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Locating the Target: Regulating Lobbying in Australia.

AUSTRALIA'S EXPERIMENT with regulating lobbying and lobbyists has so far been unsuccessful. In 1996 the new Liberal-National coalition government disbanded the Lobbyists Registration Scheme which had been set up by the Labor government, also newly elected, in 1983. There was little publicity given to this decision and no opposition criticism. The scheme had always been largely a public relations exercise, to meet a short-term political need. It had no teeth and had served no useful purpose. The explanation offered by the Minister for Administrative Services was desultory, but he did promise that there would be insertions in a revised version of the government's Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility to deal with the questions raised by relations between government and lobbyists.

In Australian public life there is more concern with regulating the lobbied-ministers and bureaucrats-than in regulating the lobbyist. Questions of private interest and public duty are very much alive in an environment which has seen six members of the Howard government's political executive, four ministers and two parliamentary secretaries, forced from office in its first two years over such matters as perceived pecuniary interest in policy-making and abuse of travel allowances. This focus on office-holders , combined with public scepticism about the values of those in public life, has been the context in which regulation of lobbyists has been seriously discussed in Australia since its rejection in 1979 by the report of a government committee of inquiry into Public Duty and Private Interest. The preferred target has been miscreant ministers and public servants. Consequently, one outcome of the (Bowen) report was rules for public servants governing postseparation employment as lobbyists to be enshrined in Guidelines on Official Conduct of Commonwealth Public Servants. While Bowen recommended against the public disclosure of private interests by officeholders, the incoming Hawke Labor government introduced a scheme for the regulation of the declaration of pecuniary interests for all members of the House of Representatives, including ministers, in 1983.

The regulation of lobbyists, on the other hand, has been considered to be a much lower priority and, in addition, to pose considerable implementation difficulties. The Bowen report concluded that there was `no convincing evidence as to improper activities by lobbyists' in Australia. Furthermore, it was unimpressed by international experience and it believed, in particular, that `the difficulties encountered in successive attempts to regulate lobbying in Washington suggest the unprofitability of starting down that path in Australia'. The government accepted this advice.

What has spurred Australian governments to action has not been learned reports but crises in public relations. In 1978 the Fraser government was forced to reopen the tendering process for a $17 million computer project for the Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Trade and Resources. An unsuccessful tenderer, IBM, complained that a senior public servant who had been a member of the interdepartmental committee advising on the award of the contract had resigned to join FACOM Australia Ltd, the successful tenderer, shortly before the final decision was made. Fraser reacted by adding to the Bowen committee's terms of reference the specific matter of postseparation employment of public servants. In 1983 the Hawke government's regulation of lobbyists was an attempt to dampen the potentially adverse electoral effect of the expulsion of an alleged KGB spy who, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation claimed, had tried to recruit a Canberra lobbyist (formerly national secretary of the Australian Labor Party) as an `agent of influence'.

Political lobbying in Australia

Political lobbying is a well-established and accepted part of politics and administration in Australia. In Canberra there is a loose-knit community of up to a thousand lobbyists (broadly defined). Their number has grown dramatically over the last thirty or forty years. This trend has been encouraged by government agencies which have reserved land in the parliamentary triangle adjacent to Parliament House and to departmental head offices for national associations and firms which wish to set up offices in Canberra. In several Canberra suburbs numerous lobbyists operate cheek-to-cheek with ministers, bureaucrats, party officials, political journalists and each other.

The lobbyists are of various types: independent professionals, employees of national associations, representatives of institutions, of sub-national governments and of corporations. They are joined by representatives of organisations based elsewhere in Australia and by lobbyists based in state capital cities. Despite a continuous drift of organisations to Canberra, several of the most important national organisations, including the peak trade union body, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and several of the peak environmental groups, are based elsewhere. Others who lobby in the capital include members of the diplomatic corps and, from time to time, representatives of international firms, associations and foreign governments. Members of Parliament represent the interests of their constituents, but, unlike in the United Kingdom, they do not engage in political lobbying in the generally accepted sense of the term. They do retain membership of trade unions, churches, professional associations and social movement organisations. Indeed, the present Parliament includes among its members two former presidents of the ACTU (both on the Labor frontbench) and a former president of the Australian Medical Association (on the Liberal backbench). However, they do not maintain commercial relationships with organisations which wish to influence government.

National associations have been prominent among those lobbying the Commonwealth government from the time of Federation in 1901. This was especially so for associations representing the various sectors of industry. After the Commonwealth government moved to Canberra in 1927 such associations slowly took the decision to also move to the national capital. Business groups came first, especially manufacturers and exporters with a serious interest in protection policy. By the 1940s it could be said: `Governments come and go but the lobbyists continue to flutter around power, wherever it lies.'(1) Farmers' associations followed only after the war, while the ACTU remains in Melbourne. In each case, business, farmers and the union movement could rely on intimate relations with the three major political parties (through affiliation in the case of unions and Labor and, until the 1940s, farmers and the National Party) to press their interests. These relations were more central to their interests than anything which could be achieved through political lobbying.

There are now at least one hundred significant national association secretariats in Canberra. Umbrella organisations, such as the National Farmers Federation, provide this type of service for smaller organisations in their field. Among national organisations, business groups still predominate, but growth among other sectors has been considerable, including in the professions and promotional groups. Examples include the Returned Services League, the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Council of Independent Schools. Some associations which have kept their head offices outside Canberra, such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, maintain smaller liaison offices in Canberra.

The second category of lobbyist is the independent professionals. They include the traditional generalist lobbyists, the specialist trade and tariff consultants, and, increasingly, law firms. They are not organised into a professional association, but `government relations' practitioners are an identifiable group. They range in size from individual operators to quite large, multi-purpose, multinational firms, including the national law firms, with up to half-a-dozen professional lobbyists among their staff. They are either retained by clients, including associations, on a permanent basis or paid on the basis of a fee-for-service.

The generalist ranges widely across issues and departments. This is the type of lobbyist closest to the popular notion and to whom the Labor minister, Mick Young, was referring when he commented during the parliamentary debate about registration of lobbyists in 1984: `Virtually unheard of at the beginning of the 1970s, lobbying has become a major profession in the national capital.'(2) The first of these generalists appeared in the late 1960s, including Peter Cullen, formerly on the staff of several of the parliamentary leaders of the Labor Party, who set up his business in 1968. Their ranks have grown substantially and they now number about thirty firms and individuals publicly advertising for business in Canberra. The generalists draw on their contacts and experience in the senior levels of the public service and in Parliament and government.

Trade and tariff policies have always been big issues in Australian politics because traditionally Australian industry has been highly protected. Lobbying on protection matters on behalf of firms and industries has an equally long history. Trade and tariff consultants specialise in detailed submissions and representations on behalf of individual firms and industry associations to government departments and agencies. They may act solely as advisors to their clients, accompany them to public or private meetings with ministers and officials, or even, in some cases speak on behalf of clients. The first of these firms set up an office in Canberra in 1948, and there are now about twenty listed. They draw on a detailed knowledge of the rules and regulations governing imports and concentrate on a narrow band of issues. The trend towards lower levels of protection has undercut their business to some extent.

The largest nine national law firms all lobby from their Canberra offices as well as from their larger Sydney and Melbourne offices. Between them, they employ about thirty lobbyists in Canberra. Their clients are generally national and multinational firms. Law-firm lobbying is a recent development in Australia, with most of the growth occurring in the last decade, although the first national law firm arrived with lobbying intentions in 1974. It has evolved out of the growth in recent decades of the large law firms into so-called mega-firms. Their particular skills lie in their technical expertise in law and policy as it affects business interests.

The third category of lobbyist is those employed on staff by public or private institutions. Their importance is often underestimated. Institutions such as large corporations acting individually, churches and other parts of the charitable and voluntary sector, as well as the semigovernment parts of the public sector itself, have a long history of attempting to influence government through lobbying. Especially over the last thirty years they, too, have employed lobbyists and developed secretariats to represent their interests before government. Australia's larger corporations have established government relations and public affairs divisions. These are common in the heavily regulated motor vehicle, media, oil and tobacco industries. Government relations officials will advise whether it is appropriate for the actual lobbying to be left to an industry association, contracted out to a commercial lobbyist based in Canberra or, in the most significant situations, carried out by the company's senior executives or board members. Some firms in the defence sector do maintain paid contacts in the capital.

Lobbying and associated employment is an industry which exists in the penumbra of formal politics. It exists in the shade of politics without necessarily being a shady occupation. A majority of lobbyists have a background in a government-related field, usually in Canberra: some were politicians, while many were public servants, ministerial aides, political journalists, political party staff, or political scientists. There is some apparent specialisation. The business associations and the independent lobbyists working as trade and tariff consultants recruit many public servants, especially from the economic and trade departments. These associations and firms are able to offer quite senior public servants salaries greater than the government is able to match. Where these lobbyists' careers overlap with the political parties, it is most likely to be with the conservative Liberal and National Parties; because they have close working relationships with business and farmers' associations likely lobbyists will come to their attention.

The national law firms have the ability to draw on the highest administrative and political levels for their government relations consultants, which included, in 1996, a former Deputy Prime Minister, a former head of the Attorney-General's Department and a former Premier of New South Wales. Less senior staff often have prior experience in government administration.

The generalist independent lobbyists are mostly drawn from the more overtly political occupations in or closely related to Parliament or to the executive, such as parliamentarians, ministerial assistants, press secretaries or party officials. Those who work for public or private institutions may come from the sources previously discussed, or they are likely to have come from a career in the institution in question, whether it is a firm, a church or a university. The non-business associations draw on a different type of person, and sometimes these individuals move from one promotional or cause group to another. The salaries offered by such groups are below market rates, so the lobbyists must be even more attracted by the causes which they serve. Where such careers include past or future employment with a political party or parliamentarian, it is most likely, because of social and political networks, to be with Labor or with one of the minor post-material parties.

Organised interests in Australia attempt to influence the usual variety of targets--the executive, parliamentarians, the political parties, the courts and the public-in order to achieve their goals. Generally, political lobbyists will not choose just one target but will approach a number with the idea of generating a cumulative effect. This can be demonstrated by analysing published case studies.

The trend, nevertheless is for the targets of political lobbying to be the executive arm of government, ministers and public servants, rather than Parliament. This recognises the power of the executive in Australian government, which is supported by the discipline enforced by parties on their parliamentary members.

The exception to this rule, at the national level, is the attention given to the Senate, because the upper house has only rarely been controlled by the government since the second world war. Minor parties and independents have held the balance of power for all but a handful of the past twenty years. So the attention of lobbyists has turned to the possibilities of defeating or amending government legislation by converting non-government members, especially Australian Democrats and Green senators and occasional independents, to their point of view.

Australian lobbyists operate in a political and legal environment which is not tightly regulated. Laws governing matters such as the public disclosure of donations to political parties for electoral purposes, the public disclosure of the pecuniary interests of ministers and Members of Parliament, and the rules covering post-separation employment of public servants, all constrain lobbying in only the very loosest way and in the broadest sense. They fail to touch either the usual methods of lobbying or the mainstream lobbying community. This is the context in which the direct regulation of lobbyists is considered.

The Lobbyists Registration Scheme 1983-84

The origin of the regulation of lobbyists lay in what came to be known as the Combe Affair. The principal actor was a long-serving Labor Party employee, who had served as national secretary from 1973 to 1981. When he left the ALP, he set himself up in business in Canberra as a lobbying firm, David Combe Associates. Following the election of the Hawke government in 1983, Combe, who was regarded as a preeminent Labor insider with very good contacts in the new government, found that his clientele grew to such an extent that he was overwhelmed. He began to share some of his clients with an established Canberra lobbying firm, Australian Public Affairs Consultants, whose principals included David Barnett, former press secretary to the then Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. So Combe was a mainstream, uncontroversial figure in Australian public affairs.

In the course of business life in the national capital, Combe established a relationship with Valeri Ivanov, First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy. Unbeknown to him, Ivanov was being closely watched by the security service, ASIO, which suspected he was a KGB spy. Shortly after coming to office, the Hawke government accepted ASIO's case and Ivanov was expelled. The case was an unwelcome return of Cold War security issues which had usually operated to the detriment of the Labor Party in Australian postwar electoral politics. The issue widened into a general investigation into Australian security agencies, and led to the suspension of a minister accused of leaking confidential information to a lobbyist. The government accepted that Combe, an intimate acquaintance of most of its members, was a security risk and denied him any further access to ministers. His career as a lobbyist was destroyed in an instant. There was, however, considerable sympathy for him in the labour movement, with many people considering that he had been treated unfairly or at least harshly. Sometime later he was somewhat restored to grace by the government when he accepted the position of Australian Trade Commissioner in Vancouver.

One further government response to the issues surrounding the Combe Affair was its move to regulate the lobbying industry, which was suddenly in an unaccustomed glare of publicity. The government's general intentions were announced when the Department of the Special Minister of State published a discussion paper, Lobbyists and the Australian Government and Parliament, in September 1983.(3) Various options were canvassed, including regulation by legislation, maintenance of a register of lobbyists and self-regulation by means of a code of conduct. Consultation with an informal organisation of Canberra lobbyists followed. The government established the Lobbyists Registration Scheme by executive decision rather than by legislation in December 1983. Introducing the scheme, which was opposed by the Opposition, the responsible acting minister (and current Leader of the Opposition), Kim Beazley, argued that this was a major step: `These lobbyists would be given the importance and significance that they are assuming in the democratic process in this country, something which is entirely appropriate at this stage.'(4) However, the government had no intention of making this scheme either important or significant.

The key question for the government to consider was who should be considered a lobbyist. The options canvassed included the full range discussed earlier, such as commercial lobbyists, professionals such as lawyers and accountants whose activities were often indistinguishable from lobbyists, and associations and firms which lobbied on their own behalf. The commercial lobbyists clearly favoured a broad, inclusive definition of lobbyist, such as that used in the US Regulation of Lobbying Act 1946, but eventually either for pragmatic reasons or under duress the government opted for the narrowest of definitions: `a person (or company) who, for financial or other advantage, represents a client in dealings with Commonwealth Government ministers and officials'.(5) This not only excluded the majority of lobbying and lobbyists (broadly defined), including employees of corporations and national associations, but also excluded some potential targets, such as backbench Members of Parliament, who were certainly targets in the political lobbying of the day-and still are.

Equally important, the definition of `dealings' was also very narrow. Activities which were not registrable included: `inquiries about publicly available information; requests for clarification of current legislation, guidelines or policies; requests for rulings pursuant to existing legislation, guidelines or policies; applications for decisions within existing legislation, guidelines or policies other than those applying to the award of contracts and tenders'. Such dealings were part of the normal business of commercial lobbyists, perhaps the main part. The registrable activities were those representations undertaken for financial or other advantage which involved: `to make or amend legislation of the Commonwealth or territories other than the Northern Territory; to make or change Government guidelines or policies; to influence Government decisions on awarding contracts and tenders, or appointments to public office; and on other significant matters determined from time to time by the minister'.

The scheme did not incorporate a public register but instead set up two confidential registers; a special one for lobbyists representing foreign clients and a general one for lobbyists representing domestic clients. The whole scheme became operational in March 1984. Applications by lobbyists for their activity to be placed on the special register 'are checked to see if they adversely affect the national interest or national security'. Access to the information contained in the registers was to be available only to `ministers and government officials who have a need to know'. A later responsible minister found that this was interpreted strictly and that he was expected to visit the department to inspect the register. Only after pressure was applied to the department was the register brought to his office. One shadow minister was refused any access.

Lobbyists were required to apply to register each time they accepted a brief and for each new client. The application form required a brief description of the activity to be undertaken. Once registered, they were expected to produce the letter of acceptance from the Registrar whenever contacting ministers or officials about this activity. Lobbyists were quite content to comply with the requirements because they were not onerous. Indeed, it has been argued that the `legitimacy conferred' by the registration scheme was `the most important factor improving the standing of the lobbyist' in the following years.(6)

At the same time as the registration scheme, a parallel ministerial code of conduct for dealing with lobbyists was also introduced. Ministers were advised to seek to avoid granting special access or privileges to any lobbyist, because of their background. This was a warning to ministers to be wary of advantaging lobbyists who, like Combe, had a Labor Party background. They were also asked to insist that, where possible, lobbyists were accompanied by the clients they were representing when they visited their offices.

The only sanction provided was that ministers and officials were advised not to deal with unregistered lobbyists and to report any who came to their notice. Experience would show that this was not enough. It depended upon registration becoming an accepted part of the culture of the lobbying relationship, taken seriously by ministers, officials and lobbyists.

Failure and abolition 1984-96

The Liberal-National coalition, in opposition from 1983 to 1996, was never enamoured of the scheme. It did not support it when it was first introduced, because it saw it as merely an unconvincing attempt to divert attention from relations between government ministers and certain lobbyists. The opposition called for `a register of trustworthy ministers' rather than a register of lobbyists. If there was to be a register of lobbyists, it wanted the scheme to be broader so as to encompass national associations and other lobbyists, but the opposition's preference was for self-regulation. Later, in the campaign for the 1987 election, the Liberal Party designated the scheme for abolition. Over the next few years, one of its shadow ministers took some interest in the scheme, in the context of government decisions on foreign ownership of media and bank mergers, but was refused access to the register. He concluded in a news release that the scheme was `a sham and virtually useless, particularly to the press, the Parliament and those who want to put government decision-making under scrutiny'. He recommended that the `veil of secrecy' be replaced by an open register.

The responsible government ministers, for their part, generally attempted to insist that their ministerial colleagues and departmental officers adhered to the scheme. A review in 1985, which led to minor changes to the paperwork, alerted the government to the fact that the scheme was honoured more in the breach than the observance. In particular, it appeared that lobbyists were only rarely requested to show their letters of registration when dealing with ministers or their staffs. There were few inquiries directed to the registrar. Thereafter, the responsible minister regularly and formally requested all ministers to alert their staff and their departments to the requirements of the scheme.

One minister went further than this. Senator Nick Bolkus, Labor's Minister for Administrative Services 1990-93, was attracted to the idea of a stronger scheme after learning of US and Canadian regulations during a trip to Washington. He was particularly impressed by the thinking behind the 1988 Canadian scheme, which had been introduced since the Australian scheme was created. He was also sensitive to media criticism. His judgment was that, despite his attempts (and those of his predecessors) to increase adherence to the scheme, it was often ignored.

Bolkus took a submission to Cabinet in mid-1991, proposing that a new legislative scheme be introduced during the August 1991 budget sittings of Parliament. This legislation would make the registration scheme more comprehensive, establish the register as a public document and introduce penalties for non-compliance. The coverage of lobbyists would be extended to employees of organisations such as associations and corporations. MPs would also be included among those lobbied. The initiative was to be justified on the grounds of public interest and public accountability. There was some increased expenditure, but within the departmental budget allocation.

The submission was unsuccessful. The idea seems to have had few strong supporters either in Cabinet or within the bureaucracy and the parliamentary party. The economic departments were opposed. It appears that, in the absence of obvious benefits to the government and with the likelihood of criticism from the lobbying industry, the proposal died.

The Howard government took office in March 1996. In October 1996, six months later and shortly after the government's first budget, the Registrar of Lobbyists wrote to lobbyists with an active entry on the Register of Lobbyists to announce that, following a review of its operations, the government had decided to abolish it. The decision had been taken, according to the Registrar, after the government had taken into account `both changes which have taken place in the lobbying industry since 1984 and the general changes which have evolved in government processes and the role of Parliament to ensure that relevant community and business interests are consulted in the decision making process'.(7) This is an unconvincing explanation. The responsible minister was more informative and much franker on 21 November in the House of Representatives when he gave a brief answer to a friendly question from a government backbencher. He claimed that `frankly, it was a toothless tiger and its provisions were really unenforceable'.(8) Three reasons for abolition were suggested in addition to the general rationale advanced by the Registrar. First, `the requirements of the scheme were just not being adhered to'. In the three years prior to the March 1996 election only eight inquiries were made to the Registrar. Secondly, there had been `quite a bit of criticism that the register was not available for public scrutiny'. Thirdly, `the scheme was an unnecessary hindrance to the business sector'. The first two go to the heart of the issue. In the form devised in 1983-84, the scheme was a dead letter. The third reason suggested, therefore, was nonsense, though perhaps superficially appealing to a business clientele.

The scheme had either to be strengthened, perhaps along the lines considered four or five years earlier by Senator Bolkus, or dropped. Its future prospects were not promising. The Liberal Party had never supported it. The incoming government was seeking public sector cuts and aiming to remove `red tape'. The department had little enthusiasm for the scheme which, somewhat ironically, was administered from within its Awards and National Symbols division. The outcome was not at all surprising.

How had it come to this state of affairs? To what extent had the scheme had become ineffective? What was the record of the register from 1984 to 19967

Public information about the register was scarce. The scheme was always downplayed by those concerned with its implementation and public reporting was limited, confined to the annual reports of the relevant department, originally the anachronistic Department of Special Minister of State (created to accommodate the Hawke government's `minister for politics', Mick Young, the minister suspended in 1983), until it was disbanded after the 1987 elections. Then it became the province of the lowly-ranked Department of Administrative Services.

Only a few lines in the annual report of the relevant department were devoted to the scheme each year, and over the decade the trickle of information virtually dried up. The Special Minister of State's Department provided the number of lobbyists and clients registered each year, 1984-87; the Administrative Services Department provided only the number of lobbyists and then, after 1990 ceased, to provide any figures at all. This apparently suited the government, the opposition, the department and the lobbyists themselves. Advocates of open government seem not to have been overly concerned to pressure the government for more information.

The number of registered lobbyists on the General Register grew from 151 at 30 June 1985 to 238 in July 1991, while the number on the Special Register grew from 22 to 33 over the same period. The number of clients for about the same period, 1985-91, increased on the General Register from 601 to 917 and on the Special Register from 31 to 49. This indicates an independent commercial lobbying industry of a size in keeping with our discussion earlier. Most of these lobbyists were consultants, with a small number of lawyers, accountants and customs agents. The Special Register included 27 individual countries represented by lobbyists.

The only other figures available are those for the number of inquiries to the Registrar provided by the Minister for Administrative Services, David Jull, in November 1996. The eight inquiries which were made by ministers, their staff or departmental officers over three years, 1993-95, were tabled as evidence that the `requirements of the scheme were just not being adhered to'.(9) Yet they can equally be seen as a limited scheme being adhered to remarkably well. Office-holders would only contact the Registrar if something was amiss. This was unlikely, given the purpose of the scheme. The then Registrar himself, in 1995, argued that the idea of registration was to `erect a watch-tower but for the time being to leave it open'.(10) Equally, there is no evidence that the national interest provisions of the Special Register were ever called into play.

Protecting the public interest

What explains this apparent lack of interest in Australia in the regulation of lobbying? The answer lies not in the absence of political lobbying, nor in an underestimation of it. Nor does it lie in a lack of concern to protect the public interest against manipulative private interests. Rather, the Australian argument is that the types of political lobbying that can be regulated are of a relatively low order and exist in a relatively `clean' system. Equally, there are no effective mechanisms for regulating the `heavy-duty' lobbying which is inherent in the system and virtually inaccessible. Therefore, it is possibly more productive to target the lobbied rather than the lobbyist.

The political lobbying in Australia which primarily concerns defenders of the public interest--the `big battalions'--emanates from the dominant political parties, from the mass media and from large corporations. Sometimes all three overlap. The dominance of the three major political parties in electoral politics means that those interests influential within them are advantaged. This means the `old' interests such as business, labour and farmers which have close relations with them and some of the `new' interests such as the environmental conservation movement which win a foothold from time to time. The Australian news media has greatly concentrated ownership. The major figures are Rupert Murdoch of News Ltd and Kerry Packer of Australian Consolidated Press. Neither they nor other owners have been backward in exercising political influence.

The large media corporations have on their staff, to advise on political and other strategies, some of the most notable backroom political strategists in recent times. Examples include Andrew Robb, former Federal Director of the Liberal Party, who is credited with the successful campaign which accompanied coalition victory in 1996; Graham Morris, former head of Prime Minister Howard's private office; and Graham Richardson, former Labor Minister for the Environment and known to be one of the key political strategists in the Hawke government. Nevertheless, attention still focuses not on these lobbyists but on the principal corporation owners, Packer, Murdoch and others. Conrad Black, the Canadian `baron', featured in allegations that he illicitly influenced both the Prime Minister, Keating, and the leader of the opposition in order to manipulate foreign ownership regulations to his benefit as he attempted to raise his stake in the Sydney Morning Herald. This led to a public inquiry by a Senate Committee whose majority report found the case proven.

This is the context in which the political system has chosen to concentrate on other forms of regulation and other targets than the lobbyists. Over the past two decades, the focus has been on regulations to enforce public disclosure of election campaign donations and of the financial interests of ministers and parliamentarians. To a lesser extent, there has been interest in codes of professional conduct for public servants. Presently, the major focus, at both Commonwealth and state level, is on codes of conduct for ministers and parliamentarians. Regulating lobbyists, while an obvious concern in this climate, has been overshadowed.

This conclusion may be illustrated by a small example. In October 1996 the Senate Estimates Committee examined the annual budget and performance of the Department of Administrative Services. This was the chance for the opposition to attack the government for abolishing the register of lobbyists. Instead, Senator Bolkus mentioned the register briefly in order to move on to the Prime Minister's guidelines on ministerial responsibility and the matter of public duty and private interests. In a scenario common in contemporary Australian politics, the opposition alleged a conflict of interest in the awarding of a recent government advertising contract to a firm known to have conducted party-political work for the governing party. In this scenario, conflict of interest is the issue. The target is not a lobbyist but the minister.

It is unlikely that the regulation of lobbyists will be reintroduced in Australia in the near future. Bolkus, the shadow Attorney-General, has no such plans. The previous scheme is seen not so much as a failure as a non-event. Its reintroduction would have no support from any politically important constituency. Only a public relations disaster of very large proportions, which showed the lobbying industry, and by inference the government, in an extremely poor light, might shift the public's attention away from its current preoccupation with other public interest concerns and force action by government.

(1) L.F. Crisp, The Parliamentary Government of the Commonwealth of Australia (Longmans Green, 1949), p. 59.

(2) Parliamentary Debates, 28 March 1984.

(3) Department of the Special Minister of State (Australian Government Publishing Service, 1983).

(4) Parliamentary Debates, 6 December 1983.

(5) See P. Sekuless, Lobbying Canberra in the Nineties (Allen and Unwin, 1991), Appendix 1.

(6) C. Lloyd, `Political Lobbying: Dynamiting or Gentle Persuasion?' in P. Cullen, No is Not an Answer (Allen and Unwin, 1990), p. 37.

(7) L. Suur, Registrar of Lobbyists, to Mr J. Gaul, Canberra Liaison Pty Ltd, 3 October 1996.

(8) Parliamentary Debates, 21 November 1996.

(9) Parliamentary Debates, 21 November 1996.

(10) Y. Yishai, The Guardian State: A Comparative Analysis of Interest Group Regulation, paper for the American Political Science Association annual meeting 1996.
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Publication:Parliamentary Affairs
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Date:Oct 1, 1998
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