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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Lobbyists and Democracy « Previous | |Next »
June 30, 2005

Carmen Lawrence gives us a good description of the importance of lobbyists in the political life of federal Parliament. I have commented about it at philosophy.com in relation to public reason and the work of Carl Schmitt.

Carmen decribes the impact of lobbyist within Parliament House:

One of the most obvious features of national political life is the steady stream of lobbyists - individuals and organisations - who turn up in the corridors of Parliament seeking to influence the policies and decisions of their representatives. Some are motivated by their own or their shareholders' interests; others by a desire to achieve particular outcomes which they believe will be of benefit to the society or some more narrowly defined sectional interest. Most people would regard such contact as a legitimate and basic right in any democracy.

Well, as a political advisor to a federal Senator (Meg Lees), I often sat down and listened to briefings from a variety of lobbyistsas part of my job. I found many of them to be very informative and helpful in the legislative side of work an in terms of their understanding of issues. After my holidays I will become one.

Carmen,like myself, is uneasy about the inequalities within this aspect of liberal parliamentary democracy due to the resources and access. She says:

...it disturbs me - as it should all citizens - that there are some who are more equal than others. This is, in part, due to the fact that some - mainly business - groups are able to devote substantial resources to the task. They wine and dine MPs and provide them with "corporate hospitality" as part of carefully crafted lobbying built on personal contact and expensive "information" campaigns. And no public record is kept of these proceedings.

The implication of this inequality is that it:

.... gives rise to the not unreasonable suspicion that this hospitality and the large campaign donations made by the same players may help to open doors. It's almost certain that they do.
The Liberal Party now charges big bucks for access to Ministers at a variety of its events. A lot of groups (ngo's) are thereby excluded. So there is corporate lobbying and lobbying. This tendency is only goingto intensify after July I when the Coalition is incontrol of both houses of Parliament.

Lawrence points out the significance of the corporate lobbying behind closed doors. :

...we are aware of only a small proportion of the lobbying that goes on, there is a reasonable suspicion that a great many more decisions are being shaped without our knowledge and without the interest groups having to face public scrutiny of their claims and arguments.

So democracy is undermined by both the access that money can buy and because we are in the dark as we don't know how much is being spent to inform, persuade and cajole our decision makers.

The Australian Parliament is not serious about the need for MPs and ministers to be transparent about who is knocking on their doors. There needs to be accountability, public scrutiny transparency and regulation of this persuasion industy.

How should this be done?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:25 AM | | Comments (4)
Comments

Comments

Hey, she's been reading my blog. Or reading Fel. Or something.
I think we'd all be a bit more comfortable if there was more transperancy on lobbying. I won't ask you who you will be working for (even if I am damn curious) - but all the best for your new job.

Saint,
That is one excellent post. I will comment on it when I have a moment. It's all a bit rushed today, cleaning up the electoral office, doing media interviews, then having lunch, then more cleaning up 20 years history.

Maybe tomorrow will be the free moment.

The Alan Fels article on political lobbyists is very interesting. Better disclosure from lobbyists and more scrutiny of their activities is certainly needed.

My lobby work will involve tackling Costello's Intergenerational Report 2002-3 with its big concern about the demographics of ageing and rapidly rising health costs re public hospitals and PBS.

I will be tackling the primary care side of it to help prevent people from getting so sick that where they end up in hospital or on drugs.

Strikes me that is a more positive approach to health than cutting costs or the disability welfare to work reforms.

As you a can see it is a mixture of lobbying (persuading parliamentarians), advocacy of the importance of primary health care and political strategy in dealing with an important public issue.

Yes preventative measures are definitely better. And probably cheaper too with greater intangible benefits.

Thanks for the link to the report - I'll have a look when I have time. I've been wondering if in all the talk of us shrivelling up in readiness for the grave and sucking up precious medical dollars someone has considers the impact of ageing on a workforce. Not just in terms of skills but also in expectations, wage outcomes, career paths etc. I wonder if the IR changes for example, take that into account, because on the surface they don't seem to.

Saint
the Intergenerational Treasury Report was a sketch of what might happen. The Treasurer has commissioned the Productivity Commission to continue the work and fill in the details.

They have addressed some of the concerns you raise in the Economic Implications of Ageing Australia Report.