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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Modest progress on lobbyists register

Special Minister of State Senator John Faulkner has released a draft code of conduct on lobbying that incorporates a public register of names and the interests they represent.

While the proposed scheme is a step forward, it's classic 'light touch' regulation and won't go far in assisting the public to know what goes on as influence peddlers go about their business.

The scheme, summarised in the Canberra Times today, only requires registration by those acting on behalf of a client, and will tell us nothing about those employed 'in house' whose job is to seek to influence government policy or decisions, or about industry organisations, charities and NGOs who are also heavily involved in these activities. It is based on the Western Australian model (gasp!). The Australian Financial Review says lobbyists registered there describe the scheme as well intended but not onerous.

Something more robust would involve disclosure of the names of all those paid to lobby, and regular information about who they contact and why; a prohibition on political donations by them; and some strong independent enforcement mechanisms. Canada leads on this issue and on others associated with integrity in public life, for example political donations. There, former ministers are banned from lobbying on matters dealt with while in office for five years - Faulkner's proposal is 18 months, and a year for senior public servants.

Regulation of lobbyists will always be difficult, and probably full of loopholes for those paid to know a loophole when they see one. The draft proposals are a modest start to a complex but important public policy issue.

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