30/01/2008 - 22:00

Lobbyists' log has its critics

30/01/2008 - 22:00

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Lobbyists' log has its critics

Many readers will know that, when reference is made to the world’s second oldest profession, it’s spying that’s being discussed.

What’s not always immediately realised is the range of clandestine activities associated with spying, including counter-espionage, wire tapping, radio intercepts, informants, letter-drops, anonymous tip-offs, even unsolicited and misguided dobbing.

State Scene’s second most recent encounter with the last of these – misguided dobbing – was about 15 years ago while researching Italian prisoners of war (POWs) captured in North Africa during World War II, who were shipped to Fremantle from western desert compounds and camps in British India.

Their details are held at the Commonwealth Archives in East Victoria Park.

Most of the Italians joined German POWs interned at Camp 16 Marrinup, near Dwellingup, where the army had a camp (now a protected site under WA’s Heritage Act and is listed on the National Estate’s Register).

State Scene’s interest in Italian POWs arose because many became WA Wheatbelt farm workers.

I therefore decided to access their archived personal files, which disclosed many facts and memorable incidents.

The two that stuck in my mind were the death of a POW on a farm near my hometown of Wyalkatchem, and one involving nasty dobbing.

The former I’ve referred to in a monograph I wrote on post-war migrants who settled in Wyalkatchem, some of who, like my father, were press-ganged into farm labouring in Hitler’s Reich.

Here’s part of what I wrote:  “A 35-year-old Private Felice Marasco (PWI-63204), who died in the Wyalkatchem District.

“He lost his life in an accident on 7 September 1945 at a Benjaberring farm, exactly four months after the cessation of hostilities in Europe

“Private Marasco, a member of the 1st Compagnia Radio, was killed by falling off a tractor into the scarifier that he was towing.

“He was to be buried within Wyalkatchem Cemetery’s Roman Catholic section, in grave number 14.”

Marasco was captured in Abyssinia on May 19 1941 in a clash with the Indian ‘ball of fire’ division, and reached WA in February 1944.

The nasty little dobbing incident is disclosed in a letter in another POW’s file that was written to the police by an Australian in the Albany region.

It complained that a POW working on a nearby farm, was regularly seen riding a bicycle alone on weekends away from the farm he’d been allocated to.

There’s no hint of the POW attempting to escape – the riding was recreational.

I recall thinking that whoever wrote that letter was little more than a nasty little dobber – as if having a ride was such a horrendous crime, even if it may have been a technical infringement of wartime regulations.

POWs wore bright purple clothes so couldn’t be mistaken for Aussie farm hands.

State Scene raises this case because, to my amazement, I’ve recently been targeted by a similarly nasty and misguided dobber.

Now, an unidentified person emailed my editor from an untraceable address.

The dobbing email reads: “Joe Pop should declare his close personal friendship and lobbying relationship with Julian Grill when he writes about Brian Burke in his op-ed pages.

“The high and mighty tone is a little tarnished and unconvincing when given closer examination.”

Although “close personal friendship” certainly pushes things somewhat, I can report that I’m on amicable terms not only with Mr Grill, but also with Mr Burke.

And I certainly don’t intend changing that.

I’ve always strongly opposed 1950s-style McCarthyism and don’t intend changing.

Neither Mr Grill nor Mr Burke will be ostracised by me because they are out of favour, especially, but not exclusively, within Labor circles.

What anyone in those circles thinks doesn’t interest me.

That said, it’s quite apparent my stance on lobbying has deeply upset somebody.

Who could this nasty clandestine dobber be?

I first thought my name may have surfaced in an email or phone conversation intercepted by the Corruption and Crime Commission undercover agents and perhaps someone added two-and-two and got 5.89.

More recently, I’ve tended to the view that it’s a Laborite – perhaps even a staffer or former staffer turned lobbyist – someone with views diametrically opposed to those expressed in State Scene on the regulation of lobbying.

Being curious, I dispatched the dobbing email to Mr Burke who replied: “There’s no doubt that – for some strange reason – I have always attracted/excited an edgy hostility.

“And there’s little doubt in my mind that this is the central influence in the case of this criticism by your anonymous emailer.

“Your comment on the lobbying issue is important only because it necessarily involves a view about my activities and that is what is at the nub of the problem your detractor has.

“Never mind that, in the past, you may have been my sternest critic or that, generally, you may have views that agree with your critic.

“On reflection, I would not be surprised if your critic is a member of the Labor Party.”

I also flicked through my files to see what I’d written on lobbying.

The first time State Scene highlighted lobbying was in a column dated May 29 2002, and headlined ‘Accountability worth lobbying for’.

In other words, before Messrs Grill and Burke were lobbying.

State Scene’s opening paragraphs said: “Increasing numbers of State MPs are retiring from parliament and launching careers as well-paid lobbyists, in the process drawing incomes over and above their handsome six-figure parliamentary pensions.

“Who these new-age lobbyists work for, under what terms, who they meet in government, and precisely what they do, remain mysteries.

“Only they and the companies, organisations or groups they are quietly lobbying for, know their modus operandi.

“They are, therefore, secretly influencing legislation that affects all Western Australians. But voters get no insight into precisely what they and their clients are up to.

“For that reason it’s time all lobbyists were required to be registered and their activities laid open to voters, and, especially, the press.

“Until such disclosure is adopted, reading and listening to our media on politics will remain largely an enjoyable waste of time.”

The column concluded: “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.”

However, five-plus years on, and with millions of dollars of taxpayers dollars outlaid to spy on Messrs Grill and Burke, amongst others, we’re no closer to what State Scene recommended back in May 2002 to having transparent lobbying.

True, we have what the government likes to call a register, but is really just a list.

True, the names of 70 or so lobbyists are on that list.

And, true, lobbyists must name their clients.

But don’t try to discover who these lobbyists have met in government and, when they had those meetings, and what was discussed.

All that’s still a secret, like the identity of my nasty dobber.

Such pertinent, indeed, crucial details are simply not required to be disclosed under the Alan Carpenter-Jim McGinty Claytons register that’s just a token list.

In other words, their ineffectual list is a useless piece of window dressing.

State Scene has made this point several times and intends to continue doing so until a bone fide lobbyists’ register, with full disclosure, is instituted.

There you have it, clandestine dobber.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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