Lobbying Code of Conduct and Register of Lobbyists, Possible Reforms
Submission of the Accountability Round Table
In formulating rules to regulate lobbying, the challenge is to address its problems and dangers without inappropriately hampering legitimate political freedoms. Lobbying helps the represented to be heard. In its purest form, it enables relevant information and arguments to be marshalled and presented in such a way as to assist governments to reach decisions in the best interest of the community. In a time-poor and information rich world this can be of real help to government. It must also be remembered that lobbying is not confined to making representations for people seeking financial advantages or preference from government. It is conducted on a wide range of issues of policy including issues affecting all and for a wide range of people including the most disadvantaged in our community.
Joo-Cheong Tham has identified three key principles for distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate lobbying
“ … respecting political freedoms (including the freedom to influence the political process through lobbying), protecting the integrity of government (and preventing corruption ), and promoting fairness in politics”
As he explains, lobbying should be regarded as illegitimate when it is
• not fully open (as to participants and/or content),
• is not focused on addressing the public interest, and/or
• undermines access to government by all because it involves unfair access and influence.
Secrecy is a major concern because it makes it difficult for citizens to judge public officials and hold them to account. Secrecy also undermines the health of political parties because it centralises power in the party leadership. Further, secrecy creates opportunities for corruption and misconduct and is a major factor in enabling unfair access and influence.
The Code’s stated policy framework should be supported, but it falls short of what is required. In particular, it does not recognise the dangers inherent in significant developments that have occurred in the government lobbying industry in Australia and the way we are governed.