06/06/2013 - 11:20

Lobbyists court business ahead of poll

06/06/2013 - 11:20


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Lobbyists court business ahead of poll

WA's newest lobbying firm, Barton Deakin, makes no secret of its political ties.

LIBERAL-ALIGNED lobbying firm Barton Deakin has flagged its intent to capitalise on the likelihood of Liberal-National governments at both state and federal levels as it expands into Western Australia.

The firm's newly launched Perth office is the latest addition to a national network for Barton Deakin, which already has offices in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Eacham Curry, senior adviser in the Howard government and, more recently, that of Colin Barnett, will lead Barton Deakin's activities in WA.

Mr Curry joins a growing list of well-connected Liberal figures within the firm, including high-profile strategist Grahame Morris and former NSW opposition leader Peter Collins.

While many lobbying firms seek to work with both sides of politics, Barton Deakin is forthright in its mission "to help businesses and organisations work effectively with the Liberal-National Coalition in Governments and Opposition around the country".

With voters endorsing a second term for the Liberal-National Barnett government, and opinion polls predicting a coalition victory at the upcoming federal poll, Mr Curry said Barton Deakin would assist clients working with both state and federal governments.

"One of the specific things that we offer is that we are quite jealously partisan in dealing with only Liberal and National parties," Mr Curry told Business News.

"Part of the reason why I've been brought on board is I've got immediate experience coming straight out of the state government here.

"That's useful, it's valuable and I know who the key players are here."

While Barton Deakin may have timing on its side, history indicates there are risks in lobbyists pinning their colours to the mast.

Labor-aligned firm Hawker Britton, which is owned by STW just as Barton Deakin is, closed its WA office in 2011, admitting it had lost many of its clients following the election of Colin Barnett's government in 2008.

However, Mr Curry said there were benefits to the partisan model.

"Somebody who comes to me and seeks my assistance is going to know that I'm batting for one team only and so my interests rest not only with my client but with making sure that they get access to the party that I support," Mr Curry said.

Most WA lobbying firms have chosen to work with both sides of politics, despite any political leanings their key directors may hold.

One of the state's most influential lobbying firms, GRA Everingham, is run by former WA Liberal Party executive Paul Everingham but employs former staffers from both sides of politics.

Cannings Purple, whose executive chairman Deidre Willmott is a former chief of staff to Premier Colin Barnett, and Halden Burns, co-run by former WA Labor parliamentary and state secretary John Halden, are similarly unaligned.

Mr Halden said securing outcomes for clients was more often about helping businesses navigate the complexities of dealing with government than providing direct access.

"Access can be very perfunctory; it can all be very pleasant but nothing is achieved," Mr Halden told Business News.

"The way to achieving is often about following up and the pressure and the strength of your argument, both verbally and in a written sense.

"(Clients) have a view that ministers have more power than they in reality do, and therefore if they are able to tell a compelling story then ministers will either change legislation or change the policy of government to suit their purposes.

"That just doesn't happen."

However, Mr Curry said there were times when providing access led to the best outcomes.

"I've got that access and sometimes it's just not necessary (for clients); their time can end up being better spent focusing on what they need to and letting me do some of those things for them," he said.

"Other times there are going to be very good opportunities and it makes sense for some of my clients to actually go and do a face-to-face with a minister or a chief of staff or senior bureaucrat because that's the best way to try and get across the message about what they're trying to do."

Other ex-political staffers to take up key lobbying roles in recent times include former Court government media adviser Casey Cahill and former director of government media Paul Plowman.

Mr Cahill is now a director at Kreab Gavin Anderson, while Mr Plowman is chief executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.


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