05/06/2007 - 22:00

Lobbyists' list a token gesture

05/06/2007 - 22:00

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Since the Gallop government completely ignored State Scene’s warning in May 2002 to fully monitor lobbying, it’s now an appropriate time to assess the Carpenter government’s just-instituted lobbyists’ register.

Since the Gallop government completely ignored State Scene’s warning in May 2002 to fully monitor lobbying, it’s now an appropriate time to assess the Carpenter government’s just-instituted lobbyists’ register.

The first thing to report is that, as of late May 2007, 64 lobbyists were registered with a total of 244 clients – on average four clients each.

But that figure is deceptive, because 16 are without a client and 31 have between one and five clients.

The so-called register shows that just five lobbyists have a combined 100 clients.

They are: Halden Burns Pty Ltd, 35 clients; Hawker Britton WA Pty Ltd, 26 clients; CPR, 16 clients; Ron Edwards, 13 clients; and Enhance Corporate Pty Ltd, 10 clients.

Two others of interest are Paul Everingham & Associates with eight, and P Dowding having six, with one of the clients shown simply as FMG.

Mr Everingham was once Liberal Party state director, while the P Dowding may well be former Labor premier, Peter McCallum Dowding, but the register doesn’t confirm this, so that’s a guess.

Now, the Halden in Halden Burns Pty Ltd is former Labor MP, John Halden, while the head of Hawker Britton WA Pty Ltd is former Labor Kalgoorlie MP, Megan Anwyl.

Two senior advisers in CPR are former Labor staffers, Peter Quinn and Simon Dowding, brother of one-time Labor premier, Peter Dowding.

Mr Edwards is the former Labor MP for the federal seat of Stirling, and Enhance Corporate Pty Ltd’s Peter Clough is a one-time Labor staffer who actually has two lobby firms – Clough Consulting Services Pty Ld, with eight clients, and Enhance.

Apart from Mr Everingham, who has impeccable Liberal credentials – his father was Country-Liberal chief minister of the Northern Territory – the lobbyists with the fattest client books all have a Labor MP or one-time Labor staffer at the top, meaning lobbying WA-style is a new Labor Party member growth industry.

Several explanations spring to mind for this, with the most obvious being that clients target those with personal, ideological and/or party political links with those in power. And presently that’s the Labor Party.

More importantly, the list fails to tell us whom each lobbyist has met and has been lobbying – in other words, the essential requirement of the public being able to accurately monitor and trace what each lobbyist is up to is scandalously absent.

That being the case, WA’s so-called lobbyists’ register is nothing more than a Clayton’s register.

Put otherwise, instituting this so-called register is largely a useless exercise.

Moreover, if clients have a worthwhile case, surely that should stand them in good stead irrespective of a lobbyist’s personal, political and/or ideological links.

Clearly, that’s not how clients are assessing matters, preferring instead to hire those with strong Labor links.

State Scene finds it extremely difficult not to suspect that the name of WA’s lobbying game, despite this silly Clayton’s register, hinges around who you know, not the merits of one’s case, which is a bad development.

What State Scene would like to know is why we had an expensive ($8 million) Crime and Corruption Commission inquiry to ostensibly reform lobbying.

Since the so-called register fails to disclose who is lobbying whom – what each lobbyist is doing and what they’re being paid – could Attorney-General Jim McGinty please advise us why we have this useless list.

If he and Mr Carpenter plan to remain firmly seated on their hands, as their predecessor Geoff Gallop was from May 2002 until his acute depression over 2004-05, then that $8 million was wasted because lobbying in WA remains as before, unmonitored, thus undisclosed.

The more one ponders on their so-called register the more it looks as if WA’s voters have been sold a very scrawny mongrel rather than a proper register that fully discloses and monitors all lobbying.

State Scene dislikes highlighting a particular lobbyist but an exception is made because the one in question has a nationwide lobbying network and was founded by two staffers of former NSW Labor premier, Bob Carr, Messrs Bruce Hawker and David Britton.

In Melbourne, Hawker Britton is headed by former Victorian Labor minister, David White, who came under the media spotlight recently.

The Age newspaper’s May 16 editorial stated, “Political lobbying is almost as old as democracy: Julius Caesar fell victim to it, and many other parliamentarians down the ages have been held in its sway.

“These days it has swollen into a multi-billion dollar industry dependent not only on ease of access but privilege borne of experience and association – and at public expense – whereby the lobbyist has also been behind the ministerial desk instead of in front of it.

“Such is the case of former Victorian Labor minister David White, now the Melbourne director of pro-Labor public affairs firm Hawker Britton.

“Mr White’s political connections have ensured him a large client list.

“Next month, his now disbanded association with Tattersall’s will come under public scrutiny when he appears before a parliamentary inquiry into the probity of the processes for renewing Victoria’s gaming machines and lotteries licences.”

Now, State Scene is making no accusations against Hawker Britton WA’s Megan Anwyl in any way, shape, or form.

What’s being highlighted is that Hawker Britton, particularly, has a solid Labor pedigree and it seems that being a former Labor MP or having some strong Labor association is pivotal to being appointed to one of its state offices.

Nearly all its senior level officers Australia-wide are former Labor MPs, chiefs-of-staff of Labor MPs, advisers to Labor MPs, or Labor press or media gurus.

Is it surprising, then, that, as one source said: “Hawker-Britton gave a total of $17,000 to state and federal Labor parties in the 2003-04 financial year.”

Let’s be clear, State Scene isn’t claiming these individuals shouldn’t earn a living as lobbyists.

Quite the contrary; that should be open to all.

What’s urgently needed, however, is for the ineffective Carpenter-McGinty list – that they’re erroneously calling a register – is immediately revamped so that lobbying is properly regulated by removing its clandestine feature.

Simply having a list is useless.

Why have Messrs Carpenter and McGinty ensured that clandestine lobbying continues? State Scene smells a rodent in light of the Laborite dominance of this budding service sector.

To ensure it is purged of secrecy they should read 'Accountability worth lobbying for', State Scene’s advice of May 30 2002 to Dr Gallop, which he promptly ignored.

So here we go once again with the seven key paragraphs from that now four-year-old column.

“..[T]he only way of lifting the veil on lobbying is registration, something that exists in the US – Washington DC – as well as in most of the 50 states.

“All WA lobbyists should register annually.

“Anyone lobbying and not registered at an ‘office of lobbying’ should be denied access to ministers and their staffers, and legislators.

“Every six months all lobbyists should submit detailed descriptions of what clients they worked for, what they were paid, and who they had lobbied.

“Those hiring lobbyists should submit similar returns listing the same details.

“All ministers, MPs, senior policy public servants and ministerial staffers should submit to the office monthly returns naming who had lobbied them and what was discussed.

“All these reports should be open to the public, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.”

Instead, the Carpenter-McGinty duo has given us a list of lobbyists who provide clients’ names.

Nothing more.

Their so-called register barely discloses the tip of the WA’s lobbying iceberg since voters cannot discover who lobbyists are lobbying, on behalf of whom, and what they’re paid.

If we don’t get those essential details let’s stop pussy footing around and go back to where we were before their meaningless so-called register surfaced.

Until all information on lobbyists and their clients is publicly available, that is, disclosed in regular returns, as in the US, the Carpenter-McGinty so-called lobbyists register is about as useful as an ice block to a starving man stranded in central Siberia on New Year’s Eve.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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