IT would seem appropriate for ‘the ICAC Letter’ to have been forwarded to all those MPs who have acted in the role of Planning Minister in NSW from 2011 to date … in that the developer lobby organisations of the Property Council of Australia, Urban Taskforce and others have exerted enormous influence resulting in Planning Law changes for not only rezoning for higher density of high-rise residential but …
-exempt and complying development
-strata law changes
-the medium-density housing code
-the Greenfields Housing Code (200M2 X 6M wide lots)
-Planning Ministerial Corporation
-so called Independent Hearing Assessment Panels
December 2017 … The Greens called for Political Donation Reform after a look at Minister Roberts’ Diary!
NSW PLANNING MINISTER, Anthony Roberts met with 53 PROPERTY DEVELOPERS or property interest groups between January and September in 2017
The ICAC launched Operation Eclipse last April, investigating whether there is adequate disclosure of lobbying activities and whether current regulations are working.
“Other than some instances where third-party lobbyists may have failed to update relevant documentation, no lobbyist has been suspended or placed on the watch list,” an interim Operation Eclipse report, released by the ICAC in October, noted.
“This may suggest that the current regulatory system is not effectively identifying and managing problematic lobbying practices or promoting transparency, integrity and honesty as per the stated purpose of the [lobbyist code of conduct].” *
The interim report also noted that while it was an offence for a former minister to lobby a bureaucrat on a matter they had responsibility for within 18 months of holding the office, there had been “no prosecutions … nor have there been any relevant findings of corrupt conduct in NSW”.
A number of senior Coalition and Labor figures have departed Parliament to work in political lobbying, including former Liberal leaders Peter Collins and Kerry Chikarovski, as well as former premier Nathan Rees and former public industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson.
Recently departed police minister Troy Grant is consulting for Deloitte on cyber-security — but has told Parliamentary Ethics Advisor John Evans he will not be lobbying the government.
However, Operation Eclipse is not targeting specific allegations of corruption.
An ICAC spokeswoman declined to comment on Thursday.
The commission last investigated influence and access in the 2010 Operation Halifax inquiry, which made a number of recommendations including requiring political consultants to disclose when they and who they lobbied and for which client. It also recommended banning lobbyist success fees.
While some recommendations were adopted, several were not.
If this drama has passed you by, you’re not alone. It’s largely been played out in secret, behind closed doors, and the protagonists are hardly household names.
Even in corporate circles, few in Australia would know of Dar and, among the public, Worley (as Worley Parsons rebranded itself in May) lacks the recognition of a BHP or Rio Tinto.
Yet, in the realm of energy and resources, Worley is big.
The world’s largest supplier of engineering, consulting, construction and project management services to the oil, gas, chemical and energy sectors, Worley operates in more than 60 countries and 250 locations, with a worldwide workforce in the tens of thousands.
It’s listed on the Australian Stock Exchange with a market value in excess of $7 billion, and it has played a role in many of Australia’s biggest resources and energy projects.
Humble beginnings are one thing the businesses have in common.
Dar was established in 1956 by professors of Lebanese, Jordanian and Palestinian origin from the American University of Beirut, under the name Dar Al-Handasah — Arabic for “the house of engineering”.
Worley grew out of Wholohan Grill and Partners, a small consultancy set up in the 1970s in Sydney by a handful of engineers, including a man by the name of John Grill.
John Grill became the driving force at Worley, serving as its chief executive for decades until 2012.
He still straddles the company as its chairman and was Worley’s number one shareholder – until Dar set its sights on the company.
Dar creeps up the register
For three years, Worley’s board has been fighting to stop Dar Group gaining outright control — a stance the chairman maintains is in shareholders’ best interests.
“To be very clear, the board is seeking to protect the value of the company … and to ensure that control is not transferred without our shareholders accessing the investment premium they deserve,” John Grill told this year’s annual general meeting.
He has a point: normally when a company tries to take over another company listed on the share market, it drives up the share price of the target to the benefit of shareholders.
But that wasn’t Dar’s approach.
In 2016, Dar Group made a “friendly” takeover approach to Worley. It was flatly rejected, but the knockback didn’t dent Dar’s determination.
*Instead, it has gradually increased its shareholding through a practice known as “creep”.
*While the tactic irked the Worley board, it’s perfectly legal in Australia — so Worley had to find other ways of trying to thwart Dar’s ambitions.
Mr Harley is managing director of Dragoman, a consultancy with offices on Melbourne’s Collins Street.
*He has an illustrious Liberal Party pedigree: the great-grandson of former prime minister Alfred Deakin, he is a past Liberal Party vice-president and current chairman of the Liberal Party-aligned think tank, the Menzies Research Centre.
*He shuns the term lobbyist, preferring to be known as a political scientist, but there is no doubt that Tom Harley and Dragoman are in the business of influence peddling.
Worley hired Mr Harley’s skills in “political science” to help defeat Dar Group’s bid to further increase its stake in the Australian engineering giant.
On Worley’s behalf, his firm met senior bureaucrats, including the then-head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, and began lobbying the office of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Worley also turned to some doyens of the intelligence community in an unsuccessful attempt to gather evidence against Dar.
The ABC has learned that Worley sought the advice of Dennis Richardson, a retired, highly respected former intelligence official, diplomat and mandarin, who headed ASIO for years before presiding over the Department of Defence.
It got short shrift.
It’s understood that Dennis Richardson, who did not charge for his advice, looked at material Worley gave him after conducting due diligence on Dar Group.
He concluded that there was no credible evidence that Dar was corrupt or linked to Islamist groups such as Hezbollah.
The chief spy
The Worley camp also tried to enlist the help of the most senior intelligence official in the country: Nick Warner, director general of the Office of National Intelligence.
The agency he heads coordinates the efforts of the Australian intelligence community and is directly accountable to the Prime Minister.
According to a well-placed source, Tom Harley asked Nick Warner to find out whether the CIA or Mossad had raised any red flags about Dar Group.
Nick Warner declined to comment. The ABC has no evidence to suggest he acted inappropriately in response to Mr Harley’s request.
If the CIA has held any concerns about Dar Group, they haven’t stopped it landing high-level contracts with the US military.
In the United States, Dar Group has been awarded multiple contracts for work on military facilities by the US Air Force and the US Army Engineering Corps, as well as working for US Customs and Border Protection and a US intelligence agency.
“Our work in the USA has included being awarded highly sensitive government contracts, and we were granted all necessary security clearances by the US Government in order to perform that work,” Dar Group told the ABC in a written statement.
*The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) — which is headed by David Irvine, a former chief of Australia’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies ASIO and ASIS — was unconvinced by Worley’s claims.
Photo: David Irvine, FIRB: The Australian
*The Australian engineering company set out a series of alleged “probity issues” about Dar Group in a submission to FIRB aimed at convincing it to block Dar’s application to increase its shareholding.
People in the Worley and Dar camps agree it got nowhere.
“Obviously FIRB investigated,” said one. “They found nothing.”
*So, Worley changed tack, firing off a subsequent submission in August that argued it was “against the national interest” for Dar Group to gain control of the Australian engineering company.
This confidential 36-page submission — obtained by the ABC — maintained that Worley had a “crucial role in Australia’s industrial and economic structure” and “is in or across every aspect of Australia’s energy, major resource projects and sources of export revenue and transport infrastructure”.
*“It is unlikely that any other country would allow a change of control of a company that was at the centre of so many aspects of its economic structure,” the submission argued.
“Any change in control would enable Dar Group to access sensitive engineering and operational data relevant to Australia’s critical infrastructure assets.”
It was in this submission that Worley outlined the Saudi energy minister’s sensational claim to then-defence minister Christopher Pyne that Dar Group was “engaged in bribery and corruption”.
The submission provided no evidence, no examples, and no other detail to back the allegation.
The Saudi connection
*The ties between Worley, TomHarley, and the Saudis run deep.
Mr Harley chairs the Australia Saudi Business Council.
Worley has connections to the Saudi Government via Andrew Liveris, the former global chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical.
Mr Liveris is a director of Worley. He developed close ties to Saudi rulers and politicians during his time at Dow Chemical, according to people who spoke to the ABC.
In September 2018, Andrew Liveris was appointed as special advisor to the Saudi Government’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund.
He is a director of the oil and gas behemoth Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil and gas company and one of the world’s largest companies by revenue.
Andrew Liveris also happens to be a close personal friend and business associate of Tom Harley.
In 2008, when Andrew Liveris was running Dow Chemical, Mr Harley was appointed as non-executive chairman of Dow Chemical Australia and a senior adviser to the Dow Chemical company’s executive leadership team.
*Khalid Al-Falih — the man who told Mr Pyne his government believed Dar Group had engaged in bribery and corruption — also has a long association with Saudi Aramco.
He was Saudi Aramco’s CEO between 2009 and 2015 and then, while he was energy minister, served as chairman of the state-owned oil and gas giant.
Khalid Al-Falih was removed from the chairmanship of Saudi Aramco in September this year as the Saudi Government floated a small part of the company on the local stock exchange.
*In its confidential submission, Worley claimed the Saudi minister and company director had told Mr Pyne that, should Dar Group acquire more shares in Worley, Saudi Aramco would “likely cease awarding work” to the Australian company.
That claim sits oddly with Dar’s presence in Saudi Arabia.
According to Dar Group, it has about 3,000 employees in Saudi Arabia and it has worked on numerous projects there, including for Saudi Aramco.
Dar Group dismisses the allegations Worley made in its submission as part of a cynical attempt to get its application to the Foreign Investment Review Board declined.
“We are dismayed at the tactics … Worley have resorted to and see this more as corporate manoeuvring to protect their own interests rather than an expression of any legitimate concern for national or shareholder interests,” the company said in a formal statement to the ABC.
“Dar Group prides itself on its well-earned global reputation and will protect it legally as necessary.”
‘It’s wicked. It’s bullshit’
People the ABC spoke to on background used stronger language.
“It’s wicked. It’s all bullshit. It’s absolutely shocking quite frankly,” said one player in the Dar camp.
What did the then-defence minister make of the claims put to him about Dar Group’s alleged “bribery and corruption”?
Mr Pyne declined to be interviewed for this article. However, the ABC has been told that he “did not believe a word of it”.
*Mr Pyne’s lobbying firm GC Advisorynow represents the Dar Group.
*So, ironically, the man to whom the most salacious allegations against the Middle Eastern companywere made now acts on its behalf.
*Nick Greiner AC, the current Liberal Party national president and former NSW premier, has also represented Dar Group.
*He’s been assisting it as part of his role at the investment bank Rothschild, which was engaged by Dar Group for advice in its takeover bid for Worley.
*Mr Greiner declined to be interviewed by the ABC.
Worley shared its confidential submission
Although Worley has stopped short of publicly airing the claims in its submission to the Foreign Investment Review Board, it has circulated the “confidential” document containing bribery and corruption claims to institutional investors.
While some are alarmed by the claims made about Dar Group, others are more sceptical, viewing the allegations as part of an elaborate defence against a company takeover.
“Yes, they have operated in areas where giving favours to government officials is rife,” said one observer.
“But there is no credible evidence of wrongdoing.”.
It listed Dar among a number of companies doing business in Angola that had an executive on the board of a “foundation” run by former Angolan president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos.
The ICIJ report said critics characterised the foundation as “a personal slush fund for Dos Santos that fortifies his myth by crediting him for projects such as building schools that should be funded by the state anyway.”
A slew of allegations
*But this doesn’t compareto allegations levelled against Australian companies such as construction giant Leighton Holdings, which was accused of paying multi-million-dollar bribes to gain work in Iraq as part of the Unaoil scandal, and, in an unrelated scandal, had its former chief financial officer Peter Gregg convicted for falsifying the company’s books.
Worley was itself embroiled in the Unaoil affair, accused of using a corrupt middle man to secure contracts in oil-rich countries, though it steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and was not prosecuted.
Tom Harley has also featured as a witness at a royal commission into corporate conduct.
As president of corporate development at BHP, he was involved in a deal that was scrutinised at the 2006 Cole Inquiry into potential bribery and busting of UN sanctionsby the Australian Wheat Board.
BHP made a “donation” of 20,000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime, which various parties later characterised as a $5 million loan repayable in cash or oil.
Although there were no adverse findings against BHP or Mr Harley, the royal commissioner was sceptical about some of his statements, refusing to accept a key part of his evidence.
None of this has dented Mr Harley‘s connections or his skill in the art of “political science”; Worley seems to have got results from his services.
*Dar Group confirmed to the ABC that, in mid-September, it withdrew its application to the Foreign Investment Review Board to increase its shareholding in Worley.
It declined to say why.
“Dar may not have wanted to suffer potential reputational damage from all the mud being thrown,” said one observer.
According to others, Dar Group understood there was a serious risk that its application to lift its stake in Worley would not be approved.
Mr Frydenberg has absolute discretion to accept or reject applications to the Foreign Investment Review Board, no matter what the board recommends.
This leaves the situation in limbo.
Dar currently owns nearly 23 per cent of Worley’s stock.
But, after withdrawing its FIRB application, it remains shy of the 26 per cent stake it wants, which Worley argues would hand Dar control.
Extraordinarily, Dar has so far been denied any board representation despite being Worley’s largest shareholder, though Mr Grill has publicly stated that Worley “remains open to considering appropriately qualified independent candidates proposed by Dar Group”.
At Worley’s AGM in October, he told shareholders: “A number of our customers have expressed concern about increased influence of Dar Group over Worley.
“This has the potential to impact on the levels of business we do with our customers and in turn the value of the company.”
The ABC sought an interview with Mr Grill, which he declined, and sent a series of questions to Worley.
Whether Worley had any evidence to substantiate the allegations it made in its FIRB submission;
How Worley was privy to the contents of a conversation between an Australian government minister and a minister from a foreign government;
Whether it was ethical to include details of this conversation in a document to FIRB — and circulate it among institutional investors;
How Worley responded to the argument that it was “throwing mud” at Dar Group in order to stop it gaining a controlling stake in Worley.
Worley declined to comment on the basis that the FIRB document was confidential, even though it’s been circulated to institutional investors and its contents are being openly discussed.
The entire saga leaves plenty of questions unanswered.
If there are genuine concerns about Dar Group’s conduct, then how did its previous applications to acquire shares in Worley sail through with the assent of the Foreign Investment Review Board and the then-treasurer, Scott Morrison?
And should we be comfortable with it having such a major stake in an Australian business?
If there are no genuine reasons for concern, was it reasonable to include a hearsay allegation about the company in a submission to the Foreign Investment Review Board?
As in love and war, is it a case of all’s fair in corporate takeover battles, or are there limits?
A player in the influence business seemed bemused when we raised these questions.
“It’s how the game is played,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
Daniel Wild, director of research at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), says the Abbott government’s 2014 decision to end plans for a price on carbon was one of the think tank’s greatest achievements in shaping Australian public policy.
To get to know some of the behind-the-scenes advisers to Australia’s policymakers, The New Daily asked five different think tanks for the top three changes they helped steer, which have yielded tangible benefits to the public.
A non-profit organisation established in 1943 by a group of prominent Melbourne businessmen, led by supermarket founder GJ Coles, the IPA has in recent years been routinely accused of pushing climate-change denialism.
The carbon-pricing scheme, originally introduced in 2011 by then-prime minister Julia Gillard, aimed to mitigate global warming by taxing energy sources that produced carbon dioxide.
Mr Wild told The New Daily that the Abbott government’s decision to abolish the carbon scheme was one of the IPA’s three greatest policy achievements and a “victory for mainstream Australians over the political class”.
“IPA research focused on demonstrating how the carbon tax imposed significant and irreparable economic and social damage without delivering a discernible environmental benefit,” he said.
Also making Mr Wild’s list of the top three policy changes the IPA helped steer, was the defeat of the Labor government’s proposal in 1947 to nationalise Australia’s private banks.
He said the IPA provided “substantial research” that outlined how then-PM Ben Chifley’s plan to gain full control over the country’s economy after World War II would have resulted in “significant and irreparable damage” to the economy and “Australian way of life”.
“It was a major victory for free enterprise over socialism and ensured that the reach of socialist ideology in Australia would be ring-fenced,” Mr Wild said.
Lastly, Mr Wild said the IPA was central in advocating for the deregulation of the financial sector during the Hawke-Keating era.
He said the process of financial deregulation in Australia led to “sustained economic growth” and “expanded economic opportunity for Australian workers and families”.
Leaked documents in 2012 revealeda “monthly payment” of $US1667 ($2412) was funnelled to IPA emeritus fellow Bob Carter by the Heartland Institute, a US right-wing think tank notorious for championing climate-change scepticism.
Heartland, which reportedly received funds from (tobacco giant) Philip Morris parent company Altria, and fellow tobacco corporate, Reynolds American, sponsored Mr Carter, who died in 2016.
The money was part of its program to finance “high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist [anthropogenic global warming] message”.
According to the documents, Heartland also funded IPA author Joanne Nova’s trip to Bali in 2007, where the self-described climate sceptic attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequently wrote a piece accusing the UN of exploiting climate science to “increase their own power”.
The B Macfie Family Foundation has funded the work of IPA author Dr Jennifer Marohasy since 2003, according to her author profile page on the IPA website.
Speaking to TND, biologist Dr Marohasy, an adjunct research fellow at Central Queensland University (CQU), strongly defended her long list of writings for the IPA, saying she is an “empiricist” who has only ever reached evidence-based conclusions.
Dr Marohasy has previously accused the Bureau of Meteorology of tinkering with temperature data to corroborate the global warming “theory”. The BoM later issued a statement confirming it “is not altering climate records to exaggerate estimates of global warming”.
Over a decade, IPA author and astrophysicist Dr Willie Soon collected more than $1 million from major US oil and coal companies ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries and Southern, a Greenpeace investigation revealed in 2011.
In a CNN interview, IPA author Patrick Michaels, when pressed by interviewer Fareed Zakaria, estimated that about 40 per cent of his research was funded by the petroleum industry.
In 2009, ExxonMobil disclosed on its website that it had funded the Science, Health, and Economic Advisory Council of the Annapolis Center (AC), a US think tank of which IPA author Richard Lindzen was a member.
Dr Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told TND that he “received no funding through the AC, and parted with the body because “it was not sufficiently strong in its opposition to climate alarm, which I personally regard as the greatest abuse of science in history”.
Since 2009, the MIT has provided him $20,000 a year. He said he was supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation during most of his career.
“These sources ended in the 1990s but a small grant from the Department of Energy continued until 2009 … I have had several of those, but they were independently funded by their home country, the Republic of Korea,” Dr Lindzen said.
“There is no question that funding does have an influence.”
In 2009, IPA author and the UK’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, formed the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a UK-based climate sceptic think tank.
The group was exposed in 2014 as having accepted donations from two sources linked to the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free-market think tank, which has previously admitted to collecting money from fossil fuel companies and has also argued against climate-change mitigation.
GWPF director Dr Benny Peiser told TND that it rejects “gifts from either energy companies or anyone with a significant interest in an energy company”.
How can we make any decisions about whether lobbying is a good or a bad thing when not all lobbyists are registered — and those that aren’t have less transparency and greater secrecy?
–almost 600 third-party lobbyists registered in Australia
-that number doesn’t account for unregistered lobbyists
The ready mingling of political donations, unregistered lobbyists and, at least at the federal level, a lack of meeting diaries, seems to confirm the fears of the electorate that lobbying is indeed a sinister project of vested interests.
*While there are almost 600 third-party lobbyists registered in Australia — working for firms and representing a number of clients — that’s only a part of the lobbying story.That number doesn’t account for unregistered lobbyists.
*There are in-house lobbyists (large companies, often multinationals, have their own government relations team, often running into the scores), large industry peak bodies that represent themselves, and law firms, accountancy firms and fund managers that offer their clients, as a sort of side-service, lobbying services as well.
These lobbyists have far less transparency than third-party lobbyists, and their activities are correspondingly more secretive.
*They also represent, or are themselves, major political donors: the big four accounting firms have jointly become the biggest source of political donations in the country, but also act as major lobbyists for their clients, many of whom are likely to be political donors themselves.
This is a much murkier kind of corporate lobbying, the kind that contributes to perceptions of soft corruption in politics.
Scott Morrison recently urged the public service to aim for serving “middle Australia” rather than lobbyists who “stay at the Hyatt … have lunch at the Ottoman … kick back at the Chairman’s Lounge at Canberra airport after a day of meetings”.
In New South Wales, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is currently investigating lobbying, access to government, and influence.
It notes that “lobbying is not only an essential part of the democratic process but that it can positively enhance government decision-making”.
And lobbyists INQ spoke to — all but one on the condition of anonymity — said Australians tended to conflate lobbying in general with Washington-style lobbying, which as one lobbyist noted, is a “different beast”.
Another prominent example is that of disgracedAmerican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. One lobbyist said: “There is a perception, wrongly or rightly, that crossing the floor is based on money that goes into their personal pocket for re-election campaigns.”
*But a survey by the Centre for Policy Development in 2017revealed 65% of Australians said they think lobbyists had too much influence, and 73% of Australians think politics is fixated on short-term gains.
*A 2010 investigation into lobbying by ICAC made numerous recommendations — including a register for third-party lobbyists, the publication of ministerial diaries (in NSW), and a code of conduct — which have since been put in place.
*But as the current inquiry notes, not all recommendations were followed through.
In a submission by lobbying firm Barton Deakin to ICAC, CEO Matt Hingerty stated: “We would not be opposed to the diary disclosure rules being extended to all MPs, nor for formal meetings with senior public servants.”
Indeed, it’s noteworthy that third-party lobbyists like Hingerty and others INQ spoke to are supportive of greater transparency around lobbying, particularly in regard to areas of lobbying not currently caught by lobbyists registers at the federal and state levels.
A submission to ICAC’s current investigation by the Human Rights Legal Centre (HRLC) warns it is not enough and that in-house government relations people should be put on a register (which would potentially be much larger than the current register).
*The HRLC also called for all lobbying communications — not just “face-to-face” interactions — to be recorded and made publicly available online.
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) has also echoed the suggestion that all types of lobbyists should be on a register.
The ACCR pointed out that industry bodies are not registered or bound by registry rules, meaning businesses could exercise influence through peak bodies instead.
*It gave the example of mining and petroleum companies including BHP, Rio Tinto, South32, Orica and Newcrest Mining, which did not make any political donations in 2017-18“but are all paid members of the Minerals Council of Australia, which gave a total of $94,900 to political parties in that period, including the NSW Liberal Party”.
One suggestion Hingerty made and fully supported was the instatement of an independent officer who could be approached by political staffers and bureaucrats to seek advice on a lobbying experience and potentially escalate it as something to formally investigate.
“You might get invited to something, the footy, by a property developer and a young staffer might think ‘Hey, that’s great, that’s my team I’d love to do that’ — a freebie.
Most offices have policies on this … but it’d be good for them to ring up a commissioner [independent officer] saying, ‘I said yes to this thing but I think I should say no, what do you reckon?’”
The experienced professionals who argue that third-party lobbying is no dark art but an important part of the democratic process are also the ones who back greater transparency for lobbyists and the process of lobbying itself. They don’t believe they have anything to hide.
Whether their colleagues among in-house lobbyists, accounting and investment firms agree is less clear.
*The ready mingling of political donations, unregistered lobbyists and, at least at the federal level, a lack of meeting diaries, seems to confirm the fears of the electorate that lobbying is indeed a sinister project of vested interests.
*There’sunlikely to be any restoration of electoral trust in politics without the public having a greater understanding of what goes on inside ministerial offices across the country.
Dig Deeper: Further reading, watching, and listening.
If you look closely enough wandering around Australian Parliament House, you will see men — and it’s mostly men — in suits and orange lanyards mingling in the courtyards and drinking coffee around cafe tables.
The orange lanyards signify that they are lobbyists — third-party lobbyists with free access to the private areas of Parliament House. A few of them are more like consultants — they don’t do much lobbying themselves, but advise lobbyists and clients on how to lobby more effectively.
Their names are on the official Lobbyists Register, these days maintained by the Attorney-General’s Department. There are currently 586 people in over 260 firms on the register.
The reality of modern policymaking is that those affected by policy — stakeholders, in bureaucratic parlance — devote considerable resources to influencing it, trying to get the ear of politicians and bureaucrats to shape legislation and regulations to better serve their interests.
*And the more tightly they are regulated, the more they will seek to shape that regulation.
They may be big corporations, industry peak bodies, unions, charities, or NGOs. Lobbyists are the primary mechanism to do that.
As the Australian Professional Government Relations Association points out: anyone can have a meeting with a politician, but some use experts and that’s where lobbyists step in. They understand that they’re representing vested interests. “Mother Theresa didn’t need her own lobbyist, her work spoke for itself,” one lobbyist quipped.
In a quiet part of Parliament House, a lobbyist leans back into a couch and explains to INQ that lobbying isn’t the dark art many think it is. He wanted to remain anonymous because he said there was no purpose to him being in the media.
While according to him nothing sinister goes on, he says some lobbyists did go to bars where staffers hung out and made informal representations — “but it’s not something I do”.
*And, true, go to a bar in Canberra’s inner south on Wednesday nights, where political staffers and politicians knock off after work on sitting weeks and down a few drinks, and you might be able to spot a lobbyist or two chatting to the mostly white, mostly male, and mostly socially awkward decision makers.
But most claim a strong sense of ethics. “I’ve never worked for a company where I’ve been in any way ashamed of the outcome … [I have not] used methods that were underhanded. I won’t go do something I don’t believe in and I won’t go and do something I think, straight away, it’s not going to work. And I won’t use methods that would potentially damage me.” Some of those damaging methods include lobbyists threatening to go after a politician.
Much of the work of lobbyists lies in maintaining relationships and understanding what’s important to politicians.
Each morning on his way to work, Sydney-based lobbyist Matthew Hingerty tunes into 2GB radio station to listen to shock jock Alan Jones to find out what the hot topics of the day are. He knows Sydney’s radio programming by the minute and it’s essential to his job as a political lobbyist to be abreast of Australian politics. When he arrives at the Sydney office of government relations and lobbying firm Barton Deakin in the heart of the CBD, Sky News is switched on, and it stays on for the rest of the day.
For Hingerty, attention to the news is habitual. He was a former federal political staffer earlier in his career. Now he is the CEO of Barton Deakin, a firm composed primarily of former Coalition staffers.
A working day includes setting up meetings with ministers and politicians, and presenting information to them, including research by the companies and organisations they represent. “There’s lots of meetings with clients, with stakeholders, a lot of phone calls — a lot of it is mundane,” said Hingerty. Barton Deakin, one of the biggest firms in the country, represents 77 clients, including Apple, Atlassian, National Home Doctor Service, MS Research Australia, McDonald’s and Amazon.
“To the layperson it all sounds very reasonable that all contact between lobbyists and … MPs and bureaucrats should be written down but 90% of what we do is routine black and white stuff — checking up clarifications on government policy announcements, secretarial stuff, preparing for meetings.”
For lobbyists, some clients are on retainer, and others come on board for a single project. Either way, most lobbyists don’t accompany their clients into meetings.
Some lobbyists deal with ministers and staff directly themselves; others are more like coaches who show clients how the system works, and how best to make their case to key decision-makers.
Lobbyists know how to make their case quickly and succinctly in ministers’ offices, which are almost absurdly busy, especially when parliament is sitting. Hingerty, who was a staffer for former Liberal MP Joe Hockey and later NSW minister George Souris, says in his political days that he would always put a lobbyist’s request for a meeting at the top of the pile.
“Why would I do that? Because I knew they weren’t going to waste my minister’s time. I knew that the client didn’t have to be in the room. I knew they’d be pre-prepared, they knew what they wanted to say.”
Clients themselves are another story. “There is nothing worse [than when] somebody comes through the door, they’ve got flipcharts, graphs, and they waste time with small talk … and you’re already behind time. A good lobbyist will ring ahead and say ‘hey, this is what my client wants to speak to you about just so you can be ready’. You know you’re going to get the most value from the meeting.”
*More than half of in-house lobbyists, according to Guardian Australia, have a history within political parties or government, and a quarter were once staffers.
Hingerty believes previous history with politics is what makes a good lobbyist. “I think you need to have a level of maturity and seniority, you need to have been in and around government for a period of time just so you can understand it and you don’t waste the time of your client and ministers and shadow ministers.”
“Business doesn’t quite get the language of government, and government doesn’t quite get the language of business,” said Hingerty, reflecting a common sentiment among lobbyists who see themselves as translators and middlemen.
Dig Deeper: Further reading, watching, and listening.
Some of Australia’s biggest corporations have hidden political donations from planning authorities, which is a criminal offence in New South Wales, a Guardian investigation has found.
Woolworths, Caltex, Origin Energy, AMP and Incitec Pivot are among 13 companies that declared sizeable political donations to the Liberal and Labor parties to the Electoral Commission, but failed to declare them when seeking approval to develop property in NSW.
The revelations have prompted an investigation by the state’s planning department, which pledged to “take action” if it confirmed breaches detected by the Guardian.
The law compelscompanies to declare recent donations above $1,000 when lodging applications to develop or modify property in NSW, a measure designed to prevent property developers from corrupting the political process.
The former anti-corruption commissioner Anthony Whealy QC said he suspected the important transparency measure was “often ignored” and went largely unenforced.
“You can have as many prohibitive laws and regulations as you like,” Whealy told the Guardian. “However, the absence of an efficient regulator, and the absence of effective oversight, leads inevitably to the law being disregarded. Apparently this is what has happened in these instances.”
Guardian Australia cross-checked property records against donations made in NSW and found hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations had been hidden from planning authorities by 13 companies.
Woolworths failed to declare more than $100,000 in donations to the NSW Liberals and Nationals while seeking to secure minor approvals for a supermarket at Mullumbimby, near Byron Bay.
After being contacted by the Guardian, the company acknowledged the error, committed to a full review of its past planning applications and referred itself to the NSW planning department.
“While we fully disclosed historical political donations to the NSW Electoral Commission as required, it would appear that parts of our business which manage planning applications were regrettably not aware of these disclosures,” the company said.
For Graphic: Number of undeclared donations by company
*The Millennium Forum – which facilitates interactions between corporate Australia and the Liberal party – gained notoriety at the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2014 over allegations it was used to funnel prohibited donations to the Liberal party from property developers.
AMP said it did not believe it needed to disclose the Millennium Forum membership fee to planning authorities because it “was not considered to be a political donation”, and noted the development application and the donations were lodged by separate AMP entities.
Other companies have previously been prosecuted for failing to declare payments to attend political party events.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said it would launch an investigation into the undeclared donations after the Guardian passed on its findings.
“In the event that any breach is identified, the department will take action in accordance with its compliance policy,” a spokesman said.
“Applicants are responsible for disclosing their own political donations at the time of submitting their application, and face penalties for failing to do so.”
The spokesman said the department’s compliance team had carried out annual audits of donation disclosures since 2016, investigating dozens of cases and taking appropriate action where required. It has also recently improved disclosure processes to prevent “inadvertent failures” to declare donations, and prosecuted companies including AGL and Optus.
Most of the companies said the errors were “administrative” in nature, and said the donations had been declared to electoral authorities, just not to the planning department.
But failure to comply with the laws can still have significant consequences, regardless of whether the error was deliberate.
Most recently, Optus was convicted of a criminal offence, fined $25,000, and ordered to pay $40,000 in legal costs for accidentally failing to declare six donations worth $5,400 to the Liberal and Labor party while seeking approval for work in the Snowy Mountains ahead of the ski season.
The donations it failed to declare were described as “small payments to attend events”.
*Whealy said it would be preferable if corporations did not see it necessary to make political donations at all.
*“They would not be made unless the donor expected to get something out of it. This is the reality,” he said.
“The perception, and sadly sometimes the reality, is that the donor expects favourable treatment … this is totally unacceptable.”
Fuel giant Caltex failed to declare $16,727 in donations to the NSW branch of the National party in applications made in 2010 and 2013 to modify its Kurnell fuel refinery.
A spokesperson for the company said it was policy to disclose all donations to the relevant electoral authorities, but “it is not clear why there are discrepancies between these disclosures and those made in development applications in 2010 and 2013”.
Origin Energy, which left $4,565 off formsrequesting approval to modify the Eraring ash dam, said an “administrative oversight resulted in us not detailing our attendance at a small number of political events when we lodged our application”.
The company said it had “subsequently updated [its] donations disclosure”.
*ABC Tissue, whose then managing director Henry Ngai sat on the board of the Huang Xiangmo-founded Australia-China Relations Institute, admitted it made a $25,000 donation to the NSW Liberal party without filing a disclosure form in an application to modify its Wetherill Park paper mill.
A company spokesperson said that “at the time [it] completed the application” the company was “not aware” of the donation, even though it was declared to the NSW Electoral Commission.
Scott Nash, a barrister practising in local government and property planning law who has experience lodging disclosures, said transparency measures were key, as a “development application may be determined by the elected [local] councillors”, and a record of donations assisted them in identifying any “conflict of interest preventing them from voting”.
“It would be naive to say the source of funding doesn’t affect decision-making in the political process.”
Serena Lillywhite, chief executive of Transparency International Australia, said the failure to declare donations was “fundamentally bad for our democracy”.
“Lobbying and undue influence is increasingly characterising the political landscape in Australia,” she said.
Beef suppliers Teys Australia, ski resort operator Kosciuszko Thredbo and waste management specialists Veolia Environmental Services combined for $8,898 in undisclosed donations on planning applications. Veolia said the matter was under review, but had no further comment. Teys and Kosciuszko Thredbo declined to comment.
*Riverina Oils and Bio Energy, which manufactures consumer oil products, conceded that an “administrative error was made” in a 2015 application that omitted $2,000 in donations to the NSW Liberal MP Daryl Maguire.
“We have officially informed the planning department of the administrative error,” a spokesman said.
In conclusion … ‘Any government that wants to clean up gambling has the tools to do it. Anintegrity investigation into Crown announced today by Attorney-General Christian Porter may help achieve some reform, especially around allegations of Crown’s involvement with criminals and money laundering. …
The exploitation of vulnerable people by gambling operators across the country needs its own inquiry, and governments need to find the will to regulate in the genuine interests of ordinary people.‘
The Crown allegations show the repeated failures of our gambling regulators
In 2017, the Victorian auditor-general pointed out that VCGLR’s capacity to regulate Crown (and other liquor and gambling venues it also regulates) was underwhelming.
In its conclusions, the Auditor observed:
There is a need for VCGLR to improve its oversight of the casino. VCGLR is not able to demonstrate that its casino supervision is efficient or effective as is required for best practice regulation of a major participant in Victoria’s gambling industry.
In2016-17, punters using Crown’s Melbourne casino lost $1.56 billion. The Victorian government’s share of this, via tax revenue, was $207.7 million. The Crown casino in Perth relieved its patrons of $622.8 million. The WA government got $61.9 million of this.
This revenue is important to cash-strapped state governments. With few sources to raise revenue, and many big-ticket items to fund, states need revenue.
Even so, Crown’s contribution to Victoria’s revenue stream is modest. The 2018-19 state budget papers estimate a contribution of $237 million from the casino, compared to $1.119 billion from pokies in pubs and clubs, and $1.876 billion in total gambling taxes.
Does Crown get special treatment?
Yet, Crown has many advantages when compared to its rivals in the gambling business.
It operates monopoly casinos in both Victoria and WA, pays a low tax rate compared to its suburban rivals in Victoria (pub and club pokies pay about 37 per cent of gambling revenue to the state), and has far fewer constraints on its operations.
In the case of the proposed development at Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour, its unsolicited bid for a skyscraper with casino, luxury apartments and a hotel sailed through with support from both government and opposition.
Crown clearly enjoys beneficial access to decision makers. This also appears to extend to regulators.
Headline stories about suspected criminal involvement in casino operations are worrying, and demonstrate just how little apparent scrutiny regulators apply. But more worrying from a public health perspective are the regular breaches of “responsible gambling” principlesthat are supposed to govern legalised gambling in Australia.
For example, Australia’s largest pokie operator (and Woolworths subsidiary), ALH Pty Ltd, was caught (via whistleblowers) collecting information on patrons that could be used to encourage heavier gambling, and in some cases plying them with free drinks.
Regulators are supposed to be concerned with protecting vulnerable people and minimising harm. But evidence suggests that in this area, they have also failed.
The day-to-day exploitation of the ordinary gamblers who contribute most of the money that goes into gambling industry in Australia (about $24 billion every year) attracts less interest, but is arguably at least as important.
VCGLR has not adequately performed its compliance functions.Compliance activities are not sufficiently risk based and have been focused on meeting a target number of inspections, rather than on targeting inspections where noncompliance has a high risk or high potential for harm. This approach to compliance does not support the legislative objectives for harm minimisation.
The VCGLR can hardly be unaware of the extent of its failure to achieve compliance with regulatory requirements.
failures of governance and risk management, contributing to compliance slippages
a lack of innovation and progress regarding Crown’s approach to responsible gambling, such as might now be required of a world-leading operator to meet heightening community and regulatory expectations.
A lack of political will
It’s not just regulators who are at fault, of course.
Politicians have also demonstrated little appetite for much in the way of harm prevention.
Regulators may be wilfully ignorant in their selective vision, but they do so in the knowledge that few governments want gambling disrupted.
On the harm prevention front, public health experience in multiple areas (such as tobacco control, alcohol policy, and motor vehicle injury reduction) demonstrates that there is a great deal that can be done to minimise or prevent harm from inherently dangerous products.
Our recent report, published by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, pointed out 104 things that could be done to prevent or reduce gambling related harm.
Many of them would require better-equipped regulators, with more powers and stronger penalties at their disposal.
What we know from the whistleblowers and investigative journalists (and most pointedly not from regulatory activity) is that Australia’s biggest and most prominent gambling operators regularly flout regulation, and apparently get away with it.
Any government that wants to clean up gambling has the tools to do it. Anintegrity investigation into Crown announced today by Attorney-General Christian Porter may help achieve some reform, especially around allegations of Crown’s involvement with criminals and money laundering.
However, these are the tip of the iceberg.
The exploitation of vulnerable people by gambling operators across the country needs its own inquiry, and governments need to find the will to regulate in the genuine interests of ordinary people.
Charles Livingstone is an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at Monash University. This article first appeared on The Conversation.
Right-wing lobbyist Michael
Kauter and his physician husband David Gracey took a break from duchessing One
Nation leader Pauline Hanson last week to
welcome some of Canberra’s newest Liberal recruits.
Ostensibly, the guests of honour at the couple’s
chic Woollahra pad were Wentworth MP Dave Sharma,
fresh-faced senators Andrew Bragg and Hollie Hughes, and Liberal member for Reid Fiona Martin.
Broadcaster Alan Jones gave a pep talk to new Liberal MPs at a function hosted by lobbyist Michael Kauter.
But inevitably it was shock jock Alan Joneswho stole the show. After noting brevity was the order of the day, Jones commenced a 20-minute sermon on water, road tolls and renewable energy – which apparently has the country “on the brink of poverty”.
And Jones’s key missive to the freshly-elected troops? “Don’t be worried about running a fear campaign, because Australians are afraid.”
To find out more about Influencer Alan Jones … !!! View:
ANH’s BRUSH WITH FAME … & A LITTLE ABOUT
HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF …
The owners of a heritage-listed property in Sydney’s south-west say a proposed 133-hectare cemetery will “engulf” their homestead, after the State Government intervened to green light the plan.
The heritage-listed Varroville Homestead, built in 1850, will be in the middle of the cemetery
Campbelltown Mayor George Brticevic said the State Government’s interventionto approve the cemetery was “undemocratic”
The planned cemetery has space for 136,000 full-body burials
Photo: The Scenic Hills Association
*The NSW Independent Planning Commission yesterday directed the Sydney Western City Planning Panel to approve the Varroville Crown Cemetery.
*The planning commission said the construction of the cemetery, which would allow for 136,000 full-body burials, was in the public interest because of limited burial space near urban growth areas accessible by public transport.
But while multi-faith communities facing dwindling burial space were rejoicing, the local council and the custodians of heritage sites decried the decision as “undemocratic”.
Jacqui Kirkby and her husband Peter Gibbs own the Varroville Homestead, which will be located in middle of the cemetery.
*Varroville Homestead and local residents have been fighting the proposed development since 2013.
The planning commission said the cemetery would have minimal impact on the homestead, but Ms Kirby disagreed.
But NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said the cemetery approval was a “positive outcome” because religious communities had been facing a critical shortage of space.
“Our friends in the Muslim community were due to run out of burial space within two to three years,” he said.
“In the Jewish community, [we] were due to run out of cemetery land within five years, and for smaller Christian communities such as the Armenians [they were] also [set to run out] within in a very brief time frame.”
The Jewish and Islamic traditions forbid cremation and require permanent and perpetual burial.
Mr Alhadeff said there had been many hiccups in the process to get the site approved.
“The good thing is we can now move forward,” he said.
The only time the business community pretends to take economics seriously is when they want to slash their taxes – or other people’s wages. The economic evidence to support the case for multimillion CEO bonuses is as weak as the economic evidence that cutting penalty rates would boost employment. But in Australia, when self-interest and power combine, a lack of evidence is rarely a problem.
The economic case for tax reforms such as the introduction of carbon taxes, resource super profit taxes and wealth taxes is as overwhelming as it is irrelevant. When economic theory and evidence combine to suggest a carbon tax would be a simple and efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the business lobbies bury their heads in the sands of their winter escape. There is zero chance of our self-appointed “business leaders” lifting a finger to push for climate policy reform in the next few years. No matter how good such change would be “for the economy”.
But when it comes to cutting their own tax rates or increasing red tape for their union enemies, there’s an endless flow of opinion pieces, summits and media appearances making the case for “urgent reform”. They are more interested in the policy changes that directly benefit them than the ones that are the most important for the economy.
Politics in Australia has become the art of dressing self-interest up as national interest and no one does a better job of feigning concern for mum-and-dad investors and working families than the industry groups that raged against regulations designed to protect small investors and strongly supported cuts to the incomes of working families.
So, if the business community were genuine about serious economic reform – and that is a very big if – what should they focus on? While there’s no right answer to that question, there is a right way to go about looking for that answer.
Step one would be to identify all of the policy areas where big changes might drive significant economic benefits. In addition to reforming the way we currently subsidise carbon pollution instead of taxing it, some obvious areas for “serious” economic reform include:
Making childcare more affordable for low- and middle-income working families to boost the number of women in the labour force.
Changing our education system to resemble the structure, and the outcomes, of the systems found in the Nordic countries.
Providing cheap and fast public transport to connect affordable housing to the centres of job creation.
I know, I know, that’s a list of social policies not “economic reforms”, but step two in any rigorous process to identify economic reform priorities would be to develop a rough estimate of the potential benefits of a policy change.
While around 60% of working-age women (15-64) are active in the Australian labour market, in New Zealand the figure is 65%, and in Iceland, the country that regularly tops the list for gender equity, 72% of working-age women are in work.
If the Australian labour market and childcare sector was as supportive of women’s choices as Iceland’s are, then our GDP could increase by more than $183bn. How good is that for social policy?
Similarly, the cost of our failed experiments with private school subsidies are enormous. The quality of education we provide to Australian children is falling far behind the education kids are getting in Singapore, Canada and Finland. And we are slipping further.
It’s as if giving billions of dollars in public money to private schools with indoor pools and orchestra elevators is doing nothing to improve educational standards in Australia. Most economists would agree that targeted investment in education does more to drive long-run economic growth than anything else. But, as with carbon pricing, who cares about what economists actually say when the opinions of the powerful are so freely available? And while it’s true the business lobby groups frequently opine about the need to control government spending, Australia’s business elite are remarkably silent about the billions in public money that have flowed into their own kids’ exclusive schools.
Then there is congestion. In our major cities, congestion imposes huge costs on the vast majority of Australia’s workers, their families and businesses. Not only does reducing congestion allow people to save money on housing and transport, it improves the quality of their lives and the productivity of our economy. It too should be main game for those interested in serious reform.
But alas, in Australia the business lobby groups, not economists or voters, get to tell us what our economic priorities should be. And in Australia, despite the fact that we are a low-tax country with low rates of union membership, the business community tells us that the “serious issues” we have to urgently address are more tax cuts (that they want), and new attacks on workers (that the unions don’t want).
To be clear, there is no “right” tax system and there is no “right” industrial relations system. We should always be open to debating the options. But in what world, after 20 years of cuts to taxes and worker protections, could more tax cutting and losses of worker protection be the number one reform priority?
Last year we were told that cutting penalty rates would be great for the economy. Now, even the small business lobby concedes penalty rate cuts did not create a single job. Such an outcome should come as no surprise, as Professor Martin O’Brien observed: “Of the 151 academic papers the [Fair Work] Commission referred to in its decision, not one contained sound empirical analysis of the employment impact of penalty rates.”Advertisement
Just as we spend billions of dollars subsidising new coalmines and private schools with no complaint from the business lobby groups allegedly concerned with serious economic reform, we just spent $158bn on tax cuts – one of the most expensive bills to ever pass through the Australian parliament – without so much as a Senate inquiry into the consequences.
It’s time we reformed the way we talked about reform. The dictionary says reform means “change for the better”, but in Australian public debate it has simply come to mean “change demanded by the powerful few”.
There’s no doubt we should reform our tax system, our industrial relations system and the way our government provides a wide range of important services. We could of course choose to emulate the tax and spending policies of Donald Trump or we could learn from the Nordic countries – which have the strongest economies, the best education systems and the best health systems in the world.
If business lobby groups were genuine about the pursuit of serious economic reforms they would present the evidence that shows it is more important to change Australia’s unfair dismissal laws and cut taxes than to make the childcare system more affordable. But they aren’t more important, so the business lobby groups won’t. Powerful groups don’t need evidence. That’s what makes them powerful.
• Richard Denniss is chief economist at the Australia Institute