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Companies

Oct 31, 2016

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Is Andrew Robb breaching the ministerial code of conduct with his post-political job with Landbridge Group?

Not necessarily. The relevant part of the code of conduct is:

“Ministers are required to undertake that, for an eighteen month period after ceasing to be a Minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as Minister in their last eighteen months in office. Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.”

So Robb has two requirements — not to use any confidential information he had access to as minister, and not lobby, advocate or meet with government ministers, parliamentarians or public servants until August next year, 18 months after he left office.

The first is virtually unknowable. The second is more testable. But what’s different about Robb is that, unlike most ministers, acquaintanceship with his former colleagues and an understanding of how party and parliamentary processes work isn’t the only string to his bow: Robb was an economist, a former head of the National Farmers’ Federation, and a board member of large companies before politics. The translated Landbridge statement about his appointment obtained by the ABC referred to his “global vision and global influence”, suggesting his links with foreign governments forged during his time as Trade Minister — including, presumably, the Chinese government — are also valued. So Landbridge could quite plausibly want Robb for skills other than his connections with Canberra, especially given his dogged advocacy of foreign investment.

In contrast to the case of Ian Macfarlane, it’s not anywhere near as open and shut. Macfarlane’s job as CEO of the Queensland Resources Council places him in a position where any contact he has with ministers, parliamentarians or public servants is likely to relate to the area of his ministerial responsibilities, resources. That Macfarlane’s job was waved through by Turnbull’s office suggests the ministerial code of conduct is virtually a dead letter under this government. But then, the code has no actual consequences for anyone who has left politics: the restriction entirely relates to politicians and public servants who remain in office — they are supposed to not meet with unregistered lobbyists, including former ministers, under the lobbying code of conduct. However, that only applies to third party lobbyists. A company or peak body executive (like Macfarlane), or in-house lobbyist, isn’t subject to the lobbying code of conduct, and ministers and officials can meet with them without any restriction.

The Canadians have a different approach. They don’t discriminate between in-house and consultant lobbyists — both are subject to the same rules. Former ministers and public servants are banned from lobbying at all for five years after leaving office. And their “code of conduct” is actual legislation, with actual fines and imprisonment for breaches, overseen by a Commissioner of Lobbying. The Canadians also have much stricter reporting requirements: lobbyists have to provide a monthly report on whom they contacted or met with.

A government serious about regulating lobbying would pick up at least some of those measures, because plainly having a lousy “code” that is ignored by the government of the day isn’t doing the trick.

Federal

Mar 2, 2012

5 comments

The major parties have declared all is well in the land of lobbying, with current “regulatory” arrangements deemed satisfactory in a Senate committee review initiated by the Greens. The Finance and Public Administration committee majority report, a bipartisan effort, determined that the current lobbyist register was:

“… working effectively and provides transparency to this very important aspect of government activity. The committee considers that it is meeting its aim of allowing ministers and other government representatives to identify the interests being represented to them by those on the Register.”

Note the rationale both for the omne bene conclusion and the register itself — it’s a tool for ministers, not a transparency or accountability mechanism. The Lobbyist Register is for the government to know who is lobbying it, not for the public to know who is trying to influence the government. There’s a significant divergence of interests right there.

The most obvious result of the divergence is that the current lobbyist register is confined to third-party lobbyists, rather than including everyone lobbying ministers, advisers and bureaucrats, and only applies to those lobbying ministers.

In the aftermath of the 2010 election, there was strong support from independent MPs like Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie to extend the current arrangements to all MPs. They had come under intense pressure from lobbyists in light of their new status as key swing votes on House of Representatives legislation. The current Register was established by Labor in the days of majority government.

To the extent that the committee report grapples with issues rather than simply listing what the committee was told via submissions and hearings, it determines that expanding the register to cover in-house lobbyists would mean expanding it to over 5000 entries and would require greater resources and staffing for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which currently maintains it.

Many lobbyists agree expanding the register to include in-house representatives is a significant task, not just because of the large number of corporations, unions, industry peak bodies and NGOs seeking to influence ministers, but because it would rope in a lot of industry consultation work that goes on between corporate representatives and bureaucrats in each portfolio.

Others are equally strongly of the view that it should be expanded. Guy Barnett, a former Liberal senator and now a lobbyist (disclosure: I do a regular segment with Guy on lobbying on ABC Brisbane), made a submission to the committee:

“… the Code does not apply to unions, trade associations, business or community organisations, which in turn covers the majority of all lobbying undertaken at any level of government. To be fair and consistent, it should. If not, why have a Code at all? The Code excludes its application to charitable, religious or other organisations endorsed as deductible gift recipients and not‐for‐profit organisations. It should include such organisations. Not‐for‐profit organisations are some of the largest and most influential organisations in Australia today.”

Barnett also urged the register be transferred to an independent body and be legislated, removing it from the direct control of the government of the day.

The Greens want to go further, and Lee Rhiannon submitted a dissenting report urging a switch to something very close to the hardline Canadian model, in which not merely is the register legislated, applies to all lobbyists and overseen by an independent body, but also extends the register to those lobbying MPs as well as government officials and ministers and would require lobbyists to regularly disclose who they met and what was discussed. This requirement, which is now in place in the UK as well, would be a huge development for transparency.

As Rhiannon notes, when John Faulkner established the Register in 2008 it wasn’t intended only as a tool for ministers and government officials, but for the public as well. The committee is engaging in a subtle sleight-of-hand when it declares it is currently meeting the goal of informing ministers and bureaucrats. The public interest in knowing who is trying to influence the government about what has been ignored by the major parties, leaving the bulk of lobbying to continue behind closed Canberran doors and at private functions where MPs mix with business, unions and NGOs out of the public gaze.

Here’s another, more radical proposal to think about: why not have a centralised transparency body, reporting to parliament, that provides not merely all lobbyists and their meetings with MPs and officials, but their donations to political parties and MPs, and MPs’ pecuniary interest disclosures, all in one online resource?

Federal

Apr 27, 2011

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It’s quite astounding that in the 21st century political lobbying is still considered an arcane practice. Those unfamiliar with its workings appear to include even members of the federal parliamentary press gallery.

This has been evident in recent times with media depictions of lobbying limited to large-scale advertising campaigns such as that conducted by the mining industry against the resources super profit tax.

In reality, advertising is a lobbying tactic of last resort, and in only a few cases does it ever deliver the desired outcome. For every successful advertising blitz like the miners’, there are many more that have failed. The retailers’ GST campaign, fronted by Gerry Harvey, is perhaps the most recent example.

Advertising is the lobbyist’s last resort because it’s effectively an admission of defeat by those running the campaign. Having to pour millions of dollars into the pockets of advertisers and media outlets is a clear concession that lobbyists have dropped the ball.

Why? Because real political lobbying is a strategic long-term activity, not a tactical short-term one. If all it took to influence government was a carpet-bomb advertising campaign then there would be no need for the hundreds of lobby groups that exist in Australia. Instead, each advertising agency would have their own in-house lobbying specialists and the Australian public would be constantly bombarded with advertising campaigns based on myriad political issues, not just consumer products as is the case now.

Perhaps the issue at the heart of this misperception is that lobbyists exist to stop governments from taking certain actions.

This is in fact only half the story; lobbying can also be about getting governments to do something. Many lobbyists, particularly those who represent the interests of business and industry, devote most of their efforts to securing policies and regulations that balance the government’s rightful protection of people and the environment with business’ right to make a profit.

So, how exactly is effective lobbying different from an advertising campaign?

Lobbying is strategic, which means it involves big-picture objectives and strategies to achieve them over long-term timeframes. Ask any effective lobbyist what they are doing for their members and they will speak in these terms. They will explain that some of their strategic goals may take two to three years or five to seven years to realise. And most will admit that the last place they want to be arguing their case is in the media.

Effective lobbying is based on an exceptionally good working knowledge of three things: politics, policy and business. That’s why most lobby groups have experts in each of these areas.

Even more important for effective lobbying is an understanding of how these three elements can align, interact or conflict.

Lobbyists use knowledge of this dynamic to ply their trade. In an ideal world, the policy they are lobbying for should satisfy the minister’s need for smart politics, the department’s need for sound policy, and their own members’ need for a continued license to operate.

Effective lobbying takes place behind the scenes, mostly at the departmental level. It focuses on the development, implementation or reform of policies, which ultimately become the laws that govern us.

Some of the contact that lobbyists have with departments is in the form of “stakeholder consultation”, where the department seeks feedback from affected groups on the details of policies that are being developed. This feedback is then taken into consideration as the policy is further refined.

However, the more astute lobbyist takes a proactive role and seeks to initiate new policies at either the political or the departmental level. This is no easy task and requires the lobbyist to know how to concurrently meet the needs of the minister, the department and his/her own members.

This again, is why lobbying is best played as a long game and not a short one.

Effective lobbyists develop networks of contacts in politics, the public service, the business community, non-government organisations and the media. These networks serve as a grapevine to keep the lobbyist abreast of all relevant information and to ideally keep them ahead of the game.

This intelligence helps the lobbyist understand the political implications of his/her member’s strategic goals, whether they are part of the policies being developed by the department, and the expectations and concerns of any opponents.

Only having considered all these factors and developed a solution that best fits all needs will the lobbyist have the basis upon which to pitch a proposal to the department or perhaps even the minister. Quite often market research or economic modelling is also required to demonstrate that political and public benefits can be delivered.

Having first engaged on the issue at the departmental level, the lobbyist would then provide complementary briefings to MPs, ministerial advisers and relevant journalists (usually on a background basis). This pincer-movement strategy has the best chance of securing the attention of decision makers and creating the necessary momentum to get a favourable policy decision.

The long game is imperative because sometimes one must wait through several budgetary or legislative cycles before the right opportunity presents itself to pitch such a proposal.

Admittedly, despite having a sound strategy and the patience of a saint, there are still times when a lobbyist will realise that the time, effort and resources they’ve invested in working through departmental and ministerial channels has been in vain.

Sometimes the situation is retrievable, such as when a policy is released for public discussion, either through the green paper process or a regulatory impact statement.

It may then be appropriate to start an advertising campaign, but this will be done in the knowledge that it is the final resort and will be seen as a very public last-gasp attempt to shanghai the minister into a favourable decision.

More often than not, this tactic will fail because it’s seen by politicians and public servants as unnecessarily aggressive, overtly disruptive and ultimately self-centred. None of these perceptions serve well when one is trying to influence government.

For completeness, it must also be stressed that there are other times when there is little or no opportunity to influence the outcome.

This is particularly the case with the budget night shock announcement, when a new tax or funding cut has been concocted in the minister’s office or kept under wraps in the department, leaving the affected stakeholders none the wiser until it’s too late to do anything than add their bleats to the cacophony of others disaffected by the same budget.

So, there you have it. The profession of lobbying is certainly not rocket science, but it’s a nuanced practice nonetheless. It’s an activity that admittedly occurs under the radar, but which bears little resemblance to the media depictions of shiny suits trailing into ministers’ offices threatening ad campaigns if they don’t get their wicked way.

A final important point to remember is that lobbyists represent a much broader range of interests than just big business. Equally large and influential lobby groups also represent pharmacists, teachers, independent shop owners, superannuants, and the environment movement for example.

Lobbyists have a legitimate part to play in a vibrant democracy such as ours. This would be better accepted if the media made a greater effort to understand it.

This first appeared on Drag0nista’s Blog.

In the ’80s and ’90s DragOnista was a fiercely partisan political operator, today she’s an apolitical sceptic still hopelessly attracted to the world of politics. Core values are conservative but liberal, she doesn’t support any political party and she doesn’t vote. Pet peeves are journalists with no sense of history, self-fulfilling opinion polls and the abuse of apostrophes. Drag0nista is her writing persona — nothing more or less. She blogs here.

Federal

Sep 16, 2010

5 comments

Under the Old Paradigm™ it was clear whom you should lobby in Canberra: to change policy you lobbied ministers, key backbenchers and senior bureaucrats; to change legislation you lobbied same, plus the cross-bench senators if the Opposition was opposing the legislation.

The Lobbyist Code of Conduct set up by John Faulkner in 2008, which included the first federal lobbyist register, was established on this basis. It only applies to government ministers, their staff and bureaucrats, who are prohibited from being lobbied by lobbyists not on the register but required to be so.

Now, Labor’s register has its own problems. The omission of in-house lobbyists remains a serious issue, and one that grates with third-party lobbyists who are happy to comply with the Code of Conduct but who wonder, correctly, why being a lobbyist for a single client is any different to lobbying for several. And large-scale firms such as Ernst and Young continue to take advantage of the exemption for accounting and law firms to conduct lobbying activities without public scrutiny — a Washington tradition that has been developing in Australia for several years (KPMG, however, recently joined the register). A discussion paper on changes to Lobbyist Register issued by former Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig raised the issue of extending the register to in-house lobbyists.

But with a minority government, the basis of the register and the code of conduct is now out of date. All MPs, but particularly the Independents, have the fate of legislation in their hands. Despite that, there’s no requirement for someone lobbying an independent MP or a Coalition MP to be on the Lobbyist Register or abide by the code of conduct.

This may not be an enormous problem if you assume most third-party lobbyists are already on the register as they extend their activities to non-government MPs. However, a minority government and a chamber in which every government Bill can be defeated now means a lot more stakeholders have a lot more opportunities to influence legislative outcomes. The Lobbyist Register itself has already expanded by five firms in the past two weeks.

Crikey raised the issue with non-government parties and the independents: do they support extending the lobbyist code of conduct and register requirement to lobbyists meeting all MPs, and in the interim would they voluntarily abide by the code, or reveal with whom they met.

The Greens pointed to the Lobbyists and Ministerial Accountability Bill that Bob Brown introduced in 2007, which required lobbyists to report quarterly on what they lobbied on, whom they lobbied and when. The requirement extended to all MPs and their staff and included in-house lobbyists. Bob Brown would be reintroducing the Bill when Parliament resumed, said the Greens.

Nick Xenophon has a similar approach. “Given MPs are public servants, the public has a right to know who their politicians are meeting with,” a spokesman said. “Nick believes the lobbyists’ code of conduct should be extended to all MPs, not just government MPs. He also believes MPs should have to reveal publicly all of the lobbyists they meet with as they meet with them. This could be done on a website at minimal cost. It would impose a minor administrative burden on an MP’s office, but these meetings are diarised so it shouldn’t be that hard to show who an MP is talking to and the frequency of those discussions.”

Andrew Wilkie said that in response to our query he had asked his staff to require all bodies seeking meetings to ensure they complied with the Lobbyist Code of Conduct and if necessary be registered. Wilkie pointed out that as part of his agreement with the government, similar to that of the other Independents, the lobbyist register would be moved under the Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner. Wilkie was also had an open mind, he said, on revealing all meetings. “If someone doesn’t want it made public that they’ve met with you, it obviously raises questions.”

The office of Gary Gray, the new Special Minister of State, was still being established today and couldn’t provide a response. The Opposition did not respond by deadline. The response of Bob Katter (on leave), Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor will be posted as they’re provided.

Federal

Sep 8, 2009

5 comments

Federal Parliament now has at least four lobbyists for every MP and Senator, according to the Government’s Register of Lobbyists, or just under 14 for every minister and shadow minister.

The Commonwealth Lobbyist Register currently contains 631 individual lobbyists working for 267 companies, following the consolidation of several firms.

However, these are only registered third-party lobbyists. The Government does not require companies’ in-house lobbyists, or the staff of industry bodies, or NGO representatives, whose full-time job is trying to influence Parliamentarians, to register.

In 2006, Press Gallery lobbying guru Julian Fitzgerald calculated that non-third party lobbyists had over 2431 staff, including 260 public relations officers. Based on Fitzgerald’s figures, there are currently nearly 900 full-time lobbyists.

In Canada, where registration of all lobbyists and identification who they are lobbying and why is mandatory, there were 867 third-party lobbyists and another 1754 in-house lobbyists in 2008. Using the Canadian ratio, that suggests up to 1900 lobbyists could be engaged in trying to influence politicians in Canberra — or more than 8 lobbyists for every individual politician in Federal Parliament.

The number of lobbyists per parliamentarian in Canada is just over six.

In the United Kingdom, where there is virtually no regulation of lobbying of any kind, the number of lobbyists is thought to be over 14,000, meaning 10 lobbyists for every MP and member of the House of Lords, although attention is primarily focussed on House of Commons MPs, who are said to receive up to 20 approaches a week from lobbyists. The actual numbers remain a matter for speculation.

Washington, DC is of course the world capital of lobbying, where public policy is systematically and routinely debauched by lobbyists and party donors. The recession had led to a shake-out of lobbyist ranks but this year there are still over 12,000 lobbyists (down from over 15,000 in 2007), or 23.5 for every single senator and congressman or woman. The US political system allows greater freedom by politicians, with the whip used considerably less in Congress by both sides to control voting, and not at all in the Senate. This maximises both the difficulties and opportunities for lobbyists seeking ways to stymie a bill or get one passed.

The US system shows that even a transparent process of registration does not deter lobbyists; the circumscription of unwarranted external influences requires a comprehensive approach involving electoral donation and spending reform, greater transparency of ministerial meetings and full disclosure by lobbyists of their financial arrangements and clients.

In some ways our Lobbyist Register only gives an insight into the most anodyne end of lobbying. While the biggest and most influential third-party players are on the list — Hawker Britton, GRA, CPR, Kreab Gavin Anderson — the bulk of entries are, in some cases literally, mum-and-dad operations with one lobbyist and only a couple of clients – and frequently not companies or industries but NGOs or school or community associations.

But the most powerful and influential people the in the country — the representatives of industry associations like Heather Ridout who is on Kevin Rudd’s speed dial and is a regular appointee to Government reviews, or senior business figures like Rod Eddington, or prominent trade unionists — have unlimited access to decision makers well beyond any form of transparency.

At the moment, only Anna Bligh has demonstrated any commitment to the sort of comprehensive reform that would reduce our now well-entrenched political culture of access for special interests. While we may never end up quite as bad as the United States, that’s the template for what happens when a democracy allows lobbyists free reign.

Federal

Jul 1, 2009

5 comments

The Rudd Government’s Lobbyist Register celebrates its first birthday today and is in rude health. According to new figures from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009, there were 653 individual lobbyists operating in the corridors of Parliament. The list is growing at about 3-4 per week and shows no sign of slowing.

The Register was a major step forward for accountability that brought the Commonwealth into line with a growing number of states, as well as other countries such as Canada. But as Crikey noted at the time the Register was announced by then-Special Minister of State John Faulkner, it covers just a small part of the lobbying industry in Canberra. The register only requires so-called third party lobbyists to register themselves and their clients. All other lobbyists- such as industry or professional associations and non-government organisations – escape any level of scrutiny.

Julian Fitzgerald is the Press Gallery’s resident lobbying guru and author of Lobbying in Australia. In 2006, he estimated that non-third party lobbyists spent $1 billion lobbying Canberra and had over 2,431 staff that included 260 public relations officers. He believes that figure to be closer to $1.5 billion today. But, Fitzgerald recently told the Public Relations Institute of Australia, he was “stunned at the number of third party lobbyists operating in Canberra”.

Fitzgerald told Crikey that he is concerned that few politicians are aware of how deeply imbedded the lobbyists have become not just around Parliament House but in lobbying the Commonwealth public service and lobbying and spruiking Government programs.

“These 653 individuals only represent the senior lobbyists involved in accessing Ministers in each major company and this does not accurately reflect the large number of staff essentially conducting the lobbying activities on behalf of a client.”

Fitzgerald wants greater regulation of the industry, which would include all lobbyists disclosing how much money they spent on lobbying and publicly disclosing all Commonwealth funds received to lobby, run and administer themselves or federal government programs. Prime Minister and Cabinet already employ four people to run the register and they should and could do more to protect the parliamentary system from these thousands of lobbyist operating in Canberra.

“Lobbyists have better access to Parliament and the bureaucracy than the citizens and taxpayers of the nation,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s time the Rudd Government acknowledged that.”

Tips and rumours

Jun 23, 2009

5 comments

Well-sourced rumour is that David Jones are mightily displeased that their advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi dumped them in it by making pre-teen girls in its ads look sexy — and being careless enough to put it in writing. DJ’s marketing head, Damien Eales (brother of ex rugby captain John) swore blind his company would never do such a thing, and is embarrassed by the Saatchi document uncovered through FoI that proves the opposite. DJs are now looking for a new advertiser, one that will respect the ‘family friendly’ brand. DJs was one of Saatchi’s biggest accounts, and heads are expected to roll.

Four leading rugby union players are in hot water for committing offences normally associated with rugby league. One of the rugger offenders is on the brink of announcing his retirement from the game and the careers of the other three are under a cloud. The Australian Rugby Union establishment is attempting to keep a lid on the whole affair.

Word of redundancies at Malcolm Turnbull’s hedge fund and investment management business Pengana Capital run by Russel Pillimer following the downgrading of several products recently by ratings agencies. Not sure how poor performance can be the fault of marketing staff but they’re certainly taking the fall.

Your story in yesterday’s “Tips and rumours” about the Lobbyist Register cock-up omitted one important detail. The offending email — sent to all 269 lobbyists, with email contacts for all displayed — was sent on 17 June, promptly recalled… then sent again 15 minutes later, complete with addresses still on display! Then came the grovelling apology two days later. At least I’ve got a good list of people to forward my CV too.

Surely more offensive than babies in the Chamber was the MP yesterday in the Reps, who featured in today’s ABC live coverage chewing gum, and with her mouth open.

Queensland nightclub using the image of underage Eastern European sex slaves to promote its club.

Noel Crichton-Browne writes “Senator Hanson-Young receives a generous $160,000 annual salary package, vastly more than she earned in her former occupation as a bank clerk, which provides more than adequate financial opportunity for her to employ a baby sitter. Courtesy of the tax-payers, Parliament House provides an “on the job” crèche and child care centre.”

Senator Hanson-Young’s daughter has a full-time nanny, so the inference that the Senator is too stingy to “employ a baby-sitter” is simply untrue. Secondly, although there is a child care centre in Parliament House, it is only available to children aged 18 months and younger; the child in question is two.

It seems that RMIT University may have set a new standard of academic appointment. Which acting Dean has no degree? This comment indicates that RMIT is just following the excellent precedent set by Cambridge in appointing A E Housman to a chair of classics in 1911. Although having no degree, Housman was considered to be one of the leading classical scholars of his day.

Politics

Nov 13, 2008

5 comments

If, as the AFR’s Ingrid Mansell suggests today, Qantas sells 40% of its Frequent Flyer unit, it will make David Epstein’s life a little more complicated in his new role at our major airline.

Such a sale would throw into relief the operation of the Government’s lobbying code of conduct, and a little-known requirement that many in-house lobbyists would almost certainly not be aware of.

This gets a bit technical but hang in there.

As we’ve noted with almost painful regularity, the lobbyist code of conduct and register only applies to third-party lobbyists. In-house lobbyists — the full-time heads of government relations and corporate affairs and their staff — are exempt. The code makes it clear that it does not apply to “any person, company or organisation, or the employees of such company or organisation, engaging in lobbying activities on their own behalf rather than for a client.”

Many company lawyers and lobbyists would have read that and assumed they weren’t covered.

But it’s not so simple. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet provided an FAQ about the code — one that was amended after discussions with industry before the operation of the Lobbyist Register commenced in July. The FAQ is on the website but doesn’t form part of the code. Good lawyers and lobbyists would have dug down to find it. Others may not have been so diligent.

The problem with defining in-house lobbyists is that many large corporate entities have multiple firms under the corporate brand, and no all of them are fully owned by the parent company. That doesn’t just apply to the likes of Macquarie Bank and Babcock and Brown and their investment funds, but too many large corporates that have structured themselves into separate companies.

The FAQ explicitly addresses that situation, and says you’re not an in-house lobbyist if you represent a company within your group that isn’t fully-owned. Like a 60% Frequent Flyer program.

The FAQ says:

What if the employees of a wholly owned company in a group structure lobby on behalf of another company within the group that is not wholly owned?

A group company that is not wholly owned must, by definition, have other individuals or companies outside the corporate group who stand to benefit from any lobbying activity undertaken on its behalf.

Accordingly, if a group company is engaged to lobby on behalf of a non wholly owned company, the employees who lobby on its behalf are regarded as lobbying on behalf of a third party. In these circumstances:

  • the company that employs the relevant staff should be registered as a lobbyist;
  • the relevant staff of that company should be registered as employees who undertake lobbying activities;
  • and the non wholly owned company should be listed as a client.

The non-wholly owned company should be identified as a client when lobbying activities are undertaken on its behalf, and removed from the list of clients no later than three months after the lobbying activities have concluded.

John Faulkner told the Senate yesterday that David Epstein has voluntarily offered not to lobby on Qantas’s behalf for twelve months on any issue he had official dealings with — the same requirement as would apply if he were a third-party lobbyist under the code of conduct. Fair enough.

However, if the Frequent Flyer sale goes ahead, Epstein would be banned outright from lobbying in relation to Frequent Flyer issues. And after 12 months, he’ll have to go on the Lobbyist Register. And what are Frequent Flyer issues anyway? Surely they couldn’t be separated from general aviation issues.

This little scenario would be widespread across large companies — and in the media sector, in particular, where cross-ownership of companies abounds and the big TV networks are owned by private equity. No one from CVC, for example, could lobby on behalf of the Nine Network unless they were registered as a lobbyist or were also an employee or director of Nine.

There’s a good chance plenty of in-house lobbyists aren’t aware of this and have been discussing companies under their corporate brand with Ministers and officials, unaware that the part-ownership of those companies means they’re breaching the code.

Ministers and their officials wouldn’t be aware of the breach because few of them are aware of the full ownership structures of the companies who lobby them. In my days as a bureaucrat, I tried to ascertain the ownership structures of companies whenever they sent representatives or executives to meet the Minister. But it could be hard work, and wasn’t always possible.

A diligent, intelligent Opposition might find this a useful avenue to explore via Senate Estimates or Questions on Notice. There are likely to have been multiple breaches of the lobbyist code already. They would be inadvertent, and the fault of lobbyists rather than Ministers, but they’d be breaches nonetheless.

Politics

Nov 11, 2008

5 comments

No politician looks good fundraising. It’s an unedifying practice, one they’d prefer to do out of sight of the public, before whom they’d like to preserve a bit of the romance and magic of high office. But even the most statesmanlike MP has to get down and dirty with donors.

But as a rule, it’s not a good look for one side of politics to bag the other about fundraising. Alas, most Oppositions can’t resist having a go at the party in government for exploiting its access to power for all it’s worth to business – which is quite a lot.

All that applies to criticism of Federal Labor for hosting a first anniversary fundraiser later this month. All that and more.

Barry O’Farrell criticised the event because it will only be a short time after the NSW State Government has brought down its mini-budget. “At a time when Kevin Rudd’s working families are about to be slugged by a financially incompetent state Labor Government,” O’Farrell opined, “this sort of extravagance is a bit like gorging in front of a starving family.”

Geez Barry, they’re holding the dinner at the Sydney Convention Centre, not in the lounge room of some battlers in Macquarie Fields.

But then Michael Ronaldson, shadow special minister of state, opened his mouth. Senator Ronaldson is the Opposition’s spokesman on accountability. The dinner, according to Ronaldson, was “the very definition of hypocrisy. Kevin Rudd has made a habit of preaching about how virtuous Labor is in relation to political donations and fund-raising. Now we discover Kevin 08 is selling democracy for $15,000 a table.”

Last time I checked, hypocrisy meant pretending to believe something one does not, a disparity usually revealed by one’s actions. Let’s consider the Government’s actions. Labor is selling access, if not democracy, and making plenty from it. It looks unsavoury, but it’s within the rules — rules laid down by the Coalition. In May, the Government introduced legislation to change some of those rules — reversing the Howard Government’s reductions in reporting requirements for political donations, banning foreign donations and tightening donation and funding processes. It also announced a Green Paper on electoral reform, including a ban on donations.

What did the Coalition do? They effectively blocked the bill by referring it to a committee until June 2009. In fact the committee reported last month — but the Coalition linked it to another inquiry into the 2007 election, due to report next year. In a derisory submission to the inquiry, the Liberals declared they were “opposed to the bill proceeding at this time.” In a dissenting report, Liberal Senators complained that the bill pre-empted the Green Paper, and called for a higher threshold for anonymous donations.

As we know, the Coalition wants to retain the Howard Government’s $11,000+ reporting threshold, which led to a significant drop in the amount of information available about who is funding political parties. It claims that this is because donors are too frightened of reprisals to give money to conservative candidates, but no evidence for this has ever been produced.

Then again, the Coalition hasn’t supported any of the Government’s other accountability reforms implemented by Special Minister of State John Faulkner.

Faulkner introduced a new ministerial code of conduct, including bans on fundraising at Kirribilli and the Lodge and a cooling-off period to prevent ministers from retiring one day and returning the next as lobbyists for the firms they dealt with. Ronaldson bagged the code. “The community will be deeply cynical about their motives,” he said.

Faulkner introduced merit-based selection processes for non-APS heads of government authorities and companies. There was no response from the Coalition, whose record in independent appointments was appalling.

He introduced a code of conduct and Register of Lobbyists. Ronaldson’s response was to object to ministerial staff being blocked from moving directly into lobbying positions, and to claim that Labor would simply ignore the rules.

Faulkner introduced new guidelines for government advertising, and removed the overt political control of advertising established by the Howard Government. The Coalition — responsible for the most profligate and politicised used of taxpayer-funded advertising ever — criticised the guidelines.

Faulkner abolished Freedom of Information conclusive certificates as a prelude to full-blown FOI reform, including the establishment of an FOI Commissioner. The Coalition said nothing about it.

He introduced a ministerial staff code of conduct, described by Ronaldson as “policy on the run”, “toothless” and “unenforceable.”

He cut back on MPs’ printing entitlements. You can bet that made him enormously popular with colleagues. Again, no response from the Coalition.

Faulkner could have done more — the lobbyist register doesn’t include in-house lobbyists, FOI and privacy reform are going to take until 2009-10 and the Green Paper is a long time coming — but he has more than met expectations in improving accountability, reversing the excesses of the Howard years, when accountability became a dead letter, and going further to introduce unprecedented transparency into the Commonwealth Government.

In rather dire contrast, Michael Ronaldson’s main contribution on the accountability front — in between doing the numbers for Malcolm Turnbull and fighting factional wars in the Victorian Liberal Party — has been to repeatedly attack the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff for being married to a lobbyist, to mock a Prime Ministerial staff member as a “valet”, claim another staff member was working for Therese Rein’s private interests, and to join Connie Fierravanti-Wells at Estimates in chasing the Prime Minister’s pets around the grounds of the Lodge.

If the Coalition doesn’t like the ALP raising funds, perhaps it should drop the cynical politics and get serious about backing electoral donations reform. But, in their case, supporting any sort of improvement in accountability would be a start.

Politics

Jul 21, 2008

5 comments

The Lobbyist Register is a gift that keeps on giving for shedding light on the extensive links between third-party lobbyists (remember they are the only ones on there — in-house lobbyists continue to operate in secret) and Labor politicians.

And while the Register is in part designed to ensure that the likes of Brian Burke could never gain access to key decision makers, it shows that lobbyists at the heart of the WA Labor Government’s problems with probity and influence-peddling are plying their trade in Canberra.

Peter Clough, who was entangled in the WA Corruption and Crime Commission’s investigation of Brian Burke’s activities with the State Labor Government, registered shortly before the scheme’s commencement on 1 July. Clough, a former Labor staffer, senior public servant and lobbyist for Western Mining, was last month kicked off the election campaign of State Labor Secretary Bill Johnston under Alan Carpenter’s crackdown on lobbyists managing election campaigns.

Three other lobbyists — ex-MP John Halden, who had boasted of receiving leaked Cabinet information (although the key issue in Perth seems to be more who does not receive leaked Cabinet information), Daniel Smith and John Whitelaw, were also removed from campaign management roles.

All three are on the lobbyist register as well. Halden runs Halden Burns with former West Australian political editor Anne Burns. The firm’s Principal Consultant is former journalist Karen Brown, who is standing at the election for Labor in the new seat of Mt Lawley. It was her campaign from which Halden was booted. Whitelaw, a former Labor staffer, heads the Perth office of Hawker Britton, the ne plus ultra of Labor-connected lobbyists. Smith, another former Labor staffer and resources company lobbyist, is at CPR, where he works with Roger Cook, who is standing for Labor for the seat of Kwinana.

Clough was caught up in the CCC’s investigation of Brian Burke when their somewhat bemused discussion of their promotion of a local councillor was caught on tape. Clough also operates as the Western Australian office of Queensland-based lobbyists Enhance Corporate, run by Vern Wills with former Labor minister Jim Elder. The links between Wills and top Queensland Government public servant Scott Flavell are under investigation by the Crime and Misconduct Commission. Flavell has extensive Labor Party connections in Queensland.

Clough’s clients are an eclectic group but skew heavily toward resources companies. The sector has very good connections with WA Labor — Gary Gray, former ALP national secretary, Kim Beazley’s replacement in the seat of Brand and now Parliamentary Secretary to Anthony Albanese, worked for Woodside Petroleum for several years in the early part of this decade. As it turns out, resources companies will be among the lobbyists working hardest to convince the Government to further water down its proposed Emissions Trading Scheme.

This rotating mix of public servants, ministerial staffers, politicians and lobbyists intersecting, influencing one another, changing jobs and doing it all over again in a different role, is a perfect example of modern politics – in the broadest sense, and from Federal politics right down to local councils — at work. At least John Faulkner has slowed down the process of staffers, senior public servants and politicians job-swapping by banning them from moving into industries for which they had responsibility for an extended period. Beyond that, all we can do is use the Register to keep an eye on this process. It won’t stop — indeed, with the ALP in power everywhere, it will only get worse.