On Monday, 23 October 2017, Lee asked the following questions of Senator Parry, President of the Senate, Mr Paul Cooper, First Assistant Secretary (DPS), Mr Robert Stefanic, Secretary (DPS), as part of Senate Estimates hearings by the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Senator RHIANNON: What is the total number of lobbyist passes currently in circulation?
Mr Cooper: I'll just look for you, Senator. As at 31 August 2017, we had 1,710 sponsored passes. Was that the category you were asking about?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes. 1,010?
Mr Cooper: No, 1,710.
Senator RHIANNON: When people are inquiring about the number of lobbyists, that's how many you'd say have access to the building at the moment, 1,710?
Mr Cooper: Of lobbyists, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: You can take this on notice: do you have figures on how many each year? I'm interested in seeing the movement, say, over the last five years for each financial year.
Mr Cooper: I can take that on notice. I don't have those numbers here.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it still the case that you don't release the names of those lobbyists?
Mr Cooper: That is the case, Senator.
Senator RHIANNON: Why is that the case?
The President: Well, Senator Rhiannon, if we start releasing names of everyone who has a pass to Parliament House, apart from the obvious ones, being senators and members, they are prone then to have their pass stolen or prone to be followed. There are many aspects to security in not releasing the names in a public setting. I'm sure that, if you wanted to ask privately if so and so had a pass or not, that would be facilitated but, certainly, not in a public forum.
Senator RHIANNON: In so many other parliaments—the British parliament and the US—all this is on the public record. Why was a decision taken not to release those names?
The President: I don't want to put anyone at risk.
Senator RHIANNON: Are you arguing it's a security issue?
The President: That's exactly what I'm suggesting. It's a potential threat. Why create a threat if you don't need to? But, again, if you want a question answered about who may or may not have a lobbyist pass, I'm happy for that to take place, but not in a public setting.
Senator RHIANNON: In terms of it being judged a security risk, is that your judgement? Have you had written advice from ASIO? How is this determined?
The President: It's been discussed, and it's been determined it is obviously a potential threat. If you issue names of people who have passes to this building, then those people, by definition, will potentially become the subject of someone wanting to obtain their pass and of the potential harm that could follow through that.
Senator RHIANNON: I take from what you've just said, President, that no written advice on this has come about from discussion. Who has had input into that discussion?
The President: I'll check about the written advice. But these matters are discussed constantly, whether it be through offices of departments or just in general terms with offices I deal with: with the Speaker's office, with my office, with staff—
Senator RHIANNON: Any ministerial input?
The President: Potentially. These discussions are ongoing. I discuss matters of parliamentary security on an ongoing basis with many people. It occupies a lot of my time.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it a security issue about a risk to those people, or a risk to this building?
The President: Well, both. If you get someone who wanted to identify themselves as a passholder, they could create a likeness to a passholder, steal the pass, do harm to the person of the pass they've stolen and then enter this building. That's a potential risk.
Senator RHIANNON: So you've had advice. Is there written advice that you can table, or advise us of, and put on the public record? Or is it ongoing discussion, which seems to be the tenor of what you're saying?
The President: It is constantly ongoing. This is a moving feast. It's a live issue, and we have to constantly assess it.
Senator RHIANNON: You are saying it's so important, so where it's coming from needs to be bedded down. Can you take on notice what form the advice takes, whether it is written advice and who from, and, if it's not written advice, how that decision is being made?
The President: I'll take it on notice and I'll see what I can provide back to you.
Senator RHIANNON: In 2012—I think this is for Mr Cooper—the review of lobbying regulations revealed there are about 4,000 lobbyists not covered by the regulations. If you're a lobbyist employed by BHP or one of the big corporations, you're not captured by the regulations. How many lobbyists are there estimated today operating in this building who are not covered by the regulations?
Mr Cooper: I would have to take that on notice. I'm not familiar with that report from 2012.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.
Mr Stefanic: Can I quickly clarify that the number of passes that's been quoted relates to sponsored passes—that is, the entirety of passes sponsored by parliamentarians. Lobbyists would be a subset of that. No assessment is made by DPS about who is a lobbyist and whether they adhere to a code. DPS's main requirement is that parliamentarians vouch for the individual that's applied for a pass.
Senator RHIANNON: Were you questioning the figure I gave then, the 4,000 figure, or the 1,700 figure? I'm sorry, I'm not sure what you are referring to.
Mr Stefanic: The 1,700 figure relates to all sponsored passholders.
Senator RHIANNON: But the 2012 review of lobbying regulations did give a figure greater than 4,000 of the total number of lobbyists. All I'm trying to do is find out what that figure would be today. Can you take that on notice?
Mr Stefanic: Just to restate: we don't make any assessments about who is a lobbyist and who isn't. That's not within our area of purview.
Senator RHIANNON: So you're saying you can't take it on notice? You don't have that information?
Mr Stefanic: I'm not in any position of authority to give you that information.
The President: You can be guaranteed, Senator Rhiannon, it is somewhat less than 1,710, because they're incorporated within that figure.
Senator RHIANNON: If it was 4,000 in 2012—we had a Senate review into this, which the Senate agreed to—how can you make the judgement that it is less than the 1,700?
The President: For two reasons. Firstly, the current figure of sponsored passholders is 1,710. Within that group of sponsored passholders exist people who would call themselves lobbyists. So it is somewhere between zero and 1,710. The department does not keep track—in fact, it does not assess—who is a lobbyist or who is not. These are passes sponsored by senators or members.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay. Thank you.
Senator SMITH: So the senator or member effectively vouch for the passholder?
The President: Correct. And I think the reason that has come down dramatically from 4,000 is that's probably when the Speaker and I started restricting who could have passes to the building.
Senator RHIANNON: On what basis did you make those restrictions?
The President: We just tightened up the provisions for people to obtain a pass, again, because we wanted to limit the number of people coming into this building—into the private areas, the secure areas, of the building.
Senator RHIANNON: So you mean 'tighten up the provisions' in terms of lobbying activities? Was it specifically that, or lots of things?
The President: No. Senators and members had a higher threshold of criteria in which to allocate passes. We conducted a table-top review, if you like, of who had passes to the building and we found there were far too many. We wanted to have legitimate needs for people to come into the building, into the secure areas. Anyone can come into the public areas of the building.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.