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corruption + the lobby industry « Previous | |Next »
March 8, 2007

John Warhurst in an op-ed in the Canberra Times addresses the implications of corruption in the lobbying industry, which I have raised here. He says that:

Burke and Grill's activities themselves are, to my mind, more important in the long run than the question of the links between the twice-disgraced Burke and Kevin Rudd and/or Senator Ian Campbell, to name just two. What they reveal is the depths to which such senior public figures, a former premier and former senior minister respectively, have fallen ... What they also reveal is the weakness of the public office-holders, especially ministers, and businessmen who have dealt with the corrupt lobbyists.

The mention of corruption points toward something rotten. Warhurst then mentions well known recent examples across the nation to show that the corruption is systematic within the lobby industry as opposed to a few rotten apples. However, Parliament appears to be little interested in wiping off the taint of corruption-- to clean up lobbyists' act and rein in the influence of corrupting practices, such as 'you get us a $1 million dollar deal' and we'll raise $50,000 for your campaign coffers.

Warhurst goes on to say that:

All political parties must take some share of the blame for this state of affairs. The prevailing political culture appears to condone it or at least regards it as a necessary evil. But Labor must take the larger share of the responsibility for the current situation. This added culpability may be just because it holds office in all eight state and territory governments (mathematically that would be so); but its record in this regard is truly awful. It needs to clean up its act.

Federal Labor could take the lead on this. Will it embrace the opportunity to show its reform creditionals? It has shown little inclination to ensure that a more comprehensive lobbyist disclosure regime operates in our liberal democracy. However, Kevin Rudd says a comprehensive national register of lobbyists, listing their clients and the politicians they meet, is needed to "clear up" their activities.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:03 AM | | Comments (5)


Australian politics is heading down the American road. Labor lost its virginity in this respect back in the 1980's, when Hawke, Keating and Richardson started hobnobbing with big business money interests. The flood gates opened, especially in NSW and WA. Remember when Bondy and Hawky were bosom buddies? A story of the corrupt and the corrupted. Instead of the 'Golden State', WA will now be unofficially re-labeled as the 'Shonky State'.

BTW, Whatever happenned to Richo and his shady Swiss bank accounts? While the Aust govt is busy offshoring Aust jobs, the rich and well off (including ex-politicians and sports personalities) appear to be busy offshoring their assets to tax havens.

I think Richo was recently handed a 2 Million bill from the Tax Dept...700,000 or so was the owed amout and the rest was penalties....I suppose he may have some legal fees on top of that too. Not sure if he was part of the group of musicians and sports people being investigated or not.

Andrew Parker, managing director of Parker & Partners Public Affairs and partner of Ogilvy PR Worldwide, has an op-ed in The Australian on lobbying.

He rightly states that lobbying is an essential function of our democracy but acknowledges that those who represent the tobacco, firearm and alcohol industries,Australia's Brian Burke and jailed US lobbyist Jack Abramoff are the face of lobbying at the moment, and it's not a pretty sight.

However, as with disgraced former politicians (Mal Colston), journalists (think Today Tonight), doctors (Jayant Patel) and religious leaders (too numerous to mention), one swallow does not make a spring. Parker rightly says:

Modern professional lobbying, or government relations, is a sophisticated, serious industry. .... lobbying mostly involves research, strategy, analysing data, turning it into digestible messages and sharing this with governments.

He dismisses the corruption by saying that 'the Brian Burkes of this world -- those lobbyists who rely on personal "political mates" alone -- face extinction.' Burke is a very successfully lobbyist.

However, he adds that:

the serious and dominant lobbying profession has already agreed that formality in registration and disclosure is a good thing....the consensus [amongst industry colleagues] is that we do need to act to formally register the professionals and their clients and ensure our own high individual standards and codes of ethics are more uniformly shared among the wider industry. This will help us promote the serious, credible operators and weed out the unsavoury minority.

Latham, to his credit, called for the registration of lobbyists back in 2004. Hopefully Rudd will press on with this.

No one is advocating that corporations should not be allowed to lobby govt's. As members of the polity, they should be allowed to lobby govt's like other special interest groups such as trade unions. The problem is the way it is conducted. It would be good if all lobbying was conducted openly and publicly. Of course, most donations are made with the intention of gaining ministerial access, being able to directly shape govt decision making.

The mainstream parties have become dependent on corporate donations, and some of these donations are being made with strings attached - special favours to be granted, preferential treatment, protection from local or foreign competitors, exclusive govt contracts etc. Historically, this type of deal making has been typically facilitated by well-connected middlemen like Burke and Richardson. Those who believe that the top-level hierarchy in the WA Labor party weren't aware of what was happenning are fooling themselves. Like in the US, we're increasing seeing politicians being rewarded for services rendered through 'jobs for the boys' type arrangements. Carr collected his big payola from Macquarie Bank soon after retiring.

I wasn't suggesting that you were advocating that corporations should not be allowed to lobby govt's. I guess I didn't express myself very well.

I was trying to indicate that it is the politicians themselves who are dragging the chain on this, as even the lobby industry is in favour of registration and disclosure.

What is also needed is an independent enforcement body, as well as registration and disclosure.

I fully agree with you re the ALP in the state governments---they are in bed with the gambling industry (Victoria), the developers (NSW), mining industry (WA and SA) and the coal industry (Queensland) in a big way. So much so that the rightwing ALP state governments actually ride gunshot for these industries.

I also agree with you that the Ministers and their senior staff do lots of favours for the big end of town whilst they are in office, then are rewarded with a cushy job after they leave politics.

My guess is that the left usually says that lobby and campaign finance rules need to be stricter to better cut off the influence of money from politics. The right's customary response is that lobby and campaign finance rules should be loosened or quashed altogether since a) they go against the right to free speech and b) they don't work anyway