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The main report recommendations tabled today from a senate committee inquiry into lobbying miss an opportunity for urgent, overdue and much-needed regulatory and systems improvements according to ACT Independent Senator David Pocock.

Last December, a majority of senators supported a motion moved by Senator Pocock to establish the inquiry which went on to receive 346 public submissions and hold a day-long public hearing in Canberra.

Rather than moving ahead with reform now on the basis of extensive evidence tendered to the inquiry, the main committee report recommends holding a further “independent review of the Lobbying Code of Conduct”, improving regulatory interoperability and restoring day passes.

In a dissenting report, containing seven recommendations, Senator Pocock urged immediate action on key items proposed for the independent review including:

  • legislating the currently voluntary Lobbying Code of Conduct, 
  • expanding its application to in-house lobbyists and interactions with all parliamentarians, and;
  • introducing appropriately strong penalties for breaching the code 

Senator Pocock’s recommendations went further, reflecting evidence tendered to the committee that called for:

  • the monthly publication of ministerial diaries, consistent with advocacy from other crossbench senators including Senator Lambie and former Senator Rex Patrick;
  • the publication of sponsored passholders who are granted privileged access to parliament house, including the name of their sponsor;
  • the establishment of a new properly resourced regulator to oversee the Lobbying Code of Conduct and Lobbyist register; and
  • the establishment of a Whistleblower Protection Authority, consistent with advocacy from other crossbenchers including the Member for Indi Helen Haines and the Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie to ensure that whistleblowers using parliamentary privilege are adequately protected.

Senator Pocock recognised the value of effective lobbying and access to parliament house but argued the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated a need for those benefits to be balanced with appropriate democratic protections.

“Weak and ineffective regulation of lobbyists and a secretive system of allowing access to Parliament House undermines public trust in our parliamentary institutions,” Senator Pocock said.

“We need a fit-for-purpose regime to regulate lobbying in federal parliament to promotes transparency and guard against private interests usurping the public interest.

“The enormous weight of evidence tendered to this inquiry - including from current lobbyists - revealed the system as it currently stands is fatally flawed. 

“We’ve got a code with such a narrow definition of lobbying that 80% of lobbyists aren’t even captured by it and in the unlikely event someone is found to breach it, the penalty is so light as to offer no deterrent at all.

“Ministers aren’t accountable for who they meet with and more than 2000 people have 24/7 access-all-areas passes with no public visibility over who they are or who gave them this access.

“The professionalisation of lobbying in this country into what is now a multi-billion dollar industry requires improved regulation, and the time to make those changes is now.”

Summary of Senator Pocock’s recommendations:

Recommendation 1: The definition of lobbyist should be expanded so that all lobbyists, including in-house lobbyists, are on the Register of Lobbyists and subject to the Lobbying Code of Conduct.

Recommendation 2: The Lobbying Code of Conduct should extend to include interactions between lobbyists and all parliamentarians.

Recommendation 3: The Lobbying Code of Conduct must be legislated and include appropriate penalties for breaches.

Recommendation 4: An independent regulator should be appointed and properly resourced to oversee the Lobbying Code of Conduct and Lobbyist Register.

Recommendation 5: Details of sponsored passes should be published, including the name of the passholder, the passholder’s employer and the identity of the sponsoring  parliamentarian.

Recommendation 6: A model should be developed for monthly publication of Ministerial diaries. The starting point for design of that model should be the system currently in force in Queensland.

Recommendation 7: Establish a Whistleblower Protection Authority to ensure that whistleblowers using parliamentary privilege are adequately protected.


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