Peter Costello let rip in Question Time yesterday:

Anyone who deals with Mr Brian Burke is morally and politically compromised. If the Leader of the Opposition thought that dealing with him in 2005 did not sully him, it did. The member for Perth knows it, the people of Western Australia know it and the people of Australia deserve an explanation as to what he was doing there.

The Reverend Tim should remind brother Peter of Matthew 7:3 … “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

Lobbying in Australia is a one billion dollar a year business that compromises people from all the political parties.

And it’s not just a matter of big money for lobbyists. It’s also big money for the parties themselves.

I’ve worked on both sides of the fence. I’ve been an adviser to two federal cabinet ministers and a state premier and the corporate relations manager to one of Australia’s largest infrastructure companies. And I’ve always been struck by just how dumb the top end of town can be when it comes to dealing with politics and politicians.

Brian Burke might be a disgraced former politician, but at least he was a successful politician. It’s amazing to see the shamed second raters who go knocking on doors around different CBDs – let alone who lets them in – but it’s all part of the game.

It’s not at all uncommon for suits to shell out a grand apiece to sit in a banquet room with a couple of hundred other suits – all just to bask in proximity to a senior state or federal pol. I’ve sat in rooms with people who have paid much, much more to for a more intimate chat over the table. My employers used to pay for me just to attend party meetings as a business observer.

People who hold jobs like the one I used to hold – most of them former staffers or party officials – have their cake and eat it. They pull big salaries, enjoy the dos and get to catch up with our old mates.

Lobbyists “advise” clients to attend these functions. They make money doing that. And the parties pocket the profits.

Julian Fitzgerald, author of the handbook on this sort of thing, Lobbying in Australia, has observed: “Whether they are dinners, presentations or meetings these are events at which fundraising and lobbying are combined. Why else would you pay to attend? The companies that send their executives to these dinners do so in the expectation of getting something in return.”

Little people, of course, can’t afford these functions. They don’t get to have a minister make up the tenth spot on their table.

So all the major parties are not just very, very busy operating in an ethical grey area.

They’re also actively engaged in a process that is profoundly anti-democratic.

Peter Fray

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