Mathias Cormann reveals lobbyists he met in lead-up to election | Australia news

The finance minister, Mathias Cormann, has revealed he met with some of the world’s most powerful corporations in the months leading up to the election, including Santos, Anglo American, Rio Tinto and Google.

Outgoing crossbench senator Tim Storer used his last days in Senate estimates to put a series of questions to cabinet ministers about their dealings with lobbyists, both in-house and third-party, between January and April this year.

He has received three responses: from Cormann, the energy minister, Angus Taylor, and the environment minister, Melissa Price.

Cormann provided a comprehensive list of 31 groups he had met with, including representatives from Santos, Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Google, Ebay, IBM Global Markets, AmazonPrime, the West Australian hotels lobby and Wesfarmers.

The list is far more illuminating than the lobbyist register – the public’s only real window into lobbying of Australian politicians – which gives no sense of who ministers are giving access to.

Storer has applauded Cormann’s openness and said he hoped it could set a precedent for transparency.

Price said she had met with two lobbyists: Bossy Group’s Peter McMahon, a former adviser to Joe Hockey, and Macquarie Group’s head of government relations, Navleen Prasad. Bossy Group’s clients include Emanuel Exports, the company at the centre of the live export controversy, and the Indian IT consulting conglomerate Infosys.

What do lobbyists do?

Lobbyists attempt to influence government policy or decisions on behalf of either a client or their own organisation. Ethical lobbying is a valuable and important element of a healthy democracy. It helps those who have a stake in government policy to convey their views and expertise. There are two broad types of lobbyists: third-party lobbyists, who are engaged as consultants; in-house lobbyists, who work directly for corporations or interest groups.

Who hires lobbyists?

For many Australians, lobbying conjures images of powerful corporations working to sway politicians behind the scenes. There is a truth in that. The big banks, mining and energy giants, pharmaceutical companies, casinos, Amazon, Google and Facebook all engage lobbyists. But lobbyists also work on behalf of not-for-profits and community groups, including for veterans, social workers, aged-care staff, school principals and environmental organisations. 

What is the lobbyist register?

The lobbyist register is the public’s only window into the world of lobbying. It’s a publicly available online list of lobbying firms, individual lobbyists and their clients. The register was a huge step forward when it was introduced in 2008, but remains frustratingly opaque. It doesn’t tell us who is lobbying whom, about what, or when. Compare that with the ACT, where lobbyists are required to file quarterly reports on their activities, or NSW, where ministers are required to publish their diaries. The federal register is also completely blind to the activities of in-house lobbyists.

What is the lobbyist code of conduct?

The code tells lobbyists how they must behave when approaching the government and is designed to maintain ethical standards. But the code is not legislated and has no real teeth. It goes largely unenforced and the punishments are weak. The worst sanction available to authorities is removing a lobbyist from the register. The US and Canada have fines or jail terms for law breaches. 

Who keeps an eye on lobbyists?

Federally it’s the prime minister’s  department that loosely oversees lobbying. It takes on a largely administrative role, rather than an investigative or regulatory one. Its core job is to maintain the register and communicate the code’s requirements to lobbyists. It lacks independence, relies on reports of bad lobbying and rarely, if ever, takes enforcement action. 

Taylor, however, said he had met with no lobbyists, either in-house or third-party, in the three months.

Storer doubted the accuracy of that statement and called on Taylor to reconsider his response.

“It would seem to me that minister Taylor and Price have only disclosed meetings they have had with registered third-party lobbyists, despite me specifically asking them to also provide me with details of meetings they had with both in-house and third-party lobbyists,” he told Guardian Australia.

“The response from minister Taylor and Price stands in stark contrast to the comprehensive list provided by Senator Cormann.

“I encourage minister Taylor and Price to revisit the terms of the question I put to them and return to me with a more accurate list.”

A spokeswoman for Taylor said he had relied on the definition of lobbyists in the federal lobbying rules. That definition includes only registered third-party lobbyists, not in-house lobbyists.

“During the time period requested by Senator Storer, minister Taylor has no record of meeting with any lobbyist, as defined in the lobbying code of conduct,” she said.

Storer did not recontest his Senate seat in the recent election but used his last months in parliament to campaign hard for greater transparency, integrity, and for a federal integrity commission to be established.

He recently wrote to the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and other cabinet ministers to urge them to regularly publish their diaries. The practice is in place in Queensland and New South Wales, where quarterly publications of ministerial diaries reveals who is getting access to the most powerful people in each state.

The federal government has so far shown no interest in releasing ministerial diaries. Where they are requested through freedom of information, ministers have typically resisted their publication in any form, released heavily redacted versions, or published in a format that hides the contents and persons involved in their meetings.

Storer urged Morrison to follow the example of Queensland and NSW.

“I believe such reporting is simple yet will be of significant benefit to the public in terms of their desire for parliamentary transparency,” he said. “It will show in a concise format the hard-working approach of yourself and your ministers in their weekly schedules, both during and outside of parliamentary sitting weeks.”

Source link Finance News Australia

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