Written by Tom McIlroy, originally published in the Australian Financial Review on Oct 4, 2021
Australia’s lax lobbying regulations fall short of OECD standards and should be extended to include in-house government relations advisers and tougher enforcement, a new report says.
The Centre for Public Integrity review found changes recommended by the Commonwealth Auditor-General to end a “light touch approach” to monitoring and reporting of lobbying rules have not been put in place.
While the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recommends compliance rules should include visible sanctions such as public reporting of breaches, financial sanctions and prosecution in the most serious cases, Australia’s rules are not legislated and do not include tough enough punishments.
An audit in 2020 found arrangements to ensure effective communication, compliance and evaluation of federal rules were not in place.
Recommending a system more like the UK, Canada and the NSW state regime, the review said the cooling-off period for former ministers working in the area of their former portfolio needed to be boosted.
Currently, former federal ministers are required to wait 18 months before lobbying in areas related to their former responsibilities. About 38 per cent of registered lobbyists are former government representatives, such as ministers or senior public servants.
The rules only cover external lobbyists. Large firms that employ lobbyists or government relations staff in-house are not required to join the public disclosure register.
The public has a right to know who is lobbying MPs and whose interests they represent, said Geoffrey Watson, SC, Centre for Public Integrity director and transparency campaigner.
“MPs are paid to represent their electorates but in actual fact spend more time speaking with lobbyists than their constituents,” he said.
“Our national regulation of lobbyists falls short of OECD guidelines, ANAO recommendations, and examples set by the UK and Canada.
“We need stronger regulation of lobbyists set out in legislation, with proper enforcement and sanctions, and coverage of all lobbyists including those working in-house.”
In July, the Attorney-General’s Department told former foreign minister Julie Bishop she had not breached lobbying rules over her work on behalf of failed supply chain finance firm Greensill Capital.
Read the original article in the AFR here