What risks when the outsiders are also insiders?
Lobbying for companies has become a post-politics gold mine for an increasing number of former MPs and ministers. People who once made big public decisions now are paid big to influence their successors.
This is happening at all levels of government, but the NSW experience - where former state ministers and associates are not just lobbyists but are aiming to take over the state Liberal Party organisation - raises some substantial questions.
One is: When a lobbyist is on a political party’s executive, how do we know they are keeping apart their public duty and their paid-for business loyalties?
There is no suggestion of corruption. But there is a danger the that separation of those interests, which often can be in robust competition, being difficult to maintain.
Political lobbying once was a job reserved for former political advisers such as Bob Carr staffer Bruce Hawker (now an election campaign consultant) and John Howard’s original chief of staff Grahame Morris.
But increasingly it’s MPs and ministers who after quitting elected politics to use their insider knowledge of how government works and personal contacts in the public service and Parliament - built up over a career - to promote the interests of companies.
Former Labor senator and minister Mark Arbib is working now for the Crown casino interests. Former Liberal foreign minister Alexander Downer is a corporate consultant and started a business with former Labor minister Nick Bolkus.
And R.J.Hawke and Associates has been doing business - big business with big companies - for some time now. More recent entrants in the consulting biz include a brace of former Labor premiers: Steve Bracks, Peter Beattie, John Brumby, Mike Rann.
These are the high-visibility operators. In state affairs, the players are sometimes not as easily spotted and their influence can be harder to track.
Michael Photios was NSW Minister for Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Justice from May 26, 1993 to April 4, 1995 under the premiership of John Fahey.
Chris Downy was NSW state Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing from May 26, 1993, to April 4, 1995.
Mr Photios, who runs the busy lobbying firm Premier State, has been a vice-president of the NSW Liberal Party and is now standing for one of seven positions as urban representative on the party’s state executive.
Mr Downy is likely to be elected president of the Liberal NSW division. He is head of an industry group promoting on-line gambling, having previously lobbied for casino owners.
Both men are from the moderate wing of the party and head a bid for that faction to win almost all the 16 places in the party executive in a ballot to start next week.
Not all Liberals are agreeable to this, and not always merely on factional grounds. Yesterday some 10,000 people were emailed the following by Walter Villatora of the Liberals’ Brookvale branch.
“We are on the precipice of facing a major problem of our own making at both a state & federal level,” he wrote.
“It seems that we are possibly only weeks away from having one of the country’s most high profile gambling lobbyists, Chris Downy, elected State President at what couldn’t be a worse time.”
The email said “the Federal leader Tony Abbott does not need the added pressure and complication of the newly appointed head lobbyist for online gambling to be elected to the State President’s position in the lead up to what will be a hard fought election campaign.
“This issue could cause major problems for the NSW government and place the winning of the Federal election at significant risk.”
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