How to get Legislation through government
Scribe: Greg Valatin
Several factors were pointed to as being helpful in increasing the likelihood of legislative support. These included:
1. a broad support base
Marian Franz told us of how support in the US for the Peace Tax Fund Bill had widened from the traditional peace churches and a few individuals, to include Presbyterians (8 million members) and Methodists (9 million members) from the mid 1980s. More recently other organisations including the Baptist Joint Committee, Christian Legal Society, and the National Association of Evangelists which tend to be more towards the right of the political spectrum have also pledged their support. This broad support is proving tremendously useful in lobbying important members of Congress and the White House. Building this broad coalition has been facilitated by the topicality of issues of religious freedom and it is intended to redraft the Peace Tax Fund Bill in these terms rather than as a finance bill.
2. Being positive about the benefits of legislation
Phil Rimmer stressed the importance of focusing upon what we want rather than what we do not want, and how in the UK context it had proved useful to the effectiveness of non-violent alternatives to military defence in promoting true security. (Indeed in Italy, it was stated that some of the military and politicians viewed non-violent alternatives to military defence as a tremendous threat to the establishment due to it being recognised as potentially so successful). Erik Lau Christenson stated that in the Danish context, peace tax initiatives appear to offer legislators few benefits and Orion Smith mentioned a general lack of support among MPs, and how even Mennonite MPs appeared to be interested primarily in the 'bottom line'. However, Marian Franz stressed the point that legislation could be expected to increase tax revenue through increased voluntary compliance and reduced enforcement costs.
3. Finding a common language.
In order to be effective at lobbying, Orion Smith spoke of the importance of approaching MPs like any other ordinary person, reducing 'bafflegab', while understanding the political culture and where MPs 'are coming from', and seeking a common language.
4. Stressing that the issue is one of belief rather than opinion.
Marian Franz stressed how important it is to emphasise that conscientious objection to fiscal conscription is fundamentally a matter of belief rather than simply of opinion. She stated how useful it is to use personal stories to illustrate the essential difference between those unable to pay on grounds of conscience, an attitude of unwillingness to pay tax, or simply the opinions of lobbyists. Arya Bhardwaj pointed to the need to assist governments to understand what is right, while Erik Lau Christenson stated that the main strength of the peace movement lies in this belief that what we are proposing is right.
Dirk Panhuis mentioned the importance of contacting parties directly as individual MPs tend to be more transitory, and Phil Rimmer stated how useful it was to lobby political parties from within. However, from a show of hands, it was clear that very few of those present are actively involved in political parties. Gregory Valatin raised the question which has surfaced in recent months in the British Quaker press concerning whether those who are so concerned about the issues that they are prepared to withhold their tax should not themselves stand for election on the peace tax issue, but this went down like a lead balloon!