in raising awareness.

Not all the suggestions in these guidelines will be appropriate for every occasion. It is a matter for you, the reader, to determine the most suitable approach and technique for the particular circumstance. Where possible the best techniques or approaches are listed first.

An impending election concentrates the political mind wonderfully. The month immediately before an election is usually the best time to approach candidates. They will then be most receptive to anything that might get them some votes.

The views of candidates will range from no knowledge/no opinion to a supportive humanitarian approach or to the extreme tougher law and order approach.

First do your homework

Before you do anything else you must do your homework. You need to know:

Importantly you need to be knowledgeable about the subject matter: drug law reform and the tragic consequences of the current policies. However, this does not mean you have to be an expert (see below).

Who are the candidates standing for election & what are their policies

Pay attention to the media:

Most district and national newspapers report on the candidates and usually give space and coverage to each one. Radio and television stations also give coverage and report on significant or newsworthy events. Knowledgeable candidates will also try to create media events that get reported. What is reported in the media will give a good guide to their policies.

Candidates also conduct publicity campaigns (which they hope will be reported in the media) and take every opportunity to be visible during election time. They are likely to have a timetable of places where they will be available to talk to voters.

Every candidate must register with the Australian Electoral Commission. Details about the candidates can be obtained from the Commission or from their Internet site at http://www.aec.gov.au. Details include name, address, telephone number, party (if applicable) and profession.

If you cannot determine their policies from the media, telephone their electoral office and ask for a copy.

Examine their policies carefully and identify those candidates who have supportive policies and those who do not. Most likely candidates will not openly identify with drug law reform issues so you will have to look closely and identify other issues that may give some indication. For example, support for social justice issues is a good indicator of a supportive candidate; a platform of stronger law and order is an indicator of a non-supportive candidate.

If the candidate is a signatory to the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform Charter then that is the best sign.

You are now in a position to plan some further action. Give encouragement to those who are supportive and publicise your support for them.

Candidates who support social issues may need to be contacted to gauge their support for and knowledge of the issues. You may need to provide them with more information so that they can be clearer on the issue when they are speaking about it.

Candidates who are opposed may simply be opposed because of past propaganda. They may not have thought clearly about the issues and may need more information.

Most importantly do not be antagonistic toward those who are opposed to drug law reform.

Know your subject matter

You must make sure that you know your own subject matter. If your personal experience is relevant, use it to the fullest. Of course, you will also need to have some knowledge outside of the personal realm.

Make sure you have briefed yourself on any topics that you want to raise with the candidate and be ready to answer any questions or objections in a calm, rational manner. You do not have to be an expert on all related issues, concentrate on the areas of interest to you. Our web site at www.ffdlr.org.au will be useful.

Present your case simply, without exaggeration or excessive elaboration of detail. Remember, if you do not know an answer when asked, be honest and straightforward but offer to find out. You will not impress if you try to bluff your way.

Know the limitations

Candidates can be sensitive to people's strongly held views, but these alone are not usually sufficient to influence the political process.

Party policy is generally more influential than individual voters' opinions. The candidate's personal beliefs and the need to satisfy a sufficient proportion of the public to gain re-election will also be more influential than your opinions.

Sometimes trying to change public opinion is more appropriate than communicating directly with candidates. (See Indirect actions below.)

Communicating directly with candidates can sometimes help them to overcome the isolation of the political world. But it is unwise to assume that you will automatically know more than a candidate. Some of them may be knowledgable in this area

Talking directly with candidates

Here are the most commonly used methods of directly communicating with candidates, in approximate descending order of effectiveness.

Personal Meetings - Face to face contact is usually the most effective way to communicate your viewpoint. During election time candidates are more visible and more accessible to the public. Try to meet them at one of their scheduled locations during the campaign. . Try to meet them earlier rather than later in the campaign, you may thus influence the rest of the campaign.

Appointments can sometimes be hard to arrange. Be patient, and don't get angry if you are refused. The people you contact may be quite influential, and rudeness can only make them less sympathetic to your concerns

Be polite, and make it your goal to give the candidate enough understanding of the issue as you see it to make an intelligent decision. Leave them a written summary to which they can refer. If they require more information, they will tell you. Don't expect an instant result. Most candidates have learned from experience to avoid making impulsive decisions.

Telephone Conversations - Phone calls have a quality of immediacy and personal directness approaching that of personal meetings, but take much less effort to arrange and usually take less time. For these reasons, they are more common than meetings. The techniques of polite, uncomplicated explanation of the subject can be effective here.
Candidates' phones are usually answered by staff, and you may or may not get to speak to the actual candidate. Don't worry if this happens. The staff you encounter may well be in charge of your issue, and in any case they may have some influence on policy. Never be rude or insulting, as political workers develop thick skins and will only get annoyed.

Individually Written Mail (including fax, email) - This is the most common method of putting your views to candidates, and is in the medium range of effectiveness. It does not have the immediacy of personal or phone contact, but the advantage is that busy candidates are more likely to read your letter than to see you in person.

Mail also provides the candidate with an opportunity for considered reflection, which may be absent in personal interaction. Letters should be only one or two pages long. Begin with a brief statement of the issue and of your position, followed by the reasons for adopting the policies you recommend. Lengthy and detailed documentation should be avoided, but references to evidence and sources of further information should always be provided. Remember - keep letters to one or two pages only.

Individually Addressed Mass Mail - If you have gone to the trouble of writing a good letter, you can use technology to address it to a number of candidates. The letters should be individually addressed and hand signed. One page is a good length, with further information available on request. These letters may be slightly less effective than individually written letters if those contacted realise that everyone has received the same letter. Avoid photocopied identical letters.

Mass Mail-Ins - These are campaigns where many people are asked to write to one or more candidates about an issue. The letters may range from those actually composed by the writer, through to form letters and signed postcards. Letters of this type are much less effective than spontaneous individual letters, as experienced candidates can usually tell when an orchestrated campaign is happening.

Deluges – Attempts to demonstrate the depth of feeling by a flood of phone calls, letters or faxes to a candidate's office is often misguided and is likely to rebound. Candidates who find their lines of communication deliberately choked by the supporters of an issue will only become more hostile toward those responsible.

Some Tactics

Once you have your candidate’s attention, you will want to say something. Here are some of the approaches you could take in presenting your case.

Reason - The straight out appeal to reason and commonsense is probably the best place to start. Many candidates actually believe that they are trying to build a better world, and it doesn't hurt to acknowledge this and suggest that you are giving them a chance to do it. This tactic is also the best basis for a long-term campaign, as truth nearly always wins out in the end. Bear in mind, however, that factors other than logic and ethics have a major role in the political process, and a candidate may not be able to put even firmly held beliefs into practice. You should also realise that what seems perfectly straightforward and reasonable to you may seem wrong and crazy to another honest person with different beliefs.

Truth and Consequences - Always be truthful and factual about an issue. Your credibility is your most valuable asset in trying to influence others’ opinion. You don't have to tell a candidate everything, but you should answer any direct question about the issue truthfully. If you are caught out in a lie, you won't be trusted again.

Appeal To Self-Interest - For the more cynical approach, you could point out the electoral advantages of supporting your issue. It is useful to have some idea of public opinion on the issue, and of any popularity problems faced by the candidate's party that could be helped by supporting your cause. This will only work if you can convince the candidate that there is public support for your case that will show up at the ballot box. Caution is advised when using this approach. Some candidates may be offended by any implication that they care for their careers more than they care for the justice of an issue. This approach should only be used with caution and as a supplement to one of the others.

Help the Good Guys - If you have a sympathetic candidate you might consider volunteering to help in the election campaign. Candidates appreciate support, and you would be contributing to the success of someone who supports the issue. You can also learn more about politics in this way. Before doing this however you should be sure that you are prepared to invest some time and effort, and that the representative’s policies are sufficiently compatible with your own beliefs. Also, take into account the effect of your actions on the way you may be perceived by other political players.

Threats - Don't Bother - If all else fails, you may be tempted to promise retribution in the form of lost votes or a campaign against the recalcitrant candidate. It is unlikely that you will be able to follow through with such threats and you won’t be taken seriously.

Indirect actions

Here are the most commonly used methods of communicating indirectly with candidates, again in approximate descending order of efficacy.

Media Campaigns - The mass media can have a powerful influence on candidates. You can have some effect on the media in a number of ways including, persuasion of journalists and editors, planting of stories and letters to the editor.

Targeted Political Campaigns - Concerted effort to influence elections in key or marginal areas is a powerful tool for political persuasion. Where a relatively small number of votes can change the outcome, a strong campaign to support sympathetic candidates can be very influential if conducted well.

Media Hits - These are media releases and special media events used to generate reports on specific issues, usually with the intention of presenting your view of them in a favorable light. Candidates normally monitor the media in relevant areas so targeting the media in the candidate’s electorate may enhance the effect of media hits. Media opportunities are within the reach of the resourceful individual – a simple call to the media or reporter to express your view on a recently reported issue can be effective. Try riding the coat tails of a candidate’s media event.

Community Organisations - You may be able to find an organisation that supports your cause. Look for groups with similar interests. Such groups can be powerful allies and may have access to some of the more effective lobbying methods.

Party Organisations - Joining a political party purely to influence its policy is not recommended. Usually this entails a long struggle within an entrenched political system. This may give you a greater understanding of politics, but can alienate the members of other parties from your cause and may not achieve your intended result.

Mass Demonstrations - Mass demonstrations can get some media coverage, although the amount is disproportionately small compared to the effort of attending them. It may also backfire if few people turn up.

Some suggestions to get started

If you are not clear about how to get started and what to say to a candidate here are some suggested questions:

Were you aware that so-called illegal drugs were not made illegal because of the dangers of the drugs, and that most harm is caused by the prohibition drug laws?

Preventable deaths from illegal drugs are increasing each year. From 1979 to 1995 there has been a 700% increase in opiate related deaths. If elected would you support actions based on evidence and research that will effectively reduce these death rates?

The social and economic cost of illicit drugs in Australia amounts to $1.6 billion each year and this does not prevent most of the drugs being available. Law enforcement only captures 10% of illegal drugs. Do you think it is a wise use of funds that continues to let 90% of illegal drugs be available through the black market and makes enormous profits for the Mister Bigs?

The social cost to society of the prohibition drug laws can be measured in terms of organised crime, corruption, increasing disease and increasing deaths. Are you concerned about this? What would your plans be to overcome these problems?

Given that all of these failures have occurred under current prohibition laws, do you agree that alternate and well-researched methods need to be tried?

If elected what action would you take in the area of illicit drugs policy?

Some helpful brochures

These are available from this web site or can be posted:


Our thanks to Aldis Ozols whose work was drawn upon to prepare this paper.