Rob Oakeshott has joined other independents and the Greens in calling for an extension of the Lobbyist Register to all Members of Parliament, saying he is concerned about the misinformation that comes from the lack of transparency in lobbying, particularly of the independents.
“A big ‘yes’ from me,” he told Crikey yesterday in response to queries about his view on extending the lobbyist code of conduct to those lobbying non-government MPs.
“We’ve been applying what we call the ‘Aussie’s Cafe Test’, which is that if someone wants to meet us that we’re concerned will be seen as a major influence, we take them down to Aussie’s [in Parliament House]. That way it’s in public and there’s some sunlight. Otherwise, there’s rumour and innuendo about who is influencing me.”
Two weeks ago Oakeshott and fellow independent Tony Windsor very publicly met with Andrew Forrest, who is still campaigning against the Government’s mining tax, at Aussie’s.
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Oakeshott also wants the Register extended to in-house lobbyists, saying it was unbelievable that, for example, representatives of industry peak bodies could operate out of sight.
As part of their deal to support the Gillard Government, Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, along with the Greens and Andrew Wilkie, agreed to the transfer of control of the Lobbyist Register from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet — which has efficiently established and run a reasonably user-friendly online resource, although it could do with some tweaking to make it more easily searchable — to a new Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner that will report to a Parliamentary Committee.
Even under the new arrangements, Australia still has a long way to go before it catches up with Canada, which since 2008 has had a best-practice model of lobbying regulation. There has been a legislated lobbyist register there since 1989, dealing with lobbying of any MP or public official, and including in-house lobbyists who are excluded from the Australian model. The Canadian model also differentiates between corporate and NGO lobbyists (both of whom are subject to regulation).
They also have a five-year cooling off period preventing former ministers and senior officials from lobbying in their former area. The Canadian register also requires lobbyists to identify what funding either they or the client they represent receive from government.
But in 2008 the Canadians overhauled their system to impose an additional requirement of monthly reporting of communication with key decision-makers such as ministers, senior officials and Defence personnel, and what the communication is about, with a new position of Lobbying Commissioner created and empowered to require decision-makers to verify the reports of lobbyists. The overhaul also included an outright ban on success fees, that had previously only been required to be disclosed.
The Greens want to pick up elements of this system in their proposed bill to regulate lobbying, although Bob Brown proposed quarterly reporting. Nick Xenophon told Crikey yesterday he supports MPs themselves disclosing whom they’ve met with.
In comparison to the Canadian model, the Faulkner reforms in 2008 look like baby steps — and apart from anything else our own arrangements aren’t legislated, but merely exist at the whom of the executive. Now is the time for the independents and the Greens to legislate a proper lobbyist regulatory scheme.