It is swearing-in day for the new cabinet. Sarah Austen-Smith, a former press secretary to prime minister Jacinda Ardern, has some advice for anyone looking to win sway with the top table team.
Businesses, activists, organisations and public servants spend a huge amount of time (and money) trying to communicate effectively with ministers. In an effort to democratise what I’ve learned after a decade in parliament, here are some reckons on how best to communicate with our newly appointed cabinet.
If you have the opportunity to brief the prime minister, don’t expect her to be well-versed in the thing that is most important to you, but do expect she will grasp the salient points immediately, and ask all of the questions you haven’t prepared for.
In a past life, Deputy Prime Minister Robertson was a communicator himself (in Helen Clark’s Office). It pays to remember that you can’t spin a spinner. Serve your briefings neat.
Don’t mistake kindness for a lack of steel. There’s power behind this throne: Minister Davis’ team will see that if he doesn’t get what he needs, you’ll know about it.
Go in there with your big girl boots on – because you’ll need them. Minister Woods is a woman who knows her mind, and she’ll test yours, too.
Outside of the Wellington Beltway Minister Hipkins’ role as leader of the house might seem insignificant. It is not. He was trained in the Trevor Mallard school of politics. He does not suffer fools.
Fierce, grounded and compassionate. She likes to have fun so don’t bore her. Bring your personality.
Minister Little has carved a career out of giving people a fair go, so in that respect you’re in luck. He’s a deep thinker so know what you mean to say, say it, and stand by it.
Minister Parker will read everything you give him, as well as everything you give anyone in a 15-metre radius of him. Your work will not escape his gaze and heaven forbid there are typos in it.
Minister Mahuta’s relationships run deep. She has a super familiar tone with people. That’s because she knows everyone. Mind your macrons, mind your manners and listen.
Minister Williams is unassuming, honest and deeply rooted in community. You can expect her to grasp and value those perspectives.
Don’t bullshit him. School yourself up on his positions on things because he will have a view and it won’t shift without good reason.
This is a minister used to photo-ops with police puppies. Bring your best digital and visual storytelling opportunities. He’s not all teeth and hair, but he knows how to play to his strengths and he has heaps.
He’s chill. He’s chill because he’s smart and hard-working and if there is a hard question to ask he will ask it. He will get a clear answer because he knows how to ask good questions. He is surrounded by people who work for him because they love him.
Humble and unassuming. He conducts himself (particularly in the media) with mana. A man of integrity. No gotcha politics.
Loyal with a long memory and a lot of institutional knowledge. Follow him on Facebook. He speaks his mind.
Sharpen your pencils. Unlike a lot of MPs, Minister Tinetti has management experience. Expect her office to be a well-oiled machine.
FFS can someone write an agenda please. Minister Wood will come to his meetings prepared, well-read and will be a diligent time-keeper. No time for messing.
Minister Allan will be honest and upfront. She knows how to take a joke, and she knows when to be serious. Make sure you learn which is which.
This term Minister Clark will want to make up for lost time. That’s a plus for your newly minted project or idea. Expect big things.
I’ve not met Minister Verrall, but I understand she’s of the same school of pragmatism and compassion as the PM. If she’s anything like her colleagues who came into parliament from an area of expertise she will want depth in her briefings and will take the measure of her advisors.
Our ministers in New Zealand are so approachable. We are lucky.
Go forth and lobby.
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