Lobbing another lobbyist to the CCC. The Perth lobbyist John Halden has had a bit of experience of government inquiries. Back in the 1990s he had to front a Royal Commission about a petition he tabled when a Labor Member of the Legislative Council. That appearance led to a not guilty verdict after a 1998 criminal trial for perjury and the horrors of that experience must have been revived when Premier Alan Carpenter this week had his department refer to the Corruption and Crime Commission for investigation some remarks Mr Halden made about receiving information. From the distance of Canberra it is hard to realise what all the fuss is actually about but the activities of another pair of former Labor MPs turned lobbyists, Messrs Brian Burke and Julian Grill, have clearly changed the political rules out west. The Halden remark that caused the Premier to have him removed as the campaign manager for a Labor candidate standing at the next election and calling in the CCC was that, in the past, he had received confidential Cabinet information from indiscreet public servants. “I have never claimed to be the recipient of sensitive Cabinet information to the commercial advantage of my clients or myself,” he told the ABC later. “I made the point that the only examples of me ever being made aware of Cabinet information over a seven-year career was the inadvertent or indiscreet comment of some public servants regarding Cabinet decisions, after the fact. To portray this as systematic leaking or corrupt or improper conduct on my part or others is simply dishonest. I have been a lobbyist in Western Australia for the past seven years without a complaint of any nature ever being made against me.” And quite a successful lobbyist too it would seem from the profile in the WA Lobbyists Register. There are 30 clients listed ranging from Multiplex and the Seven Network to Minter Ellison and DLA Phillips Fox. At least access to the last two should come in handy in the CCC investigation actually comes to anything.

Watching the west at Hawker Britton. At the lobbying firm Hawker Britton they must be hoping that the idea it is somehow improper for a lobbyist to work on an election campaign does not catch on. This firm trades on its role as a Labor Party strategist as a way of getting clients as these extracts from its website show:

Since establishing Hawker Britton in 1997, he has continued to serve as a key political strategist in State, Territory and Federal election campaigns. His unrivalled political strategy and campaigning expertise bring a fresh approach to decision making in the corporate boardroom.

Hawker Britton remains a strong presence in Australian politics, having played a central strategic role in every Australian State and Federal election campaign since it was founded in 1997.

Not that there is anything peculiar to the Labor Party about the involvement of lobbyists in campaigning. In all of those I worked on for Bob Hawke while a sole trader peddling advice between elections to companies (and unkindly once described as “the lobbyist of last resort”), my counterpart at the Liberal Party campaign office was the highly recommended big company political consultant Jonathan Gaul.

A third party endorsement for diplomatic Kevin. I doubt that Kevin Rudd worries too much about complaints at home in Australia that his foreign policy is too prone to favour China at the expense of the Japanese and Indian democracies but third party endorsements are always nicer to read than criticisms. Hence The Financial Times of London should be in the Rudd good books following publication of “In China diplomacy, Rudd leads the way” on its editorial pages this week. Columnist Geoff Dyer singles the Australian Prime Minister out for praise in establishing a middle road between the quiet chat with the Chinese that gets ignored and standing on a soapbox which achieves nothing. As diplomats scramble in search of ways to conduct the conversation with China, writes Dyer, a lot of attention is being paid to the speech Kevin Rudd gave to students in Beijing two months ago. The article continues:

Mr Rudd used the speech to launch the idea of zhengyou, a 7th-century Chinese word for friendship. “A true friend is one who can be a zhengyou,” he said, which involves “the ability to engage in a direct, frank and ongoing dialogue about our fundamental interests and future vision.” His Chinese audience lapped it up.

All this may sound too clever by half to some ears, as if linguistic sleight-of-hand can somehow overcome deep disagreements. Yet by framing criticism in terms of Chinese tradition, Mr Rudd has established an interesting middle road between the quiet chat that gets ignored and standing on a soapbox to deliver lectures. Other governments are watching with interest.

A simple solution to conflict of interest? The inherent temptation for credit rating agencies to go a bit easy when they only get paid for their investigative work if they are given the nod by a company after they produce the rating is one of the factors that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has been looking at post the emergence of the sub-prime loans affair. Now it appears that Mr Cuomo has come up with a proposal that should stop bond issuers shopping around between rating agencies to get the best rating for their securities. Under the plan the agencies will be paid for their review, even if they are not hired subsequently to rate the deal which should make it easier for them to hand out a tough rating. In Australia the payment of ratings agencies is also currently under review.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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