Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Today by Elle Hardy


The invisible handshake
Australia’s lobbying-industrial complex needs urgent reform

Source: Twitter

The lobbying firm run by former defence minister Christopher Pyne and his former chief of staff has been engaged on behalf of a client that in the past year won almost $3 million in contracts from the defence department, Guardian Australia reveals today.

The client in question, Saber Astronautics, is a research and development company that specialises in space systems, and which recently engaged in a combat-preparedness exercise with the US military.

The contracts were all awarded through an open and competitive process, and there is no suggestion of impropriety. But no matter how well things have been done by the book, the situation shines a spotlight on our nation’s burgeoning lobbying industry.

Lobbying is an industry that almost no one outside of politics and big business likes. But the lack of a dedicated pushback against it means that little comes of controversies around lobbyists’ influence on all levels of government.

Over the past 20 years, lobbying activities in Australia have increased dramatically, growing into a multibillion-dollar industry. As ever, we are seeing the advanced stages of this unfettered culture of lobbying overseas, particularly in the United States, and doing little to stop the rot on our shores.

In 1974, just 3 per cent of retiring members of the US Congress went on to become lobbyists. These days, it is said that closer to 50 per cent of senators and 42 per cent of congresspeople move into those oily corridors.

Back home, we are seeing a similar narrowing of the political class, as politics offers a full vocational arc from university to retirement. In 2017, almost half of all federal Liberal Party MPs were former staffers. Highly lucrative lobbying gigs are increasingly becoming the light at the end of the tunnel after all of those bleak Canberra mornings.

The Australian government’s own lobbying code of conduct prohibits former government ministers from engaging “in lobbying activities relating to any matter that they had official dealings with in their last 18 months in office”. GC Advisory – the lobbying firm in question – told Guardian Australia that Pyne did not lobby for any defence clients. Much like the inquiry last month into Pyne’s appointment to professional services firm EY, however, this response is unlikely to resolve the matter in the minds of the public, and highlights that this is the kind of arbitrary rule put in place to give the appearance of doing something rather than effectively tackling conflicts of interest.

Whatever rules may be in place, the simple fact is that lobbying exists because it is effective. In 2010, a mining industry campaign successfully killed the mining tax, and some say [$] the Rudd government. When the banking royal commission was first announced, the first move of the big banks was to threaten to run a similar style of public campaign.

A report by the Grattan Institute last year found that mining and energy companies punch well above their weight when it comes to influencing governments, accounting for more than a quarter of all recorded lobbyist contacts in Queensland between 2013 and 2018 – vastly more than any other sector.

Given that at present barely a sitting session of parliament can go by without another money scandal – think an Aldi bag full of cash dogging Labor, and a six-figure donation for a dinner that never happened still hanging over the Liberals – it is time to consider these ethical issues as part of a systemic problem, rather than as individual scandals.

The fact remains that both major parties believe that the invisible hand of the market ought to guide us, but they are not averse to shaking it. So long as they are in charge of regulating the blurred lines of special interests and government policy, the lobbying industry will continue to profit from cosy relationships.

We urgently need to establish mechanisms to independently regulate campaign financing and lobbying, similar to or as part of the proposals for a federal corruption watchdog. As each new scandal shows, we can’t rely on our representatives in Canberra to do it themselves.


“It’s ironic that his government are committed to eradicating mental illness and yet they perpetuate those same mindsets and ideals that are the reason that the statistics are so horrible.”

Headspace spokesperson Georgie Stone has called on Scott Morrison to change his tone on LGBTIQ issues, telling the prime minister that the demonisation of transgender people runs counter to his government’s plan to reduce the nation’s suicide rate.

“In the short to medium term, the only realistic options to do most of that balancing are coal, gas and hydro.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor reiterates the government’s pro-coal policy at the AFR Energy Summit.

Carbon, beef and the underground economy
The latest IPCC report says current farming practices are unsustainable. But there are solutions, if farmers want to change.

30

The number of homes believed to have been destroyed as some 40 bushfires rage across northern New South Wales.

A report from the Bank for International Settlements, signed off by Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe, has endorsed the use of unconventional monetary policies to deal with the low-interest-rate economy, but some experts warn that these policies could lead to another global financial crisis.

The list
 

“We have arrived at a moment in our history where I think non-Indigenous and Indigenous people can now deliver the goods. It shouldn’t actually be too hard, though it will still take time to get right, particularly if we are to achieve constitutional change. But surely the greater onus falls on the non-Indigenous inheritors of the fruits of white colonial invasion to come genuinely to the party, and for our national and state leadership – governments and oppositions – to be what they say they are, and actually lead.”

Bulldog, they called you, call you,

always going for the kill. Collared by

your free hand, free will, rucking Aussie Rules

 

with Roman Catechism. Gold ring bearer, gold

mine son and — Oxford, Propaganda aside —

always better with dollars than dogma.

“In the final months of 2018, briefing note after briefing note began landing on the desks of Health Minister Greg Hunt and then Aged Care minister Ken Wyatt, warning of ‘increasing pressure’ on aged-care operators. Advice prepared by the Department of Health raised the prospect some could ‘fall over’. At the same time as Scott Morrison was denying he had cut billions from the aged-care sector while he was treasurer, the two ministers in charge of the system knew they had a terrible problem.”

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at www.ellehardy.com

@ellehardy

 

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