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Friday, May 03, 2013

Queensland lobbying rules require public disclosure of contacts

Lobbying rules have proved problematic for the Newman government in Queensland with two ministers resigning during the first 12 months over inappropriate contact and disclosure failings.

But Queensland can take a bow when it comes to scope, reporting of lobbying activity and transparency as a result of changes that took effect from 1 May 2013. Changes to the rules extend regulated lobbying activity beyond ministers and public officials to lobbying the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition and staff; and require monthly reports to the Integrity Commissioner by registered lobbyists detailing lobbying activity including the client, lobbying contacts and the general purpose of the contact, and importantly, the publication of this information on the commissioner's website.

Not the proactive publication of details like we see in the UK Who Ministers are Meeting 
but a stark contrast to other Australian jurisdictions where registration and observance of a code of conduct is all that is required.

A Queensland parliamentary committee, while not happy that both client name and purpose of the meeting are to be published, has recommended extending the scheme to include paid in-house lobbyists of both corporations and associations, and a comprehensive review of the Integrity Act.

The changes this week flow from the Right to Information and Integrity (Openness and Transparency) Amendment Act 2012.

Apart from important changes to the RTI act, the act amended the Integrity Act extending the application of the lobbying provisions of the Act to the opposition leadership; clarifying the meaning of “third party client” of a lobbyist to limit regulated lobbying activity to lobbying services for a client for a fee or other reward agreed before the services are provided; and making it clear that the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct may specify that lobbyists report to the Integrity Commissioner on their lobbying activity.
(Explanatory Notes here)

The Integrity Commissioner Dr David Solomon subsequently issued a new Lobbyists' Code that took effect from 1 May 2013. Lobbyists must provide the Integrity Commissioner with information about lobbying activities carried out by them. The information will be made public by the Integrity Commissioner by publishing it on the Integrity Commissioner’s website.

Lobbyists must file, no later than 15 days after the end of every month, information for a register of lobbyists, contact with Government and Opposition representatives, reporting on each and every lobbying contact by them during that month with a government or Opposition representative.
The information that is to be provided for each such lobbying contact is:
(a) the name of the registered lobbyist;
(b) whether in arranging the contact, the lobbyist complied with the requirements of 3.2 of the Lobbyists Code of Conduct and, if relevant, 3.3;
(c) the date of the lobbying contact;
(d) the client of the lobbyist;
(e) the title and /or name of the government or Opposition representatives present;
(f) the purpose of contact:
  • making or amendment of legislation;
  • development or amendment of a government policy or program, 
  • awarding of government contract or grant allocation of funding;
  • making a decision about planning or giving of a development approval under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009,
  • commercial-in - confidence; or
  • other
The commissioner has highlighted that an action is 'lobbying' under the Integrity Act if it is "contact with a government representative in an effort to influence ... decision-making" and provided a list of activities that are within or outside this definition and some Q and A's.

An interesting Background Briefing on ABC Radio National, if you have the time and interest.

Other jurisdictions remain a long way behind.

For example, three years ago the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption identified the lobbying rules as a major corruption risk. 

Despite shock horror stories in recent times its recommendations have not been acted upon. They include widening the registration requirement to cover all third party lobbyists  and "Lobbying Entities" including industry associations, trade unions, employer groups, religious and charitable organisations, and corporations that employ staff or have board members who lobby on their behalf; requiring those in government who are lobbied to create records of the lobbying activity, and for those records to then be accessible to the public as "open access information" under the GIPA act, for which there is no overriding public interest against disclosure; and a new role for an independent government entity, such as the NSW Information Commissioner to monitor the scheme and impose sanctions on lobbyists where necessary.


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