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Lobbyists to disclose publicly before acting privately

Briefs

Law firms and practitioners with previously established links to government have been warned not to lobby federal government ministers or senior public servants before first checking if they need to be registered under a new code of conduct.

More than 500 individuals are now officially enrolled on the government’s “Register of Lobbyists”, introduced on 1 July this year.

Special Minister of State John Faulkner said the code was created to give taxpayers confidence that any deals between ministers and senior public servants and those seeking to sway their decision-making would be done with integrity.

LIV CEO Mike Brett Young has encouraged all legal practitioners to study the changes and, if they need to be registered, to do so before performing any more lobbying work.

“This is something that some, especially smaller, firms probably are not aware of and they should be careful that they do not act as lobbyists without being registered first,” Mr Brett Young said.

Under the current rules, only meetings with ministers and senior officials, high-ranking defence and senior executive service personnel, including departmental secretaries and their senior colleagues, need to be reported.

But now, previously private information, such as business registration details and trading names – including, where the business is not a publicly listed company, the names of owners, partners or major shareholders, is to be placed online.

The names and positions of those employed, contracted or engaged by firms to carry out lobbyist activities, and clients for whom the lobbying is being performed, are now publicly available.

This requirement has shone light on the previously hidden world of lobbying, and who is doing what for whom.

Law firms or individual solicitors who make intermittent contact with government incidental to the professional services they offer clients are exempt under the rules of the code.

This contact includes communications with a committee of the Parliament, with a minister in his or her capacity as a local member if it is unrelated to their portfolio, writing a submission or participating in a grassroots campaign, a response to a request for tender or statements made in a public forum.

However, larger law and accounting firms who provide corporate lobbying on a regular basis, especially those with corporate affairs divisions within their structure, need to list the staff who lobby and the clients they represent.

Charities and non-profit organisations do not need to be registered.

Senator Faulkner has also dismissed the “Liberal minority” findings of a Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee report that concluded: “the code is marred by vague wording and many inadequately considered provisions”.

The committee’s recommendations, tabled on 3 September, included that coverage of the code be expanded to embrace unions, industry associations and other businesses conducting lobbying activities.

There have also been calls for it to be extended to include all MPs and senators.

Senator Faulkner said while his department would monitor the “efficiency and effectiveness” of the legislation he believed it was working well and did not intend to move forward a review planned for later next year.

The register is publicly accessible at http://lobbyists.pmc.gov.au/lobbyistsregister.

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