Lobbying: The Dirty Truth
Posted by Mike Smith
I’m a lobbyist but I don’t appear overtly evil – I should do, according to some of my lefty friends. Recent media demonstrates many journalists, too, think lobbying is inherently suspicious.
This suspicion clearly comes from misunderstanding the role of lobbyists.
There are lobbyists who inhabit darkened, smoke-filled rooms, and whisper in the ears of Government “Mate, mate, you’ve got to do a favour” but they are in a minority, because that’s a stupid approach.
That cliché-ed picture leaves a lobbyist and their client in danger of the next decision-maker reversing the favour, or reporting the favour to the Crime and Misconduct Commission. It’s a short-term, lazy and unethical approach that risks reputational destruction.
We always tell clients that their proposals, the reasons behind them, and the Government decision that delivers them, must be clean, robust, and appropriate – and be seen as such when scrutinised.
When businesses or community groups meet Government, it’s often a bit like a Star Trek episode – landing on another planet that looks the same, meeting people who look the same, but, phasers drawn and fired, finding out that everything is different – the language, the decision-making process, the motivations, the objectives, the pitfalls to progress, and the role of the decision-makers. Everything. And both sides are convinced they understand the other.
When Government and business meet, it’s like the Klingons and the Romulans – and I’m Captain Kirk, helping translate differing needs and objectives into a common understanding. Or maybe more like Spock or that nameless crew-member who gets shot in the third scene – but always striving for common ground.
And that’s where lobbyists spend a lot of their working time: helping restructure what clients are seeking, so those proposals are a good fit with Government – and sometimes we tell clients they can’t get what they want; this process takes up way more time than directly acting as advocates.
It’s about business proposals, and any politics is incidental.
There’s a code of practice for lobbyists (fairly lowest common denominator) but because it only applies to consultant lobbyists and not direct employee lobbyists, it fails to catch most lobbyists.
Most lobbyists are directly employed – by industry peak bodies, unions, environmental groups, churches, and so on – and free from Government regulation and scrutiny. But that’s another story and a longer blog post!