13/03/2007 - 22:00

Lobbyists register short on support

13/03/2007 - 22:00

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The establishment of a register of lobbyists is one of the main reforms flowing from the CCC inquiry, but apart from voyeuristic journalists it is hard to find supporters of this initiative.

Lobbyists register short on support

The establishment of a register of lobbyists is one of the main reforms flowing from the CCC inquiry, but apart from voyeuristic journalists it is hard to find supporters of this initiative.

Premier Alan Carpenter is expected later this month to announce details of his proposal, which is designed to make the activities of lobbyists more transparent. The centerpiece of his proposal is a register of lobbyists and their clients that would be available to the public.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA chief executive John Langoulant is scathing in his criticism, describing it as “just another bit of red tape”.

“I think they ought to forget the whole idea,” said Mr Langoulant, who believes the register will not improve the decision-making process.

Professional lobbyists are also critical of the proposal because it is believed to only cover individuals engaged by third parties.

“The government model will not work,” said Halden Burns director and former Labor Party state secretary, John Halden.

He believes that, if the government wants to establish a register, it should be comprehensive in its coverage, including in-house lobbyists.

If Western Australia followed the lead of the US and Canadian governments, the net would be cast very wide.

Lobbyists would include individuals such as Mr Langoulant and Australian Hotels Association WA director Bradley Woods, as well as company employees like BHP Billiton’s vice-president government relations, Ian Fletcher.

Lawyers, engineers and other professionals would also be caught in the net.

Mr Fletcher said he would not favour the US model.

“I don’t see what benefit would arise from people like myself being on a register,” he said.

Mr Fletcher said he already abided by BHP’s very stringent code of conduct, and that most of his work did not constitute lobbying.

BHP Billiton and Woodside, which are seeking support in the US for LNG projects off the coast of California, provide examples of how the US system works.

The US Senate’s public register discloses that BHP paid law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld $280,000 last year to lobby for its proposed LNG terminal.

Woodside paid $US40,000 to lobbyist Allen D. Freemyer to drum up support among members of Congress and in the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Coast Guard for its LNG project.

In the US, a lobbyist is defined as any individual engaged by a third party whose lobbying constitutes more than 20 per cent of their work for the client.

Individual lobbyists must register as soon as they earn more than $US6,000 from a client.

In Canada, companies must register the names of all employees involved in lobbying as a significant part of their work and “all senior officers who communicate at all with public office holders”.

Disclosure in Canada must also include the departments or agencies contacted and details of the specific legislation, regulations, policies, programs, grants or contracts sought.

Mr Carpenter’s proposal would require registered lobbyists to regularly update which companies or organisations they are representing, with an onus on the lobbyists to declare their interests when arranging meetings with state government officials.

The state government also wants a code of conduct for lobbyists.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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