Ken Coghill, Accountability Round Table member, warns of risks to government integrity from the sharing of confidential government information of commercial interest by those who move from the government to the private sector.

This article is reposted from The Age and is available at its original source here

A senior bureaucrat’s new role has sparked ‘revolving door’ concerns

Ruth Williams

Published: January 29 2018 – 8:03AM

A senior public servant at the federal government’s infrastructure agency is returning to the sector’s advocacy group as its chief executive, a move that has sparked concerns about a “revolving door” between government and the business lobby.

Transparency campaigners say the departure of Adrian Dwyer from his role as Infrastructure Australia’s executive director of policy and research to head up Infrastructure Partnerships Australia showed the need for new rules around lobbying and advocacy.

Mr Dwyer was one of Infrastructure Australia’s public faces appearing in the media.

He will begin in March at Infrastructure Partnerships Australia – a group that describes itself as a “think tank and executive member network” but which has regularly been described, including by shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese, as a peak “lobby group” for the infrastructure sector.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia denied Mr Dwyer’s appointment was any way improper.

Infrastructure Australia said it has “robust controls in place to protect confidential information”.

Fairfax Media is not suggesting any wrong-doing on the part of Mr Dwyer.

Infrastructure minister Barnaby Joyce, through his spokeswoman, said the movement of individuals between government and business “can only foster valuable knowledge transfer, benefiting both sectors”.

Infrastructure Australia is an independent statutory body charged with assessing and prioritising major infrastructure projects, while Infrastructure Partnerships Australia is mainly funded by member contributions and has also advocated for Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as a means of financing infrastructure.

Mr Dwyer was head of policy at Infrastructure Partnerships Australia for four years before joining joining Infrastructure Australia in 2015, where he led the production of the 15-year Australian Infrastructure Plan.

Mr Dwyer’s appointment was criticised by the Accountability Round Table, a non-partisan group advocating for improved transparency in government.

ART director Ken Coghill, a Monash University governance expert and a former Victorian Labor MP, said such appointments created “real risks to the integrity of government”, where they involved someone with access to confidential information moving to an organisation that, “at the very least, represents people who could profit from that information”.

“Both at the political and public service level, we have seen it happening too often.”

Mr Dwyer did not provide a comment.

Melbourne University’s George Rennie, a lecturer on lobbying strategies, said appointments of this type could create a “conflict of interest”.

“They may say they will separate out the knowledge they accrued while in government, that they made no decisions influenced by the potential for gaining that new employment, and that they will not use their existing contacts and relationships any way that is unfair, or puts pressure on those contacts, to make a decision that benefits the organisation they now lobby for.

“It’s not about any particular individual, it’s about whether we can trust everyone who says that. Our current situation forces us to trust everyone and anyone.”

The Greens infrastructure spokeswoman, Janet Rice, said the “revolving door between government agencies and departments and vested interests is of concern”.

“Critical infrastructure projects should be made in the public interest, not the benefit of private corporations and their lobby groups,” she said.

Mr Joyce’s spokesperson said Mr Dwyer “would be well aware of his professional duty not to disclose commercially sensitive information when changing roles”.

Mr Albanese was on leave when contacted by Fairfax Media.

Dr Coghill and Mr Rennie both pointed to jurisdictions overseas which imposed legally enforceable “cooling off” periods for ministers, MPs and senior public servants before they could undertake work in their relevant sectors.

Australia’s lobbying code of conduct bars senior public servants from lobbying government representatives on “any matters on which they have had official dealings as public servants over their last 12 months of employment”. Former ministers are barred from similar activities for 18 months.

But it only applies to people working at third-party lobbying firms, and not lobbyists employed directly by companies or industry bodies and the code is not legally enforceable.

Former resources minister Ian Macfarlane joined the Queensland Resources Council soon after leaving parliament in 2016; the appointment was cleared by the prime minister’s office.

Last year, an investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet cleared former small business minister Bruce Billson of breaching the government’s statement of ministerial standards and the lobbying code of conduct after he started drawing a salary from the Franchise Council of Australia before leaving parliament in 2016.

And Labor’s former resources minister Martin Ferguson joined the advisory board of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association six months after leaving politics in 2013.

In response to questions from Fairfax Media, an Infrastructure Partnerships Australia spokeswoman said it was appropriate for Mr Dwyer to move to Infrastructure Partnerships Australia so soon after leaving his former job.

“IPA is not a lobbying company, we are an independent, not for profit think-tank,” she said. Mr Dwyer would “respect all legal and contractual obligations in his new role.”

Infrastructure Australia said it wished Mr Dwyer well, and had “robust controls in place to protect confidential information”.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia does not disclose its member list, an approach the spokeswoman said was in line with “most membership organisations”.

Its accounts, filed with the corporate regulator, show it generated $3.2 million in membership fees in the year to June 30, 2017, accounting for the bulk of its $4.4 million in total revenue.

Its board includes executives from infrastructure contracting, investment and financing companies like Transurban, Broadspectrum, Macquarie, Acciona and IFM Investors. The board also boasts senior state and federal public servants, including from Victoria’s Department of Treasury and Finance, NSW’s Department of Planning, and the secretary of the federal Department of Communication and the Arts. Two of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia’s patrons, Mark Birrell and Kerry Schott, are also former board members of Infrastructure Australia.

Infrastructure Australia, launched by the Rudd government in 2008, was the subject of a controversial revamp by the Abbott government in 2014, in which it was spun out from the Department of Infrastructure and given its own board and chief executive. The government said the move was designed to boost the agency’s independence, but it was opposed by Labor who warned it would instead damage the organisation’s transparency and independence.

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