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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Regulating lobbyists "too hard" in NSW

No surprise that the NSW Premier, according to this article in today's Sydney Morning Herald, sees no need for a register of lobbyists. (See our post "WA register of lobbyists a step in the right direction" 16 April).

The reason?
"A spokesman for the Premier, Morris Iemma, said he did not believe in a register because it was hard to ensure legislation covered all organisations or individuals".
This is remarkably similar to the reason for opposing such a register given by Bruce Hawker, the Managing Director of Hawker Britton, the lobbying firm that apparently has the game tied up in NSW.

"Mr Hawker said yesterday that the West Australian system was flawed because it did not define certain people as lobbyists. The general secretary of the Labor Party or a union secretary would not have to declare their lobbying interests, and neither would "in-house lobbyists" for companies, he said".

A government committed to transparency in the conduct of public functions would therefore seek to do better than the WA system. There are plenty of precedents from Canada and elsewhere that show the way.

A government not interested might simply say its all too hard. And apparently it's not too hard for the Premier's ALP Federal colleague Kevin Rudd who was reported in The Age in January as saying that Labor plans to crackdown on lobbyists if elected later this year. He made it sound as if a register was just a start!

By the way, as mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald article NSW Parliament requires lobbyists to register before they can be given a pass to roam the corridors. The register is here - Hawker Britton apparently has no need for such things.

And finally, the "Guidelines for Managing Lobbyists" referred to by the Premier as being "sufficient" are in this Memorandum (M2006-01) issued last year. They only apply to contact with lobbyists prior to the making of a decision under an act of Parliament or regulation. They don't address issues concerning other contacts with lobbyists about aspects of government policy or decision making. Among the suggestions is that ministers, ministerial staff and public officials who are lobbied should "consider keeping records of meetings and, if necessary, having another person attend the meeting as a witness or to take notes" (emphasis added). This is weaker even than guidance provided by State Records NSW about the obligation to keep full and accurate records including those concerning meetings in the course of the conduct of government business.

"Sufficient" as far as the Premier is concerned?

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