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Friday, October 18, 2013

Lobbyists lobbying for changes to NSW lobbying rules

Wikimedia Commons-Adam J.W.C
A public test of their skills? 

Some suggestions go beyond self interest, and that's a good thing although they stop short of reasonable expectations on the transparency front. 

The media in the first stage of the committee hearings has focused on the travails of Minister for Community Services Pru Goward and DOCS.

However the terms of reference for the select upper house inquiry are broad covering ministerial responsibility, potential conflicts between public duties and other interests, lobbying, and ministerial and parliamentarian codes of conduct.

Three of the five submissions are from lobbyists.

The submissions recommend movement towards a nationally consistent scheme. 

They argue, with only shades of difference, that the current registration scheme, or at least the ethical standards incorporated in the lobbyist code should extend beyond third party lobbyists to in-house lobbying staff and service providers such as lawyers and consultants when engaging on a client's behalf to seek to influence government decision making.

Premier State Consulting wants the scheme extended to lobbying local government, and suggests lobbyists should be banned from providing goods and services to the NSW Government. Premier State and the Public Relations Institute of Australia submit the scheme should also extend to lobbying members of parliament and their staff.

The PRIA submission, perhaps with an eye to Queensland where this is part of the scheme and on a proposal floated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2010 but not acted upon, submit lobbyists should not be required to report contacts. Recording and reporting should be the responsibility of the government representative or employee. Transparency should be enforced through freedom of information to ensure appropriate disclosure and protection of confidentiality where necessary for personal or business reasons.

Overall however the lobbyists have gone quiet on these ICAC recommendations:
  • amend the Government Information (Public Access) Act to include records of Lobbying Activity in the definition of “open access information” for which there is no overriding public interest against disclosure. Open access information held by an agency must be made publicly available, including on a website maintained by the agency.
  • require disclosure of the month and year in which they engaged in Lobbying Activity, the identity of the government department, agency or ministry lobbied, the name of any Senior Government Representative lobbied, and, in the case of Third Party Lobbyists, the name of the client or clients for whom the lobbying occurred and the name of any entity related to the client the interests of which did derive or would have derived a benefit from a successful outcome of the lobbying.
  • enable an interested person to use the information disclosed on the proposed Lobbyists Register, in relation to the date of lobbying and who was lobbied, in order to seek access to further information from the relevant public sector agency through the various mechanisms set out in the GIPA Act
  • provide for an independent government entity, such as the NSW Information Commissioner, to maintain and monitor the Lobbyists Register, and have powers to impose sanctions on lobbyists.
The current keeper of the register and enforcer of the rules, the Department of Premier and Cabinet has also made a submission. 

Of particular interest is the Department's initiative in publishing correspondence with lobbyist Joseph Tannous and his firm First State about claims on Linked in about his capacity to attain 'desired results' for clients. Until 18 September Mr Tannous was a member of the Executive of the NSW Liberal Party. The Premier has announced that from the end of October office holders in political parties cannot register as a lobbyist. The Prime Minister said the Federal Government would follow suit. We should be grateful for small mercies

The fifth submission is from Queensland Integrity Commissioner Dr David Solomon who has a long background in this field, and has written extensively on ministerial responsibility.

Dr Solomon supports extension of the scheme to others engaged in seeking to influence decisions, and argues the scheme should be incorporated in legislation. 

The Queensland Commissioner comments that it is 'extraordinary' that the NSW Ministerial Code of Conduct is not a standard within the purview of the ICAC, in contrast to the Code of Conduct for MPs: 
"For the most part it is the Ministers who wield power. They are the Government. If they are exempt the Ministers who constitute the government are not answerable for breaches of the Code of Conduct that applies specifically to them as Ministers...."
We await with interest to see what the committee makes of that. 

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