The best government money can buy. If Australia had a version of the “revolving-door rule”, then Senator Arthur Sinodinos would not now be sweating on his appearance before the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. The alleged conflicts of interests in the dealings of Sinodinos and Eddie Obeid have highlighted the completely unregulated traffic between private enterprise, government and the lobbying industry in this country and why this should be changed.

It is a scandal that Australia does not have a rule aimed at preventing politicians and staffers from leaving government and going straight to work in the sector they have previously regulated, or to a highly paid job in a lobbying firm.

Although a recent crop of NSW politicians is gaining all the attention, this situation has been going on for decades. Former National Party ministers Larry Anthony, Mark Vaile and John Anderson “retired” to the private sector, former Labor Minister Mark Arbib went to work for James Packer, and Sinodinos, now reported to have vacated Rose Bay for Roselands, got a job in the banking sector. With one eye on their post-political careers and the expectation of “cashing in” after a stint in government, there is no incentive for pollies to change the law and cut off their future job prospects.

The federal Greens have tried to change this. Last year leader Christine Milne took to the election a policy to impose a five-year ban on ministers taking jobs as lobbyists. The policy would further ban ministers from becoming involved in any private enterprise related to their ministerial connections for two years. The policy has not been introduced to Parliament as yet.

France has rules about the revolving door, but it is the United States that has the strongest regulations, which include criminal sanctions for their breach. However, there are several loopholes that can be easily exploited. Generally speaking, US federal ethics rules are intended to limit lobbying by former senior officials within one year after they leave the government.

Independent South Australian politician Dr Bob Such presented a bill on lobbying and ministerial accountability to the South Australian Parliament in 2008, though it did not pass. Such, currently on sick leave following a tumultuous post-election week in South Australia, said in 2009 that relationships in the small state were too close:

“In Adelaide, the opportunities for undue influence are greater and the public would not have any idea of what goes on. The reality is that once parliamentary opponents leave Parliament, it’s a bit like the extended family mentality … Those ex-ministers or whatever are welcomed with open arms. It’s like they have been through the same private school together, mixed it in the playground, but now we’re mates, so let’s see how we can help each other.”

Now that he and his fellow SA independent Geoff Brock are powerbrokers, Such may find a better reception for his bill.

As the ICAC hearings roll on, Mark Twain’s maxim becomes more and more relevant. He often said that “we have the best government that money can buy”.

Hiding in plain sight. What do you do when you leave the house but need to be alone? Many of us who work from home have a sacrosanct daily ritual involving a local cafe, the newspaper and 30 minutes of peace. For years, I’ve worn sunglasses and earphones, but full protection is not guaranteed. If, like me, you are a misanthrope until lunchtime, then help is at hand. Last week I discovered the existence of a new app called Cloak, which can help to make you invisible.

After downloading Cloak for the first time, you can connect it with Foursquare and Instagram (with more networks to come soon). Cloak then plots where your Foursquare and Instagram contacts are, according to their most recent check-ins. You can casually check the map, or — for people you really want to avoid, like exes and the head of the tuckshop roster — “flag” them to receive an alert when they pass within a certain radius.

It is the latest in the recent trend of “anti-social”, or secretive, apps. Cloak describes itself as a method to “avoid exes, co-workers, that guy who likes to stop and chat — anyone you’d rather not run into”. Co-creator Chris Baker told The Washington Post that Cloak was typical of the direction social networking was taking:

“Personally, I think we’ve seen the crest of the big social network. Things like Twitter and Facebook are packed elevators where we’re all crammed in together… I think anti-social stuff is on the rise. You’ll be seeing more and more of these types of projects.”

I have mine programmed to tell me when the local trainer has entered the pub, so I can swap merlot for mineral water. There are times you don’t want to be caught red-handed.

Biennale art blitz. After all the shouting and arm-waving, the 2014 Sydney Biennale is finally open, and visitors can concentrate on the art. You Imagine What You Desire, curated by Juliana Engberg, contains more than 200 works from more than 90 artists celebrating the power of the imagination, with artworks ranging from site-specific installations to multimedia projects …


The Biennale is presented across five venues — the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Carriageworks, Artspace and the World Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island. It is open until June 9.

Peter Fray

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