The lobbying firm Hawker Britton is getting the kind of publicity a good lobbyist can do without during this Victorian election campaign and largely because it cannot resist an opportunity to tout its own wares.

The Melbourne Herald Sun reported yesterday that Hawker Britton claimed on its website to be working “in a senior strategic capacity” on the State Labor Party campaign although I could not find the reference when I looked.

The paper asked Premier Steve Bracks if he was aware of the involvement which produced this comment: “No, not that I’m aware of. We’re standing on our own record of what we’re doing.”

That Mr Bracks wants to distance himself from Hawker Britton is understandable given the publicity surrounding the firm’s senior partner, David White, who is a former State Labor Cabinet Minister and current president of the ALP agenda committee.

Mr White has been working for Tattersalls, which is trying to retain its share of the profitable duopoly which controls Victorian poker machines. The Herald Sun report said secret documents seen by the paper reveal how Mr White told Tattersall’s chiefs the Bracks Government favoured a deal to extend its control of Victoria’s $2.5 billion-a-year pokies industry with Mr White telling Tatts it would be given preferential treatment when tendering for new lucrative gaming licences.

Pretty standard fare for a lobbyist trying to justify a large fee, although when I was in the business I used to favour not putting things like that in writing. I found it had far more impact on chief executives to tell them something was too secret, and thus dangerous, to be spelled out. A lobbyist who goes in to too much detail about his activities runs the risk of being discovered to be a person who doesn’t actually do much at all.

Decisions like those awarding pokies licences are only nominally made by ministers. It would be a very courageous Cabinet that went against the advice of its public servants as to which bids made most economic sense. The real work for companies like Tatts is preparing the case that its proposal offers the best deal to the taxpayers of the State, not in pretending to glad-hand a few people in ministerial offices.

Peter Fray

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