News 8th October 2018

Access and influence-‘not the fair go Australians expect.’

by Peter Timmins

The Grattan Institute paper Who’s in the room? Access and influence in Australian politics
is a detailed analysis of government policy making, that finds
“Powerful groups have triumphed over the public interest in some recent debates, from pokies reform to pharmaceutical prices, to toll roads and superannuation governance. Stronger checks and balances on policy influence are needed, to make Australian politics cleaner and fairer…
Australians are rightly concerned about the role of special interests in politics. Even a healthy democracy like Australia’s can be vulnerable to policy capture. Well-resourced interests – such as big business, unions and not-for-profits – use money, resources and relationships to influence policy to serve their interests, at times at the expense of the public interest. Even if they are only sometimes successful, it’s not the ‘fair go’ Australians expect.”
The report proposes eight key reforms – concrete, specific, transformative reforms that contrast with some  vague, unambitious commitments that feature in Australia’s first and second Open Government Partnership national action plans.
Improve transparency in policy making
∙ Publish ministerial diaries to enable public scrutiny of who ministers are meeting – and not meeting – and encourage them to seek out a wider range of views.
∙ Link the lobbyists register to ‘orange passes’ to identify commercial and in-house lobbyists with privileged behind-the- scenes access to Parliament House, and ensure they comply with the lobbying code of conduct.
∙ Improve the visibility of political donations by lowering the donations disclosure threshold to $5,000, requiring political parties to aggregate multiple donations from the same donor and requiring more timely release of donations data.
Strengthen accountability of policy makers
∙ Clarify conflicts of interest for all parliamentarians – particularly around hospitality, gifts and secondary employment – and set a standard for the public, media and parliament to hold elected officials to.
∙Independently administer codes of conduct, to build public confidence that people are complying with them. Appoint a separate ethics adviser to encourage current and former politicians to seek advice when they are in doubt.
∙Establish a federal integrity or anti-corruption body to investigate potential misconduct or corruption, publish findings, and refer any corrupt activity to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Level the playing field
∙ Cap political advertising expenditure by political parties and third parties during election campaigns to reduce the imbalance between groups with different means to broadcast political views, and limit the reliance of major political parties on individual donors.
∙ Boost countervailing voices through more inclusive policy review processes and advocacy for under-represented groups to give politicians and public officials better information with which to adjudicate the public interest.