As a former Labor Party campaign strategist and former lobbyist, I have some advice for Kevin Rudd.

Silence would have been the best policy for dealing with allegations about Brian Burke, but it’s too late for that silence now. Once you opened your mouth at last Thursday’s press conference the issue picked up an irreversible pace. As always happens, the attack quickly switched from when you met an evil man, and why, to an analysis of what you said about it. Truth is now the issue.

So let’s give the government a few home truths. Start with an analysis of the cosy relationships which exist between John Howard’s former ministers and key staff members acting as lobbyists for banks and other businesses and the Howard government today. Ask a series of questions about Max the Axe and Macquarie Bank. Who in the government has met Mr Max Moore-Wilton – when and why? Probe a little into conversations the PM has had with Graeme Morris, his media adviser who had to quit but remains a friend. What dealings have ministers and ministerial staff had with Mr Morris? What contracts does his employer PricewaterhouseCoopers currently have with which government departments?

Ask about the ethics of Arthur Sinodinos hopping straight into a private enterprise job where dealings with government provide the gravy train. Give a serve to the ethics of the government dealing with Mark Textor as its own lobbyist and as the paid lobbyists for businesses seeking government favours. Spread the truth far and wide about the incestuous nature of politics in a country where there are no formal controls at all on using insider knowledge.

And then really go on the attack. Righteous indignation is one of your strong suits. You thrive by appearing as the Mr Clean of Australian politics. Forget about stunts like calling for the PM to “bring it on now.” The people aren’t stupid. They realise that’s just airy-fairy political speak and that you know as well as they do that there’s no way John Howard is going to call an early election. This is the time not for rhetoric, but for promises that a truly clean-skin politician can keep. So get serious about the issue of governance and set down the principles a future Rudd Labor Government will follow when dealing with lobbyists.

Because most people don’t understand what these lobbyist people actually do, start off with a simple promise. Everyone can understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch. So — ban the free lunch. That’s what Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of the US president, did last year when bribery and corruption reared its head in his state of Florida. Make MPs write down, whenever they eat and drink without paying for it themselves, who picked up the tab. Yes – even those plastic chicken party dos. Make the record a public one. Put the same restriction on all the members of staff and senior public servants as well. Put an end to the acceptance of free tickets to the football and the ballet. Make pay-as-you-go the new Labor mantra.

Make openness your credo. Promise not just a register of lobbyists that only members of parliament and public servants can access like the Hawke government introduced and the Howard government got rid off. Rudd is fair dinkum. Who represents whom under Rudd Labor will be a public document. Make them disclose the fees paid to lobbyists as well. And this time don’t let the accounting and law firms pretend that they do not have to register. Define a lobbyist very broadly as anyone who represents someone else in dealings with government. Let’s have hefty fines for non-compliance.

And just for good measure, insist that lobbyists put on a public record every conversation they have with government – politician or public servant – on behalf of a client. You will have the lobbying industry in a spin with that one, but all the better. The more you can throw mud the more people will forget how the controversy you create actually started.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey