In 2011 the Greens' democracy spokesperson Lee Rhiannon successfully moved a Senate motion to initiate an inquiry into the operation of the federal Lobbying Code of Conduct and the Lobbyist Register.
The federal Lobbying Code of Conduct has been in operation since 1 July 2008. In September 2008 the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration recommended that it conduct an inquiry into the operation of the Code in the second half of 2009. However a proper inquiry had still not been conducted by 2011.
The outcome of the 2011 inquiry, which was overdue, proved 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.
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 also be captured, 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.
The Greens will continue to campaign for better regulation of lobbyists.
Summary of Greens recommendations: