FROM Jacob Saulwick City Editor SMH …
We’ve seen ‘em on the ground … lobbyists attach themselves ‘to do good’ campaigns …
FROM THE COMMENTS …
As someone has suggested … ‘commercial in confidence’ is a bogeyman with commercial interests overriding the public’s right to know that everything is above board …
If a person is named as likely to come into the realm of ‘public influencer’ … then shouldn’t their ‘public diary’ be public property? All day, every day?
No federal ICAC
for some reason the Liberals oppose it
nothing to hide
nothing to fear
I am surprised 100% of people don’t think this government is in business for anyone but themselves and their mates.
Time to out lobbyists who fly under the radar
City Editor July 6, 2019
Almost three in four Australians think people in government “look after themselves”.
More than one in two believe government is run “for a few big interests”.
The lack of trust represented by these viewpoints is increasing and, according to a paper recently prepared for the Independent Commission Against Corruption, is “likely to undermine support for representative democracy as a system of government”.
*Gladys Berejiklian’s administration has an opportunity to address this.
One way trust in representative government erodes is if the community believes its representatives do not tell them the real reasons for which contentious decisions are made. To this end, bodies such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption have recommended, and governments have adopted, to some degree, rules making attempts to influence public officials a bit transparent.
But there remain huge holes in the methods used to promote disclosure of lobbying practices in NSW.
Take a high-profile example: why was a company controlled by one of the country’s richest people able to build a luxury hotel and apartment tower on a virgin slab of publicly owned harbourside land? Not to mention gaining a casino licence for that site without public tender?
Maybe it was simply that the time was right for James Packer and Crown’s excellent idea. But maybe a 2012 meeting between Packer and then premier Barry O’Farrell – at Alan Jones’ apartment – played some role in conditioning O’Farrell’s support for Packer’s Barangaroo complex.
Or maybe that meeting was completely inconsequential. Either way, the fact that the meeting was never disclosed until last year, in Damon Kitney’s authorised biography of Packer, hardly bolsters community confidence in the decision-making process.
(The biography does not say whether the meeting occurred before or after Packer first unveiled his harbourside casino idea, which O’Farrell greeted with enthusiasm the following day. O’Farrell and a Crown representative did not respond to requests for comment. And to be fair to all involved, the hotel and casino project subsequently underwent the scrutiny of multiple independent government reviews, including ones chaired by David Murray and former Supreme Court judge Ken Handley, as well as numerous planning inquiries.)
The sons also rise: Macau casino tycoon on his long bond with Packer as he swoops in for Crown stake
In any case, this is not a question of potential corruption. It is a question of whether a meeting may have amounted to lobbying – and the public’s right to know about such meetings involving politicians or public officials.
And if a similar meeting occurred today, it is unclear if the public would get to know about it.
Former premier Mike Baird introduced a system by which government ministers must disclose their meeting diaries.
But would a private lunch at Jones’ home be recorded in the public diaries? Maybe, maybe not.
A register of lobbyists is another method that has been put in place to promote transparency in decision-making. But neither Packer, as a direct representative of his company, nor Jones, who was a relentless champion of the Barangaroo casino, would qualify as lobbyists for the purpose of the register. You might need to walk around with a large “L” around your neck to trouble the lobbyist register.
For its part, the ICAC has long thought more should be done. The last time the anti-corruption body conducted an investigation into lobbying in NSW, in 2010, it made 17 recommendations.
Five have been implemented.
In 2014 legal academics Yee-Fui Ng from Monash University and Joo-Cheong Tham from Melbourne University conducted a report for the Electoral Commission about the regulation of lobbying in NSW. Of the 22 recommendations in their report, six have been implemented.
Now the ICAC is looking at the issue again. It commissioned a research report by the Melbourne academics, from which the above figures about the lack of trust in government derive. Late this month or in early August it will start to hold public hearings about what might be done to improve the regulation of lobbying conduct and transparency in NSW.
*A few themes are likely to emerge. One is that the definition of lobbyist is too narrow. There is a good case that people who work in other professions in which government decision-making is vital – I’m thinking property development – should be better captured by lobbying regulations, even if they do not class themselves as “lobbyists”.
The recent ICAC inquiry into the former Canterbury Council, which is yet to make its findings, showed how developers and planning consultants working on their behalf can persistently make their case to officials, and yet not be caught up in the disclosure obligations on lobbyists. There’s a hole here to be filled.
A second theme is that there should be more of a positive onus on officials to disclose relevant contacts.
Let’s say a public official meets someone advocating for their interests, and it later emerges that this official could influence those interests. Why should they not tell the world about that meeting once the opportunity for the official to influence those interests has arisen? We want officials – politicians or public servants – to be talking to people in the real world.
But in the absence of a positive culture of disclosure, it is too easy to think the worst when they do. We want some openness about what influences them.
ICAC expects to issue its final report into lobbying regulation in October.
Jacob Saulwick is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.