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Monday, April 20, 2009

Lobbyist registration schemes not quite all the same

The three Australian lobbyist registration schemes are essentially the same- hired guns need to register with some exceptions; an on-line publicly available register of lobbyists and clients; ministers and public servants are not to meet unregistered lobbyists; and a failure by lobbyists to act in accordance with the code of conduct could result in loss of access altogether.In many respects the emerging Australian standard (Tasmania and Queensland have said they are going in the same direction) is a start, but a long way short of a fully transparent approach to public information about influence peddling.

In a case of spot the difference however, the Australian Government and the Western Australian on-line registers are both searchable in respect of individual lobbyists who work for any registered entity, and for the companies and organisations they represent.So finding a particular lobbyist or who represents a company in Canberra or Perth is straightforward. Simply insert a name in the search facility at the top of the page.

Not so in NSW.The register for all intents and purposes looks the same as the other two. But there is no search on the register and the site search doesn't list register entries. Trying to find a lobbyist who works for a registered entity or whether a particular company is registered involves looking separately at up to120 registrations, unless you strike what you are looking for earlier. Not only does this detract from the transparency principle that underpins the scheme, it must complicate things for those in government who want to check who is registered.(Update-thanks to David Jacobson for the additional information in a comment, that Queensland already has the same hard to search system up and running.)

As to developments elsewhere, last month on behalf of President Obama, the White House Office of Management and Budget issued interim guidance on communications with lobbyists about money available under the Recovery Act, as required by a provision in the Act: no problem in talking to a registered lobbyist about the program in general or how and where to apply for funding; nor talking to a lobbyist at a "widely attended gathering", mindful of existing ethical guidelines. But in respect of other direct approaches by lobbyists, agencies are to advise as follows:
“Under the President’s Memorandum, we cannot engage in any oral communications with Federally registered lobbyists about the use of Recovery Act funds in support of particular projects, applications, or applicants. All such communications by Federal lobbyists must be submitted in writing, and will be posted publicly on our agency’s recovery website within 3 days."(emphasis added)
Ditto for written approaches. OMBWatch provides some commentary and links to a couple of Federal agencies that have posted lobbyist communications to date.

You can imagine the frantic lobbying by lobbyists if this sort of scheme had the slightest chance of coming in our direction.


  1. Peter

    Queemsland has the same approach as NSW. You need to open a PDF next to each lobbyist's name on a scroll down list to get information.

    David Jacobson

  2. David, thanks for the update. Peter