The Grattan Institute released a report that finds that Australia’s policymaking process is vulnerable to being hijacked by vested interests at the expense of the public. The report analysed the industries most represented by the roughly 500 commercial lobbyists working in parliament. It found almost 80% of businesses who had hired lobbyists were operating in highly regulated industries. In New South Wales and Queensland and found that roughly two-thirds of external meetings by senior ministers were either with private business or industry peak bodies. That far outweighed the proportion of meetings given to community or consumer groups in both states.
“If you’re in a higher regulated industry you’ve got the most to win or lose from government decisions,” Wood said. “At one level it’s not unexpected that they’re the ones knocking on the door, trying to meet with ministers, they might be giving money to political parties. But I think the flipside of that is quite a low proportion of meetings and access for the consumer, community or cause groups.”
More than one in four federal ministers have gone on to work for a lobbyist firm or other special interest since 1990.
“Indeed, many of the ‘risk factors’ for policy capture – financial dependence, cosy relationships and lack of transparency in dealings between special interests and parliamentarians – are present in our system,” the report says.
The Grattan Institute tracked the career of 191 ministers and assistant ministers who have left parliament since 1990. About 28% ended up in lobbyist firms, peak bodies, big business or consulting firms.
It allowed former ministers to use inside government information and special access to benefit their new employer. It also called into question – in the public’s mind, at least – their decisions in government.
The report author Danielle Wood said, “It’s an issue for three reasons. First of all, if someone went straight from a ministerial role into a special interest lobbying role, it’s always going to call into question the judgment they made in parliament. Did they make those decisions with an eye to a future employment?"
The perception of corruption is increasingly widespread. It argues that the protections built into Australia’s political system to uphold integrity are either weak or waning. Investigative journalism is declining, the public service is being weakened and politicised, and a shrinking membership base in major parties is making them less representative and open to branch stacking.
The authors also recommended real-time donations disclosures, the publication of federal ministerial diaries and the identification of all lobbyists – in-house and third-party lobbyists – working behind the scenes to influence policy.
"All it is is opening up the system so that Australians can see where the money is coming from and who is meeting with who.”