Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lobbyist fuss raises transparency issue

If you live in NSW, you might be surprised to learn that the state election campaign is "officially" underway as of yesterday, when writs for the election were issued.

Anne Davies in the Sydney Morning Herald ("Sleeper issues a policy free zone") provided a lengthy list of major issues that we should expect those vying for our votes to address, but instead the debate so far has been about simplistic solutions to short term problems.

Davies didn't include the issues that we focus on here: the words "how I will improve accountability and transparency" are yet to to be spoken. (Privacy is suitably quarantined with the NSW Law Reform Commission).

But what's this - the Burke affair has prompted an article today by Marian Wilkinson ("Shining a light on the lobbyists") about the secrecy surrounding the exercise of influence by lobbyists. She says our controls over lobbyists are either too loose or too secretive to be useful.

Wilkinson advocates a register, and publication on the web quarterly, of information about clients, how much they pay, which politicians and public servants they see and what they are talking about. Then for good measure, a ban on any gifts to a politician or bureaucrat, public disclosure of expensive wining and dining, prohibition of political donations by lobbyists, and a two year ban on former politicians, their senior staff and bureaucrats working for lobbyists. Drawing from the Burke experience, a criminal record would rule you out from registration.

Now that's transparency!

Wilkinson's column is about what we need in Canberra, but what do our party leaders in NSW say about all this less than three weeks out from election day?

The issue has been raised in NSW, particularly a year ago when the former Premier Bob Carr took up a lucrative position with Macquarie Bank, and the current Premier followed with an announcement about new rules for post separation employment.

This report from the NSW Parliamentary Privileges and Ethics Committee about some of the practicalities arising from the Premier's announcement was quietly published in December after Parliament sat for the last time on 23 November

What it reveals is that Parliament's Ethics Adviser sees all sorts of problems in making the Premier's idea work. He and the Committee clearly think that lots more needs to be done to improve ethics and accountability, and that the so far unadressed issue of post separation employment for senior public servants also needs to be considered.

The Committee laments that at the end of the day under the present system all we can do is hope that ministers and others "act ethically". Ahem...

The issue of greater transparency about lobbyists and what they do is a small part of the bigger picture of open and accountable government. Let's hope that issue gets a kick along in the next couple of weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment