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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Writing to MPs

Who are you writing to?

This will depend on the issue.  On some matters you may be writing directly to the Minister who’s portfolio is relevant to your concern, but you should also know who your local members are – both in the lower and upper houses of parliament. The Minister will always be from Government, but your local members may not.  You can get a list of the members, their areas and their contact details by clicking here 

Important tips - use the correct title

If you are writing a letter, set out the name and address of the MP or Senator in the top left hand corner. This is not necessary in the case of emails.

An MP’s name should be stated in the address as follows: ‘Mr/ Mrs/Ms/Dr First Name Last Name MP’. MPs who are, or have been, government Ministers, are given the title ‘The Honourable’.  This title is granted for life and therefore former ministers may also use the title.

The President and the Speaker of the House may also use the title ‘The Honourable’ while in office.

Some members choose not to use ‘The Honourable’ in their title, so you should check their entry on the Parliament of Victoria website.

So, if you are addressing a Minister (or former Minister), the address should read ‘The Hon. Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr First Name Last Name’.

You then start your letter as follows: ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr Last Name’, or in the case of Ministers, Dear Minister Last Name MP. 

For more information on addressing members, see here

Introduce yourself and your issue

Start your letter or email out by saying who you are and why you are writing to them. If you are a member of their electorate, make this clear at the start. It can also be helpful to briefly set out any relevant connections in the community – for example, you may want to indicate that you attend a local school or organisation, or work for a local business.

Keep it brief

Your letter or email should be as short and simple as possible. Try to keep it to one or two pages. If it’s a letter then ideally it should be typed and signed by hand. Stick to one issue per letter or email and use simple points to make your case. Write logically in well set out paragraphs.  Do not write sentences entirely in capital letters to make your argument, and keep the tone of your letter respectful and polite, even when making a strong argument in support of your issue.

If the issue is technical or requires further explanation, keep your letter short but include an additional document which sets out the extra information. Alternatively, you can refer the MP to a website, article or book where they can get more information. Sending reams of paper is not an effective way of getting attention. In fact, there is a high possibility that most of the information won’t be read.

Use your own words

Politicians’ offices receive hundreds of letters and email from constituents. Your objective is to make your correspondence noticed.

Often an organisation will start a campaign and ask its members and supporters to send pre-written letters to their MPs. These are called ‘form letters’. While form letters do have some value in demonstrating the level of community support or opposition to a particular issue, they do not have the same impact as a well crafted, passionate and personal letter or email.

Therefore, if you are asked to send a form letter in support of a particular campaign, take the time to personalise it by adding your own thoughts, or putting the points in your own words.

It can be useful to:

  • Include relevant facts and figures
  • Refer to a recent news item about the issue
  • Highlight a local connection to the issue
  • Include a personal experience that made you want to speak up on the issue

Why it’s important to be polite

Being polite and respectful in your letter or email is far more likely to achieve positive results than being insulting or abusive. If you disagree with a stance your MP has taken, or some comments they have made, say so, but in a reasoned, forthright way. Rather than generating a response, an abusive or threatening letter at best will be ignored - at worst, it may be forwarded to authorities.

Tell them what you want them to do

Simply telling your MP how you feel about an issue is unlikely to bring about change – you need to tell them what you want them to do about it. This could include any number of actions from voting for or against something in parliament to attending a local event. But, the most important thing you should ask for is a reply to your letter.  If it’s around a particular issue, you may seek to have a meeting with them where you can discuss your issue further.  There are notes on what to do if you are organising a meeting to lobby an MP here.

Provide your contact details

It’s no good writing a passionate letter requesting action if you forget to provide your contact details. Make sure your letter includes your first and last name, your address, telephone number, and email address if you have one.

Be patient

It’s important to remember that MPs receive hundreds of letters and emails, but usually only have a few staff to assist them in responding to these letters. This means you could experience a lengthy delay in receiving a response to your letter. Sometimes it could take up to a month to hear back from your MP.

Follow up

If you have not received a response after one month, phone the MPs office to remind them about your letter and check when you are likely to receive a response. If you do not receive a response within a fortnight of your call, try again. And keep trying until you succeed. Persistent, but polite - remember, your MP has a responsibility to respond to your electorate and hear your concerns.