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Senate’s proposed lobbyist reforms criticised

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A review into lobbying at Parliament House has found that current rules haven't kept pace with the growth of the billion-dollar industry.
Lobbying review

A Senate committee has called for a review of lobbying rules in Parliament after it found a lack of transparency in current regulations.

Lobbyists, who seek to influence government policies on behalf of individuals or organisations, are subject to little oversight or regulation.

Lobbying is legal and can serve legitimate purposes, but critics say it gives too much access and influence to those who can afford it.

The committee recommended an independent review consider whether lobbying rules should be changed.

Lobbying rules

Lobbyists are employed – usually by private businesses – to use their political connections to advance their client’s interests.

Many are former politicians, political staffers or public servants.

Lobbyists are subject to a code of conduct at Parliament House. This is aimed at preventing corrupt, dishonest or illegal content, and ensures they offer truthful information to politicians.

Code of conduct

The code of conduct isn’t legally enforceable and doesn’t apply to all.

Those representing charities, non-profits, unions and employer groups are among the lobbyists exempt from the code.

Lobbyists can meet with politicians as often as they want to and don’t need to disclose meetings.

Most Australian states have legislated their own lobbying regulations.

Lobbying review

The Senate formed an inquiry into Parliament House‘s lobbying rules in December. It followed the introduction of draft legislation in November by independent MP Monique Ryan.

Ryan’s proposal includes strengthening the code of conduct for lobbyists and making it legally enforceable, with penalties of up to $30,000 for breaches.

Under the draft laws, lobbyists would have to report on their meetings every three months, and be banned from offering high-value gifts to politicians. The legislation remains before Parliament, and is unlikely to be passed.

Findings

The review released its final report on Tuesday.

The Committee was mainly comprised of Liberal Senators, who found that lobbying rules hadn’t kept up with the “rapid growth” of lobbying in recent decades, which it noted had turned into a “multibillion-dollar industry”.

It identified concern that current regulations could increase the risk of corruption, and undermine public trust.

Recommendations

The Committee recommended that the Federal Government commission an independent review of the lobbying code of conduct.

It would consider strengthening the code and expanding the range of lobbyists who must follow it – including charities, unions and employers groups.

It also recommended reinstating day-passes for lobbyists, instead of giving them long-term access to Parliament House.

Backlash

Independent Senator David Pocock criticised the Committee’s recommendation for an independent review, noting its response “shouldn’t be another inquiry, it should be real action to fix a broken system sitting at the heart of our democracy”.

Pocock said the current ‘lobbyist’ definition in the code of conduct was “worse than absurd” and “misleading”.

He’s called for it to include lobbyists employed by companies like Sportsbet and McDonalds. Pocock claimed that excluding “whole categories of lobbyists” was a major public policy failure.

Government response

Ryan, whose legislation kickstarted the push for lobbying reform, said the report “does not go far enough”, but that it “reflects a very welcome increase in support for lobbying reform”.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department said it “acknowledges” the report, and said it would “consider the recommendations made by the Committee and provide advice to Government”.

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