DAVID SOLOMON. Lobbying? Check the definition.

Aug 2, 2019

Let us be clear about this nonsense ban on lobbying contained in the Prime Ministers ministerial guidelines. Its pretty meaningless. The fact is, as the Code of Conduct for lobbyists explains, the only people who are considered to be lobbyists, are third party professional lobbyists. These are people or organisations that sell their lobbying services to others. It does not, repeat not, apply to not for profits like, for example, the Minerals Council of Australia lobbying on behalf of their members, nor to firms (like BHP) lobbying on their own behalf.

In fact the lobbyists who are required to register as such in Australia represent about one fifth of all those involved in lobbying (this calculation is based on what happens in Canada, where all lobbying activity, not just that by third party professional lobbyists, is regulated).

Christopher Pyne, working for the accounting and consulting firm EY, cannot be classed as a lobbyist, no matter how much lobbying he actually does, or how successful he might be. The lobbying guidelines specifically exclude professionals such as doctors, lawyers or accountants or other service providers who make occasional representations to government in a way that is incidental to the provision of their professional or other services.

The fact that top legal and accounting firms embrace former politicians and others who are not lawyers or accountants to look after their socalled government relations is irrelevant. The government just doesn’t want to acknowledge how much lobbying these professions actually do.

Nor is this an anomaly. The guidelines appear to have been carefully constructed to exclude most of the people and organisations that are heavily (and successfully) involved in lobbying. I recall that at one meeting a mining industry representative in Queensland said his organisation could not be considered a lobbyist because the government consulted him about what should be in legislation. Putting forward the interests of his mining company members was not lobbying.

Then there is Julie Bishop, who is joining  the board of Palladium, which manages hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. No problem there. The lobbying code does not cover people, companies or organisations and their employees lobbying on their own behalf rather than for a client.

Pretty clear, isn’t it. So long as Ms Bishop lobbies for Palladium, she is not lobbying.

The only problem under the guidelines for former ministers is the ban on ministers taking “personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a minister, where that information is not generally available to the public”.

That’s a bit more fraught, involving some selfadministered brainwashing. But the key word is information. Not quite the same as knowledge, for example, about how decisions are made, and by whom. But the former ministers have been cleared by the public service so we know they will do the right thing.

In the meantime, the Senate committee which is examining these problems ought to tune in to what is happening in New South Wales, where the Independent Commission Against Corruption is conducting its second inquiry in less than ten years into lobbying and how it should be regulated in the public interest, not least to inhibit possible corruption.

And they could look at Canada, which bans former Ministers and top public servants from any lobbying (in the broadest, dictionary sense of the word) for five years. Now that time span would really reduce the possibility the ministers and others would be able to benefit from the contacts, information and knowledge they acquired on the job.

In fact, if applied here, it would probably mean that companies and organisations such as EY and Palladium wouldn’t bother hiring former ministers.

David Solomon is a retired political and legal journalist.  As Integrity Commissioner he was responsible for the oversight of lobbyists in Queensland from 2010 to 2014.

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