Unidentifiable corporate influence lurking in the halls of Parliament

Today in Parliament, Abigail delivered an adjournment speech highlighting the pervasive presence of unidentified lobbyists freely moving and exerting influence in the halls of Parliament.

Abigail said:

The issue of corporate lobbyists walking the hall of power in this country has once again reared its head in recent days, with the handing down of a Senate inquiry report into the rules governing disclosure of lobbying activities in Federal Parliament. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the major party representatives on the inquiry failed to support major proposals that would have significantly strengthened the lobbyist disclosure regime. At a time of waning public trust in politicians and political institutions, it is crucial that those in political power behave in an ethical and trustworthy way and, even more importantly, are seen to be acting ethically and transparently. There is a pervasive sense that major political decisions are being made in the interests of big corporations without adequate scrutiny over the way that private interests are paying for access and influence in a way that directly benefits themselves.

In Canberra the number of sponsored passes to Parliament House—which includes those granted to lobbyists—reached 1,791 at the beginning of last year, with 891 issued since the previous election. People are rightfully concerned about the ways in which corporate and commercial interests can sway decision-making. With minority governments in both Houses in New South Wales, every vote counts, but only Ministers are required to disclose who they meet with. Reading the lists of ministerial diary disclosures gives a sense of the scale of the problem. In the latest round of diary disclosures from the first quarter of this year, Premier Chris Minns and the Treasurer met with a regular rogues' gallery of corporate players and their lobbyists.

There are genuinely too many for me to list them, but I have prepared a small selection of highlights: PwC of consulting scandal shame; Tabcorp, merchant of gambling pain; the Korea Electric Power Corporation, the failed Bylong coalminer accused of international fraud and corruption allegations; Newmont, the recent purchaser of Newcrest, and with it Cadia goldmine; the Australian Hotels Association, the pokies purveyors; Crown, the owners of the only very recently approved Sydney-based Crown Resorts—wow, that is a lot of gambling—Blackstone, owners of Crown and about $1 trillion worth of other things; and Transurban, or those guys who siphon money out of your bank account with a little bleeping machine on your windshield.

I am going to run out of time but I will go on: Macquarie, owners of power stations, resources and roads, and a million other things; BHP, the mining giant that still cannot manage to pay its employees what they are owed; Conduent, the multinational company that just won the Victorian public transport myki contract; DroneShield, the multinational defence industry corporation; Kinetic, the bus and coach company that recently won a swathe of new bus contracts from the New South Wales government; and so many meetings with Morris Iemma, the former Labor Premier turned lobbyist and good-time pal of Chris Minns, who was briefly chairperson of Venues NSW.

Think that list sounds daunting? That is just two members of the Government over three months and that is just their direct corporate interests. This is not to say that anything dodgy happened in those meetings, nor is it to say that the Premier and Treasurer should not have been meeting with companies engaged in the operation of the State. What I am saying, though, is that there is a high level of corporate motivation in influencing government outcomes and we should know when they are walking the halls of Parliament, not just find out when they have met with a Minister months after the meeting date.

In New South Wales, lobbyists, business people and representatives of unions and NGOs are issued with black security passes, the same colour that is given to everyone from special constables to former members, to heads of government departments to parliamentary interns. There is no register kept of these sponsored passes, and it is not possible for MPs, let alone the public, to ascertain who has been given a pass, what organisation or interest they represent, or who authorised them. Based on the latest figures I have from mid-2021, 1,529 black passes were on issue, with no-one having any idea how many were in the sponsored pass category.

It is difficult to understand what valid reason a person who is not employed at Parliament would have for needing to access the parliamentary precinct unaccompanied and to freely walk around MP working spaces, having casual conversations in the lifts and cafe. As the NSW ICAC pointed out in a Senate inquiry last month, is it really so inconvenient for these people to simply book a meeting if they want to speak to an MP and then be collected by a member of staff from reception? It is astounding to me that the amount of access these lobbyists and influence peddlers have is so opaque that even our own parliamentary security services are not able to tell us who is here, for what purpose and when. It is not asking much for the public to have the right to know. Secrecy and corporate influence are corrosive to our democracy. The public should have the ability to shine a light on what is happening here in the halls of democracy.

 

Read the transcript in Hansard here.

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