……. we need a lot more transparency about what in recent years has become a sunrise industry of politics, and a lucrative occupation for spent politicians.
Michelle Grattan, The Conversation 12 April 2019
The revolving door of politics represents a particularly difficult problem for modern democracies. And when senior public servants leave their positions to work as lobbyists for the infrastructure industry – an industry that takes a lion’s share of government spending, and is afforded substantive protection from scrutiny by “commercial confidentiality” – that problem grows substantially.
George Rennie, Pearls and Irritations, 1 Feb 2019
To eliminate the secrecy and undue influence on the executive of government and government agencies that results from lobbying activity.
Whilst lobbying is a legitimate activity in any democracy, it is not always ethical and increasingly carried out by lobbying ‘professionals’ for vested interests, such as gambling and mining, conducted behind closed doors and often coupled with donations made to political parties to facilitate access.
1,678 – the number of clients using professional lobbyists
528 – the total number of individual lobbyists on the Federal Register of Lobbyists
187 – the number of individual lobbyists on the Register who were formerly employed by government or were Federal MPs or Senators (over 35%)
The data collected by the Register of Lobbyists is limited to:
- organisations that provide lobbying services to third parties (leaving out those who represent their own company or organisation and religious and not for profit bodies)
- the name of the organisation, its registered lobbyists and the name of each of its clients
The data does not permit public scrutiny of aspects of the code, for instance the gap in time between leaving government employ and registration as a lobbyist, it provides no information about meetings held, dinners attended, submissions made or the nature of the ‘ask’.
There is a virtual revolving door of senior public servants and former members of parliament who take up positions in the private sector related to their previous public positions, often as lobbyists. The 2018 Grattan Institute’s report Who’s in the room: Access & Influence in Australian Politics analysis (p. 24) shows that 28% of all ministers and assistant ministers have taken on roles in peak bodies, lobbying firms, big business or consulting.
Public funding for election campaigns was intended to reduce influence from lobbying but in practice this has not happened. Parties are always eager to spend more. While on balance, public funding, like compulsory voting, should be supported, there is a downside to both, namely they armour plate the two major parties and may restrict the capacity for new ideas to be properly debated.
The reforms needed
- Strengthening of the Lobbying Code of Conduct and the Register of Lobbyists to include:
- inclusion of in-house lobbyists
- disclosure of the matter/s for which lobbying activities take place and the benefit of this to the organisation concerned – the vested interest
- documentation provided during lobbying is made publicly accessible on the register
- disclosure of any contribution of funds or gifts such as paid travel or payment for attendance at events, provided or committed as part of the activity
- oversight by the National Integrity System of the Code and the Register including the power to investigate breaches
2. Caps on donations and campaign expenditure and real time disclosure, thereby reducing the need for political parties to raise money for election campaigns, will go a long way to overcoming undue influence from lobbying. (See our platform on political financing)
3. Greater public engagement in decision-making (See our Civil Society Engagement platform)
4. Promotion of the role of the Senate in scrutinising legislation and holding the executive of government to account through its conduct of inquiries into all substantial legislation including public hearings and submissions.
The department has not established effective performance monitoring and reporting arrangements. Listing lobbyists and their clients on the Register for reference by Government representatives and other stakeholders contributes to the achievement of the Code’s objectives. The Register does not, on its own, provide transparency into the integrity of the contact between lobbyists and Government representatives or the matters discussed. Performance monitoring and reporting arrangements should be strengthened to inform internal and external stakeholders about the extent to which policy objectives are being met.
The Auditor General’s damning report on the Management of the Australian Government Register of Lobbyists, 14 Feb 2018
Australia’s lax lobbying regime in the domain of party powerbrokers, The Guardian, Sept 2018
Canberra Inc. ‘The revolving door’ of lobbyists shaping today’s policies’, The Sydney Morning Herald Oct 2017