I seek leave to move a motion in relation to an order for the production of documents regarding the transparency of official appointments. This motion has been circulated.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to a contingent motion standing in my name, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely, a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to an order for the production of documents.
In the coming weeks, in the run-up to the budget, the corridors of this building will be swarming with lobbyists, big business representatives and political donors seeking to influence government policies, decisions and beyond. They will be having quiet words with ministers and their staff and they'll be greasing the machinery of government to ensure that their interests, not the public interests, are protected and promoted.
Publication of the names of the people who lobby government is a vital transparency and integrity measure for this place, but yesterday Labor and the coalition combined forces to block a motion moved by me that would have provided for the quarterly publication of the names of the people outside government who are meeting with ministers to influence government policy or decisions. There was nothing radical in this motion. That proposed scheme was based on the New South Wales Premier's memorandum M2014-07 on the publication of ministerial diaries, an arrangement that's been in place for nearly nine years. The Premier's memo was born out of the 2010 New South Wales ICAC report titled Investigation into corruption risks involved in lobbying.
Publishing ministers' diaries is a key anticorruption measure. Official ministerial diaries are already published in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT. It's also done in New Zealand. Even the United States President releases and publishes White House visitor logs. This is a baseline anticorruption measure that should stand alongside the new National Anti-Corruption Commission and political donations reform, so it's an absolute disgrace that Labor and the coalition combined against the crossbench and the Greens to block this transparency measure. It's all the more a shame because Labor and the coalition have both previously expressed support for ministerial diaries to be transparent.
In the previous parliament, Labor—notably, now Attorney-General Dreyfus—supported public disclosure of ministerial diaries. The then coalition government resisted. In this parliament, the coalition initially developed a newfound interest in transparency. Following the government's obstruction of efforts by a journalist to obtain FOI, freedom of information, access to the Prime Minister's appointment diary, Senator Birmingham pursued the matter with Senator Wong in question time. After former senator Patrick was in the news for having been asked to pay $13,444 for 197 days of the PM's diary, paying the deposit and then being told that he was not going to get them anyway, Senator Birmingham pursued the government at February estimates. Senator Wong says there is no need for a general disclosure scheme, claiming that FOI is still an effective transparency mechanism despite knowing full well that, thanks to our broken freedom of information system, the government can delay access for years if not indefinitely.
However, Senator Birmingham's transparency enthusiasm apparently evaporated in a puff of smoke yesterday, and now the coalition is on a unity ticket with Labor against openness and integrity. One wonders what happened. Perhaps former Prime Minister Morrison's secrecy obsessions live on inside the Liberal Party. Perhaps Senator Birmingham just has no ticker. In any case, the truth is that both major parties are allergic to integrity measures in this place. Shame on you. In the coming weeks, there will be plenty of lobbyists scurrying along the corridors of power. If you turn on the lights, the cockroaches head for the exits. That's what we need and that's why this motion is urgent.
I relented. Instead of taking my ideas, which came from a very normal disclosure arrangement in New South Wales, my motion lets the government decide the best way. How reasonable is that? I've tried compromise. We need this motion passed now so we can have some resolution by next week. It gives the government another chance to do the right thing and live up to its promise from the last election—transparency, transparency, transparency! Oh my goodness, isn't that evaporating at the speed of light? How's that going for you? You just have more broken promises, and transparency is a big one. If they don't pass this motion, then I have to ask: what are you hiding? What are you so scared to show in those diaries? What don't you want the public to know out there? I cannot implore you enough to come back to the transparency measures you promised the people in the last election and do what you said you would do.
The Greens strongly support this motion. After years of political scandals, secrecy, misuse of funds and the trashing of conventions, the community has little confidence that politicians in this place will act in anything other than their own interests, and too often their own interests are influenced by industry lobbyists offering cushy post-parliament roles sweetened by the winking promise of political donations. Far too many deals in this place are thrashed out between ministers and their donors behind closed doors. You only have to see the number of orange lanyards in the hallways to understand that lobbyists are constantly in and out of ministers' offices. And you only have to look at the policy outcomes to see the influence they have over decisions. Privileged access, generous donations and promises of a cushy role when they're done clearly influence political decisions.
We know that the minister responsible for regulating gambling has met with the gambling industry seven times more often than she has met with gambling harm reduction advocates, and we only know that because it was interrogated through estimates, not because that information is put out in the public for all to see. So it's safe to assume that the ministers responsible for the safeguard mechanism are being lobbied by the very industries that will be regulated by it. It's no shock that many of them have loudly supported the weak proposal that would allow them to keep polluting. Remember when the Minerals Council toppled a prime minister over a proposed superprofits tax, or when casinos were exempted from COVID restrictions? It's a level of access and influence that most community organisations working in the public interest can only dream of, and it undermines democracy. The very least that the public could expect is for ministers to be open about who they're meeting with and what they're talking about. Labor should be supporting greater transparency. The current Attorney-General took legal action arguing that former attorney-general George Brandis should release his ministerial diaries. The Queensland state Labor government has been publishing ministerial diaries for years, and the sky hasn't fallen in.
The Greens want to get big money and corporate influence out of politics altogether. We were calling for a national integrity commission for about a decade before Labor finally saw the light, and we're glad that we'll finally see one this year—albeit without the public hearings and whistleblower protections that we'll keep calling for. But a strong corruption watchdog is just one step in restoring public confidence in democracy. Cleaning up politics is not just about exposing corruption and punishing the corrupt; it's about getting rid of the conditions that allow corruption and poor standards to flourish in the first place. We need better checks and balances on who gets to bend the ears of politicians—a strong lobbying code that lets people see who's meeting with who, and one that would put an end to the revolving door that sees politicians and staffers, within moments of leaving parliament, take on highly paid senior roles in industries they used to regulate.
Lobbyists are defined under the current weak Lobbying Code of Conduct as people or companies lobbying 'on behalf of a third party'. This excludes in-house lobbying—lobbying directly for a company or an industry—which is a loophole the size of a mining truck. Ministers exploit that language so that in-house lobbyists and post-ministerial roles are treated in a way that falls outside the lobbying regulated under the code. It clearly undermines the objectives of the code, and it must be fixed. We need an enforceable code of conduct for politicians, with meaningful consequences for misconduct. We've recently strengthened the code to address harassment and bad behaviour, but we need to go further and address integrity. We need a strong public sector providing frank and fearless advice to ministers and curbing their excesses. We need well-resourced oversight agencies, like the ANAO, and freedom of information laws that actually promote transparency. We need a culture that encourages people to expose misconduct, knowing that there are strong protections for whistleblowers and a genuine expectation that the misconduct they have exposed will lead to punishment for those who are abusing their positions. And we need to remove the corrupting influence of political donations.
We want to ban donations from industries with a track record of buying influence, like fossil fuels, weapons, gambling and pharmaceuticals, to stop those industries standing in the way of science based reforms and humane policies. We also want to ensure that all donations over a thousand dollars are disclosed in real time, not up to 19 months after the gift, which is currently the case. And we want the definition of gift to capture the full gift—not just the money explicitly given as a donation but exorbitant memberships, meeting fees and expensive dinners. Real-time disclosure of gifts would allow people to know who's funding the parties they voted for. Everybody benefits from a culture of honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability in politics. Let's just get on with it.
We don't support the suspension motion that the chamber is currently debating—although we have, as usual, traversed into the substance of the motion that is being sought to be moved. The reason we don't agree with the suspension is that the Senate has a number of pieces of legislation for this time, which is meant for government business. I note that the suspension motion wasn't moved at the beginning of the day, which allowed for private senators' matters to be dealt with, but is eating into government business time. We have a number of key pieces of legislation that we would like to progress, including—this morning if possible—the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill. As people would understand, it is very important to progress that and to put a new arrangement in place. It is time critical. It needs to pass this week so that we can put in the arrangements required for reporting at a business level about the steps organisations are taking to close the gender pay gap and publicising the gender pay gap that exists in businesses, because that's a real handbrake on women's economic equality.
That is the reason we won't support the suspension of the standing orders. There are a range of times in the chamber when this motion could be moved. Notice could have been given to deal with it on Monday. We dealt with a motion yesterday. So there is simply no argument that this has to be done at this point in time. I also say that the usual courtesy is to provide some heads-up that this is happening so that we can prepare. The chamber operates on these conventions.
Long debate text truncated.
Date and time: 10:48 AM on 2023-03-23
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 15
Total number of "no" votes: 26
Total number of abstentions: 35
Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au