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New South Wales Premier Mike Baird calls it “nailing shut the back door to government.” More accurately, it’s putting a CCTV camera on it. Either way, he is to be commended for committing to release “a quarterly diary summary of each minister’s scheduled external meetings”.
The parade of political figures on both sides of politics through the doors of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has demonstrated how valuable it can be to business to exert influence over political and bureaucratic decision-makers. Part of the reason for the NSW Liberals’ troubles currently is because of a specific measure, put in place by the previous NSW Labor government, to prevent property developers from donating to political parties in the hope of influencing development approvals. The result has been constant attempts to either game, or outright breach, that restriction in the hope of influencing Liberal ministers (and, of course, it would have been Labor ministers if the latter had still been in power).
Short of a complete ban on any form of donation or assistance to political parties, there will always be efforts to get around the rules by both politicians and those who influence them. That’s why complete transparency is far preferable to efforts to restrict influence-peddling. Let voters see who is giving to political parties, and who politicians are meeting with — not just lobbyists, not just business leaders or unionists, but anyone who isn’t a constituent. And let’s see the same information for senior bureaucrats. That enables voters to judge for themselves the extent to which outside parties, be they business, union, or NGO, are trying to influence decision-makers.
Baird’s decision to publish ministerial appointment diaries, reflecting a similar system in the United Kingdom put in place by the Cameron government, is a good start. It should go further and cover all non-constituent meetings and be applied to the top levels of the bureaucracy as well.