Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Most Dangerous Combination

corruptionPublishing Ministerial diaries while concealing political donations is a corruption minefield, when combined.

I’m glad you asked “why?”

In Queensland, Cabinet Ministers publish their diaries.  If you don’t want it widely known that you’re meeting a Minister* about your business, it can only happen “informally”: for example at a political fundraising function or a social event.

At the same time, the maximum political donation that can be kept secret, has been lifted from $1,000 to $12,800, and caps to how much you may donate have been abolished.

It’s no secret that there have been recent political fundraiser dinners costing $5,000 and more per person, and other functions with higher prices to be seated with particular Ministers – all that’s secret is who paid and with whom they sat.

A lobbyist – smart, observant, politically partisan – might be remiss if they don’t advise a client that in lieu of declaring to the world they are meeting a Minister, they can go to dinner with them, now secretly, at a fundraising event.  They might also advise that it’s worth the higher “Ministerial” price, to maintain secrecy and to talk with the right person.

And regardless of what they discuss, it need not be characterised as a meeting nor diarised.

The public nature of diarised meetings, a business need to keep discussions secret, and the opportunity to pay for secret discussions, is a terrible and dangerous combination.

Paranoid?

Former Deputy Chief Minister of the Northern Territory (and still a leadership aspirant) Dave Tollner said donations would open his door “if you ever need to talk to me about something”.  On radio, he said people who did not donate faced “a line-up at the door” and that “you have to start prioritising”.  Dave clearly needs to absorb this.

* or the Minister doesn’t want it to be widely known

Regulating Lobbyists: Hardly

Teapot Dome Scandal

Teapot Dome Scandal

Australian State and Federal Governments pretend (e.g. here) to regulate lobbyists: all they do is create red tape, illusion and loopholes.

The biggest issue is that most lobbyists aren’t regulated at all: professions and in-house lobbyists are not, and only consultant lobbyists are covered.

Arguably, a lawyer, accountant or development planner who lobbies on behalf of a client’s needs isn’t a lobbyist according to Australia’s Governments.  Most members of those professions refuse to register as lobbyists or apply lobbyist codes.

Full time lobbyists employed by corporations, or their Directors, or representative bodies like the Australian Medical Association or Queensland Resources Council, are unambiguously not covered by lobbyist regulation – Australian Governments refuse to regulate them.

In all jurisdictions the lobbyist “Code of Conduct” or its equivalent is generally so lowest-common-denominator that it imposes very few ethical obligations beyond those self-imposed by most lobbyists before codes were made.

The two biggest omissions:

  • There’s no obligation on lobbyists to ensure their lobbying reflects compliance with Public sector codes of ethics; and
  • There’s no obligation for lobbyists to ensure everything they say must be up to date or comprehensive – that is, they are allowed to conceal things when they lobby.

These are absolutely not partisan defects – Governments of all shades have got it wrong.

Myths & Legends of Lobbying

burke grill charged smallWhen you judge a football code, is your gauge the player who starts bar fights, uses steroids, and is sacked by their club?

Jack Abramoff is not the acme of lobbyists, he’s a crook; Brian Burke is not really a government relations consultant, he’s a corrupter of proper process.

Real lobbyists and government relations consultants help those who can’t deal effectively with Government to get their cause heard.

They do work for Greenpeace, and Rio Tinto, and the local kindergarten; they can help stop bad decisions being made, help offset harmful outcomes, and sometimes help ensure the community gets what it needs.

And you’ll never notice those positive outcomes because they’re not boasted of, nor attributed to the lobbyist – the client gets the credit, and the lobbyist is only mentioned when the outcome or process becomes notorious.

Motivating & Persuading

The_Hidden_Persuaders_2010DON’T be asking for a “courageous” decision from the risk-averse, when you’re lobbying!

Public sector decision-makers – public servants and politicians both – are diverse:

  • atheists, and devout;
  • socialists, conservatives, and everything in between;
  • middle-aged men, and young women;
  • leaders, and followers;
  • foolhardy, and risk-averse;
  • courageous, and over-cautious;
  • energetic, and exhausted;
  • arrogant, and humble;

and so on.  Believe clichés at your own risk!

The things that constrain, guide, motivate and persuade them are diverse, too:

  • government priorities and policies;
  • Ministerial, and departmental, objectives and priorities;
  • political or stakeholder fallout;
  • the community’s needs and the public interest;
  • professional and public sector codes;
  • public sector processes and rules;
  • their personal ambitions, values, policy interests, ideology, and political beliefs;
  • proximity of the next election or Ministerial reshuffle;

and so on.

Unless you are across these pressures and possibilities, you’ll end up asking someone who’s never yet made a decision, to endorse something that breaches the Financial Administration and Audit Act and conflicts with Government policy – you’re wasting time and resources.

Careful key messages need to be constructed, that demonstrate your proposal

  • solves a Government problem (not your problem!);
  • reflects Government and Departmental priorities and values;
  • is in the public interest;
  • minimises stakeholder conflict;
  • minimises risk;
  • conforms with every code of behaviour and legal requirement;
  • addresses anticipated objections; and
  • passes the “front page” test.

In constructing such messaging, you’re inevitably researching and applying that which persuades/motivates/determines the decision!

Who’s the Decision-Maker?

parl houseDon’t waste the time and effort of others, when lobbying!

I’ve seen businesses and community activists, seeking Government support for something, spend scarce resources pursuing State-based issues with a Federal Minister, and vice-versa; I’ve seen them talking to the wrong Minister or Department about issues “owned” by another.

You can’t get something from Government without asking for it from the right Government – not every Government can do everything.  And you’ve got to chase the right person in that Government, too.

First step: find out which Government looks after your issue.

In Australia we have

  • Local
  • State* and
  • Federal (technically, Commonwealth)

Governments, and their respective powers are limited: mostly, the Federal Government doesn’t deal with the issues that a State Government can, nor those of a Local Government; the same limitations operate in reverse.

You can’t make progress until you’ve worked out which one is in charge of your issue.  Rarely, issues are within the purview of more than one Government, making things harder.

Second step: find out who in Government “owns” the issue.

Within a Government, each Minister and Department has very specific roles and powers, and within each Department each employee has a specific role.  Grey areas and overlaps are few and small.

Again, you can’t make progress until you’ve identified which part of which Department works on your issue.  Often this process starts with cold calls into areas that might be the right place, gleaned from a Departmental website, or the Departmental switchboard.

*  Just presume for the moment that States and Territories are the same