Jul 16, 2014

The secret life of lobbyists

Why do some lobby groups get the audiences they want while others go home empty-handed? Colin Jacobs, a former staffer to Senator Richard Di Natale, explains the tricks of the trade.

As the 12 new senators who took their seats last week are finding out, being a member of Parliament brings with it both perks and liabilities. Along with the comcar, a plush seat inside the chamber and the discreet lapel pin (red for senators, green for reps) that all 226 MPs receive comes another certainty: a steady stream of lobbyists through the door. I witnessed this during three years as a political staffer dealing with lobbyists of all stripes.

The return on your lobbying dollar starts with getting in the MP’s door. The most reliable way to get a meeting is to know somebody within the MPs or minister’s office and call in a personal favour. This is a key reason why former staffers make such attractive recruits to government relations agencies, especially those with contacts inside the current government. (The door swings both ways, by the way — lobbyists also show up on ministerial staffs.) Other tactics employed by the pros include holding morning teas, meals or cocktail events in Parliament House.

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6 thoughts on “The secret life of lobbyists

  1. Gavin Moodie

    Thanx for this informative piece. Of course rarely can civil society groups afford polling or justify spending money on polling.

  2. bluepoppy

    Yes an interesting insight into lobbying. Australia has moved well away from a grass roots to vested interest policy in many respects. Let’s hope more politicians find courage to do what is ultimately in the best interests of people.

  3. paddy

    Well done Colin. This article passes the acid test.
    I’m better informed after reading it.

  4. Peter McArdle

    An interesting and fairly accurate article by Colin Jacobs.
    I spent many years as a lobbyist (I leave to others to judge my effectiveness).
    I was often frustrated by NGOs and other worthy causes who came to Canberra to lobby without understanding the fundamentals.
    Lobbying is like selling a used car. One tells the potential buyer why buying the used car would be good for them, not why one needs to sell the used car. In lobbying, one needs to be able to tell the government why doing something (such as spending money in a particular way) would be good for the government. Governments are no more interested in why you need the money than the buyer is interested in why you need to sell the used car. Many worthy causes fail to have an impact, usually defined as getting some money, because they do not understand the motivations and priorities of the political folks that they are lobbying. Homework is fundamental for any successful sales pitch. Lobbying is no different.

  5. Ray Butler

    The idea the system works on is that a strong economy translates to progressive standards of living across the board, although this is true to a degree it is more a bi-product of a strong economy, not a goal, the financial sectors are seeking out encouragement to invest and that means they are forever pushing to mitigate this bi-product, to them it is a consequence not a benefit.

    So social and environmental deregulations are heavily sought after in order to augment the bottom-line of investors, to encourage their business ventures, but the only real point of a strong economy is how it helps society, which they are driving contrary to.

    Some times an economic interest has enough to stand on to come independently but a lot of the time they come in through power brokers, notably the Mainstream Media, because Democracy works only when a politician is promoted to the public, and the most effective way is through the media, so if a politician wants to be promoted they need to do deals with the media giants, and those giants sell that influence to the financial sector that seek their agenda.

  6. Ray Butler

    Ultimately privatised media, notably journalism, is contrary to Democracy and social/environmental progress, as it decides the information furnished to the public and generally that information is based on profiteering, so we see sensationalism and entertainment value for ratings and advertisement and often strait up propaganda with cherry-picked or misinformation that promotes that agenda.

    Journalism is a public service and should be treated as such; where ratings and funding does not taint the integrity of delivery, if anything any kind of bonus should come from the quality of journalism not from exploiting public weakness.

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