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Lobbyist inquiry a whitewash: Greens seek tougher regulation

Media Release
Lee Rhiannon 1 Mar 2012

A Senate inquiry into the federal regulation of lobbyists, reporting today, fails to make any recommendations for reform despite clear evidence that Australia lags behind countries like Canada and the US and widespread calls for the regulation of in-house lobbyists and the lobbying of all MPs, says Greens Senator and democracy spokesperson Lee Rhiannon.

The Greens’ dissenting report makes eight recommendations. They include establishing a Commissioner for Lobbying, regulating in-house lobbyists and the lobbying of all MPs, more detailed disclosure requirements and tougher sanctions (see below).

“This overdue review, which the Greens initiated, has been a whitewash. It shows the major parties’ desire to maintain the current scheme which is toothless and allows lobbying to continue behind closed doors, without public scrutiny,” Senator Rhiannon said.

“With the light off lobbyists in Canberra, it is impossible to see who is gaining access to politicians and high level bureaucrats and what deals are being done.

“The inquiry revealed that more than 4,000 lobbyists are not required to register because in-house lobbyists are not caught by the scheme.

“The limiting of regulation to third party lobbyists, or ‘hired guns’, is like using a butterfly net to capture a lion and leaves great slabs of lobbying out of reach of the scheme.

“The public remains unaware when and for what purpose big corporations such as BHP Billiton, interest groups like the AHA or Minerals Council, and non-profit organisations are lobbying in Canberra.

“Non-government MPs, including cross benchers and opposition MPs, should be caught, recognising that they are often key decision makers within the current parliament.

“The inquiry rejected calls for stronger reporting requirements, such as those in Canada and the UK, detailing when lobbying occurred, who stood to benefit, who was lobbied and the subject matter of the lobbying.

“It’s disappointing that the government is putting the interests of these powerful lobbyists ahead of the public interest.  Another reason major parties’ may be reluctant to pursue regulation is because many lobbyist firms and companies employing in-house lobbyists make significant political donations.

”The footprint that lobbyists leave should be clear for all to see. By sticking with the status quo this inquiry has allowed those with the deepest pockets and the most power and connections to retain the best chance of influencing government policy,” Senator Rhiannon said.

Download: Report including dissent report

Summary of Greens recommendations

  1. Establish an Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying
    The Australian Greens believe oversight of lobbying should rest with an independent body similar to the Canadian Commissioner of Lobbying.  This independent body would report direct to federal parliament and have auditing and investigative powers and a mandate to enforce a new Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.
  2. Provide a legislative framework
    The Australian Greens support a legislative framework for the regulation of lobbying.
  3. Expand who is the subject of lobbying
    The Australian Greens believe there is a strong case for expanding the target of lobbying from government ministers to include all MPs and Senators, including cross benchers and opposition MPs, as occurs in the US and Canada.
  4. Widen who is defined as a lobbyist
    Expand the scope of lobbying to include corporations and organisations employing in-house lobbyists, many of whom are in a position to influence government policy.
  5. Strengthen disclosure requirements
    The Australian Greens believe the scheme should require the disclosure, in a timely manner, of when the lobbying occurred, who stood to benefit, who was lobbied, the subject matter of the lobbying and the meeting outcome.
  6. Enhance compliance and review
    The Australian Greens support: the proposed Commissioner for Lobbying receiving and investigating complaints; strengthened and meaningful sanctions applying to MPs, public servants and lobbyists and proper appeal rights.
  7. Strengthen post separation employment provisions
    The Australian Greens believe there should be a five year ban on ex-ministers working as lobbyists.
  8. Ban success fees
    The Australian Greens support a ban on the payment of success fees to lobbyists.
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