13 November 2023

No such thing as a free lunch – independent bill to curtail the lobbying sector

| Chris Johnson
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Monique Ryan in her office working

Independent MP Monique Ryan has introduced legislation to crack down on lobbying of MPs. Photo: Monique Ryan.

Independent federal MP Monique Ryan has placed politicians and lobbyists on notice, introducing a private members bill designed to limit undue influence on the nation’s policymakers.

Labelling it her Clean Up Politics Act, Dr Ryan has introduced legislation to further regulate lobbyists and legislate a code of conduct.

It would also insist that in-house lobbyists employed by corporations – and not just lobbyists working for various clients – be registered and regulated.

Only a fifth of all lobbyists are currently on the public register.

The bill seeks to restrict lobbyists from playing major roles in election campaigns.

Tough penalties would be applied for breaches of conduct, and cooling-off periods for former ministers and staffers before they could become lobbyists would be extended to three years.

Ministers would be forced to publish their diaries under the legislation to expose who they are being wined and dined by.

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“At a time when we all struggle to believe what we’re being told by government and the media, this is going to be a really positive, really significant contribution to opening the halls of government, opening things up, and allowing a light into the halls of this government, and greater transparency and integrity of what our government does,” Dr Ryan said.

“Lobbyists representing everything from big coal to big banks are undermining the government’s efforts to take real climate action, manage the cost of living crisis, and regulate gambling and tobacco companies,” Dr Ryan said.

“Thousands of well-resourced lobbyists roam the halls in Canberra, secretly meeting with ministers to influence government policies so they favour vested interests, not the public interest.

“Enough is enough … We need to finally make lobbying in Australia visible and accountable so that governments make decisions for us, not for big coal, big tobacco, and the big banks.”

The new bill follows reports that the gambling lobby treated Communications Minister Michelle Rowland to a lavish birthday lunch at Melbourne’s exclusive Society Restaurant last November.

Under the name of umbrella group Responsible Wagering Australia, executives representing Sportsbet, Ladbrokes and Bet365 turned it on for the minister with the best wine and food in one of the restaurant’s private rooms.

The minister’s office has stated that all rules were complied with, but Dr Ryan said the fancy lunch doesn’t pass the ‘sniff test’.

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“Michelle Rowland has said that no rules were broken when gambling lobbyists took her out for a lavish birthday lunch,” Dr Ryan said.

“She was right. That’s exactly the problem. Our current lobbying rules are toothless and ineffective.

“Under my Clean Up Politics Act, that lunch would never have gone ahead. The act would ban lobbyists from giving politicians large gifts. This would include expensive lunches.

“Lobbyists don’t spend millions of dollars each year wooing politicians while expecting nothing in return.

“Michelle Rowland regulates the gambling industry. It’s obvious that gambling lobbyists are spending money to influence the decisions the minister makes.

“It’s just not necessary for Michelle Rowland to be taken out for an expensive birthday lunch by gambling lobbyists when she’s regulating their industry.

“Under my [legislation], not only would this sort of gift-giving be banned, we also would have known about this meeting almost a year ago, when it would have been publicly revealed in her ministerial diary.

“Making politicians accountable for their actions, in real time, will improve their decision-making and help restore our trust in democracy.

“Now, the fact is that what Michelle Rowland did in … having a policy briefing with members of the gambling industry in the restaurant is entirely legal.

“But I don’t think that passes the sniff test and that’s not what my constituents want.”

Dr Ryan so far has the support of the crossbench, including the Greens, but with little appetite for it yet expressed by either of the major parties.

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HiddenDragon8:48 pm 14 Nov 23

It is hard to think that Australia is better governed today than it was in the now distant past when lobbyists were a somewhat rarer species.

It is likewise hard to think that the massive proliferation of lobbying (particularly of the grossly audacious variety instanced in this article) has not contributed greatly to the creation of an arrogant, entitled, out of touch, political culture which has seen the primary vote of Labor and the Coalition fall into the 30s as more and more voters wake up to the fact that they are too often being conned and sold out to vested interests.

Just as there is a plausible case to ban all political donations and introduce public funding of elections, there would also be a plausible case to ban all lobbying in its current forms, and replace it with much more open and formalised consultative processes for the development of public policy – thus allowing a wider range of individuals and organizations to have genuine input.

You make some very valid points. Our political process – in particular elections, now follow the American system, which is “money talks”.

That is why we need voters who are more willing to elect smart and capable independents who will drive that change HiddenDraggon. The major parties have their own conventional and political agendas and are not willing to contemplate change.

The Teal revolution is only the beginning in a coup that will take Australia by storm.

I am watching with interest!

If no rules were broken with this lunch, the rules are wrong. We all know that when someone treats us to an expensive meal, they want something in return, unless it’s a close friend or family member.

davidmaywald2:33 pm 14 Nov 23

It’s great to see that Independents are standing up for the public interest and integrity, especially when it’s inconvenient for the major political parties. Good on your Monique.

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