Category Archives: Regulatory failure

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.