A quick glance at the list of lobbyists registered under the rules introduced by the West Australian Government after the exposure given to the activities of former Labor Premier Brian Burke and his former ministerial colleague Julian Grill show one big weakness that Kevin Rudd needs to avoid if his system of regulating lobbying is to really mean anything.

In WA, “professionals, such as lawyers, accountants and town planners, where contact with government on behalf of a client may be an incidental but necessary part of their day to day work” are excluded from having to register. And, surprise, surprise, there does not seem to be a law firm or a major accountancy firm that is doing anything other than the “incidental but necessary part of their day to day work.”

As someone who once was on a retainer from one of the major accountancy firms, and did the odd job for a legal practice or two as well, this is just not credible. Both these professions do exactly the same kind of work as firms which describe themselves as being in the public relations or government relations business. Just as in Washington it is the law firms who do the dirty work for their clients, so too it is in Australia.

The Rudd rules when finalised will need to ensure that there are no exemptions from the registration provisions. Otherwise all the work of contacting and influencing governments will be hidden behind the words “incidental but necessary.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey