Attorney-General Christian Porter AAT scandal
Attorney-General Christian Porter (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Australia’s key measure in making sure the public know who is lobbying whom is broken, and a scathing report lays the blame squarely at one body: the Attorney-General’s Department.

The Lobbyists Register — maintained by the department after being moved from Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2018 — is supposed to record details of every lobbyist who peruses the hallways of Parliament House so that the public is informed of any political interference that may be going on behind closed doors.

But a report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has found that, even after promising to fix it up, the government has failed to ensure the register is doing its one basic job: keeping track of lobbyists and who they represent. 

The ANAO was critical of the department’s failure to implement recommendations from an earlier audit, such as raising awareness of the Lobbying Code required for lobbyists. It recommended the department reevaluate whether it was able to use the register effectively to monitor contact between lobbyists and government representatives.

Anthony Whealy QC, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and chairman of the Centre for Public Integrity, told Crikey that the report highlighted the department’s inability to run the scheme.

“The whole purpose of this scheme is to promote transparency, integrity and honesty in relation to govt dealing with lobbyists,” he said.

“If this were an exam, Christian Porter would have failed.”

Crikey has reported on the department’s poor record when it comes to handling the register, which is only required to list the details of independent lobbyists, not the myriad of lobbyists working in-house at big companies. 

In January we reported on how it accidentally broadcast the email addresses of everyone on the register. That was after it managed to finally get the register’s search function to actually work so that you could see which company was represented by whom. 

But perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much from the department that has also been responsible for ignoring a letter from Lindt Cafe siege perpetrator Man Haron Monis which might have alerted authorities to his intentions, as well as campaigning against media freedom through its tactics in the prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery.

In response to the ANAO report, the Atorney-General’s Department said it accepted the recommendations in the report and would “work to ensure the integrity objectives of the Lobbyist Register are supported”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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