The Lobbying Code of Conduct (the Code) was tabled in the Senate on 13 May 2008 by the then Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary, Senator the Hon John Faulkner. In addition, the Minister announced the establishment of the Register of Lobbyists (the Register). The Code is provided in appendix 3 of this report.
1.7 The Code is intended to:
...promote trust in the integrity of government processes and ensure that contact between lobbyists and Government representatives is conducted in accordance with public expectations of transparency, integrity and honesty. Lobbyists and Government representatives are expected to comply with the requirements of the Lobbying Code of Conduct in accordance with their spirit, intention and purpose.
1.8 Provisions of the Code include:
- prohibition of contact between government representatives and unregistered lobbyists;
- prohibition on those who retire from office as a minister or parliamentary secretary, for an 18 month period after they cease to hold office, to engage in lobbying activities relating to any matter that they had official dealings with in their last 18 months in office;
- a 12-month cooling off period for ministerial staff, senior public servants or defence personnel who have resigned or retired, who may want to work as lobbyists;
- principles of engagement with government representatives;
- definitions of 'lobbyist' and 'lobbying activities'; and
- sanctions for certain actions.
1.9 A significant feature of the Code is that it applies only to 'third party lobbyists'. That is, it applies to lobbyists who lobby one party on behalf of another person or organisation. It does not apply to those employed to undertake lobbying activities on behalf of their employer. The application of the Code is limited to members of the executive and their staff.
1.10 The Code established a publicly available Register of Lobbyists. Information provided on the Register includes:
- business registration details, including trading names, of the lobbyist;
- the names and positions of persons employed, contracted or otherwise engaged by the lobbyist to carry out the lobbying activities; and the names of clients on whose behalf the lobbyist conducts lobbying activities, subject to not disclosing certain information under Chapter 6CA of the Corporations Act 2001.
1.11 The Minister, in tabling the Code, commented:
The revised Code represents an appropriate balance, I believe, between the right of ministers, officials and the public to know who stands to benefit from the efforts of lobbyists, and the ability of business to be able to make views known to government. It will not impose unreasonable demands on the lobbying industry, business or ministers and officials.
Inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration
1.12 Following its tabling, the Senate referred the Code to the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration so that it could inquire and report on the Code's adequacy in achieving its aims. The committee reported in September 2008 and noted that there was widespread support for the Code which was viewed as a 'significant step towards increasing the level of transparency surrounding lobbying activities'. However, the committee noted that it received evidence on a range of issues including:
- whether the coverage of lobbyists is adequate;
- procedural fairness;
- regulatory burdens;
- whether the coverage of parliamentarians is adequate; and
- post-employment prohibitions.
1.13 While acknowledging that some aspects of the Code were not wholly supported by stakeholders, the committee noted that implementation of the Code was in a relatively early stage and that it may be some time before it became clear if its objectives were realised. The committee recommended that the committee conduct a further inquiry into the operation of the Code in the second half of 2009.
Changes to the Register of Lobbyists
1.14 In March 2010, the then Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon Joe Ludwig, conducted a roundtable meeting with key lobbying industry stakeholders after which a discussion paper on possible reforms of the Code was released. Following consideration of submissions from interested parties, two changes to the Register of Lobbyists were announced:
- to enhance openness and transparency, lobbyists will be required to disclose on the Register the details of any former government representatives employed by their firm as lobbyists; and
- the introduction of measures to streamline the regulatory and administrative arrangements for registration:
- signed statutory declarations submitted for registration purposes will be accepted electronically or by fax, without the need to also provide the original document; and
- regular updates will only be required twice yearly instead of quarterly, with the continuing requirement for any change to the lobbyist's details to be made as soon as practicable and within 10 business days after the change occurs.