In 2010-11 three government policy initiatives aroused controversy and accusations of special treatment for "vested interests": a change in workplace relations law to meet the demand of a film company; special treatment for a company in the ultra-fast broadband roll- out; and a gambling-licences-for-convention-centre deal (details section 5b). Were the accusations justified? And what is a "vested interest" and where does it fit in a democracy?
Everyone has interests and expresses and pursues those interests in various ways, individually and with others who are like-minded and directly or by seeking favourable rules or the backing of those in authority. In a sense all interests are "vested" since they are attached to and, in a sense, "clothe" the person or entity holding or pursuing them. And in an open, democratic society, their pursuit logically is an unexceptionable, natural, human interaction.
But the term "vested interests" has acquired negative overtones of unfair, nefarious or anti- social behaviour - that is, their successful pursuit, and sometimes just their pursuit, is in some way damaging. This note suggests a framework for distinguishing appropriate, natural, human pursuit of interests from a pursuit of interests which is injurious to the general public interest and some ways in which such injurious pursuit of interests can be countered.