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Wednesday, 15 November 2006
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Keeping Tabs on the Lobbyists
Liberals throughout Australia will be relishing the embarrassment of the Labor Party from the regular exposure of sleazy financial dealings of state government ministers with lobbyists, property developers and mining entrepreneurs. Shady deals keep popping up around the country but before they get too excited those Liberals should keep in mind that the report of the inquiry into AWB Limited is yet to come. There will be scope there for some questions about the relationship between Federal ministers and public servants and the shadowy world of corporate lobbyists.
And scope too to raise again the decision of the Howard Government to remove the admittedly insignificant laws introduced by a previous Labor Government to control the registration of lobbyists in the national capital. My own experience as a lobbyist was that registration achieved very little with the major law and accounting firms believing that they did not apply to them. But there was a clear alternative to getting rid of registration introducing controls on lobbyists that would be both meaningful and public.
In Western Australia the Premier Alan Carpenter appears to favour such an approach. Mr Carpenter said this week that Western Australia will become the first State in Australia to introduce a register of political lobbyists. The reality is that lobbyists have become an integral part of the modern political landscape, he said. We cannot stop companies and organisations hiring lobbyists, but we can introduce ways of making their activities more transparent.
Cabinet is due to finalise the details of the model in the upcoming weeks but key features include:
. a central register of lobbyists and their clients available to the public;
. registered lobbyists must regularly update which companies or organisations they are representing;
. a clear onus on lobbyists to declare their interests when arranging meetings with State Government officials; and
. a code of conduct for lobbyists which covers their contact with Ministers, ministerial offices or public servants.
According to Mr Carpenter, the register will be reviewed after 12 months by a Parliamentary committee to determine whether changes or legislation are required.
Federalism's Death Throes - Labor's Great Opportunity
States rights have been the bane of the Labor Party throughout its existence. Attempted change after attempted change made when in government in Canberra was thwarted by the constitutional preservation of powers to the states.
Well, that kind of federation is now dead with the High Court this week confirming that a gradual shift of political power to the centre will be permanent. No longer will socialist zeal be checked by a judicial concern for what state governments claim as rightfully theirs. And there can be no cries of outrage from the mainstream conservative parties either. Just as it was their Robert Menzies who began the decline of states rights in the 1950s and 1960s with his tied financial grants for universities and science laboratories, John Howard pushed through the extension of the corporations power to cover industrial relations law. Now it can be open slather.
Not that Mr Howard wants to admit it. He is happy enough with his victory on industrial law and I have no desire for takeover's sake to take over the role of the states.
While he remains in office that might be so but experience shows that when governments can use a power they inevitably do use a power. Kim Beazley might not have the enthusiasm for change of a Gough Whitlam but there are plenty of his colleagues who do. When a future Labor Government finally comes, the movement of state governments towards irrelevance will continue.