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?
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It is time Parliaments joined Governments to ensure all professional lobbyists are registered. All lobbyists should be required to adhere to a code of conduct. And interest groups and think tanks should be required to disclose who their members and donors are.
Recent developments in the debate about plain packaging of tobacco and carbon pricing have in turn kicked off a debate about the role of lobbyists, interest groups and think tanks. In particular, who influences the influencers?
Political parties have for many years been required to disclose significant donors. The current debate is about the threshold at which donations should be disclosed.
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James Packer had better watch his back. He’s just hired the guy who helped knock off former NSW Premier Morris Iemma for Nathan Rees, then rolled Rees for Kristina Keneally, and played a key role in last year’s putsch which replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.
On the basis of recent performance, the appointment of former national ALP secretary Karl Bitar as Crown Casino government relations lobbyist could mean that the gambling empire will soon be run by Kerry Stokes from the Seven Network.
If there is such a thing as purgatory it may well be Melbourne’s Crown Casino. There is a story that at the Casino’s gala opening in 1997, dozens of white doves were released into the night sky, and were promptly incinerated in the balls of flame that blast from the braziers on the Yarra’s banks. It might be an apocryphal tale but it’s a nice bit of imagery for a place which wrongly presents gambling as nothing other than innocent fun.
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It would be handy, as a service for lazy journalists, if a special hotline called 1800-OFFENDED could be established whereby reporters looking for an easy headline can contact a centralised pool of permanently upset lobbyists.
One of the reasons Australia has weathered the global financial crisis is that there is a vibrant local growth industry where hundreds of people are waiting by the phone to be professionally outraged about pretty much anything.
An old media favourite is Harold Scruby who heads up the Pedestrian Council. Harold is the world’s nicest bloke but his irrational hatred of the motor car is such that he may well have been molested by an early-model Torana when he was a boy.
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