CHRISTIAN PORTER
Attorney-General Christian Porter

Ever since the official Commonwealth lobbyist register was transferred from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet next door to the Attorney-General’s Department, Christian Porter’s bureaucrats have made every post a winner. Not.

Things did, however, improve recently when AGD actually managed to get the search function working so that you don’t have to scroll through all 300-odd names to see which company was represented by whom.

But earlier this week, the lobbyist register team racked up a new achievement when they emailed registered lobbyists about mandatory reporting requirements and failed to BCC the address list. This meant that the email addresses of every registered lobbyist were broadcast to their competitors.

This is quite an achievement for the department that is specifically charged with administering the Privacy Act 1988.

“We apologise for this error,” AGD then told lobbyists in another email a short while later, after a period that was doubtless filled with dismay, angst and furious typing in the office.

“We would be grateful if — in the interests of maintaining the privacy of relevant information relating to registered lobbyists — you would delete records and copies of the earlier email and not disseminate them further,” lobbyists were urged.

Of course, no one is above the occasional IT bungle, and many of us have perpetrated some form of email faux pas in our careers.

Well done to AGD for ‘fessing up to clients, but we can’t help feeling they missed an opportunity to think of it not so much as a privacy breach, but as a transparency win for a scheme that is, after all, supposedly about making details of the interactions of government and the minority of lobbyists who actually have to register, more open to the public.

To their credit, AGD also proactively invited lobbyists to contact the relevant section if they had any specific concerns.

We’re delighted to see some old public service traditions die hard.

When can disgruntled lobbyists call the lobbyist register area? Between 9am and 12pm, and 2pm-5pm. Please don’t call them at lunchtime. All two hours of it.

Maybe they spend it feeding the hamster in the flywheel that powers the site. At least the section doesn’t close at 4.51pm, the traditional flextime knock-off time in the public service of old.

Peter Fray

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