Lobbying 'essential' to democracy: anti-corruption boss

Not all lobbyists lie and mislead and some are crucial to democracy, a corruption watchdog commissioner says.

A parliamentary inquiry examining the levels of lobbyist access to Parliament House has heard calls for enforceable standards, with harsher penalties for those who break them.

Though lobbyists have been associated with corruption risks, NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) chief commissioner John Hatzistergos says some provide vital feedback to political systems.

"Lobbying, when done well, can enhance rather than detract from good decision-making by public officials," Mr Hatzistergos told the parliamentary committee on Monday.

"In this way, lobbying is essential to the success of representative government."

Hawker Britton Managing Director Simon Banks
Simon Banks says the names of lobbyists should be made publicly available, with some exceptions.

Transparency is integral as secrecy is what leads to distrust, the commissioner said.

"That's not to say, that lobbyists may not lie intentionally, mislead political decision-makers or present misinformation to their own ends," he said.

"(But) promoting the transparency of lobbyists' actions can shed light on the black box of policymaking, and also serve to make political officials more accountable."

Managing director of lobbying firm Hawker Britton, Simon Banks, said a code of conduct legislated by parliament was needed to ensure standards were kept.

Enshrining the code would bring the Commonwealth up to date with Canada, the UK and most of the nation's states.

While the Attorney-General's Department administers a code of conduct for lobbyists, it does not extend to those who have access to parliament house.

There are almost 1800 lobbyists who have been issued security passes after being sponsored by an MP and who are then allowed to roam the corridors unaccompanied.

Mr Banks said the code should be extended to those with parliament house security passes.

The inquiry also heard calls to increase transparency about the details of lobbyists with access to parliament house.

While Hawker Britton supported calls for the names of lobbyists to be publicly available, Mr Banks said there would still be some exceptions.

Some details may need to be kept private should they be politicised or used for trolling, he said.

"Otherwise, I think the general rule that should apply is that the system should be as transparent as possible."

The coat of arms and the flagpole at Parliament House in Canberra
Almost 1800 lobbyists have been issued security passes for Parliament House.

Vivien Clark, from the Australia Institute, told the inquiry that access to parliament house should not be limited, to better ensure accessibility to politicians.

"The most powerful commercial interests don't need access to parliament house, to access ministers and parliamentarians," she said.

"It's civil society, academics, trade unions, community groups and other members of the public who depend on access to parliament house in order to access decision-makers."

The hearing was told by officials from the Attorney-General's Department that they had not been instructed by government to look at having a legislated code.

Independent senator David Pocock said Australia might be in breach of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which meant big tobacco did not have access to legislators or people regulating the industry.

This was due to the likelihood of employees of big tobacco companies having access to sponsored passes.

"This is the one thing where we have some sort of obligation around lobbying internationally and yet we're not even tracking it," he said.

"To me, it kind of exposes just how loose this whole system is."

License this article

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store