Tough new rules for lobbyists

Published 13th May, 2014

The NSW Government will immediately implement ICAC recommendations on lobbying, Premier Mike Baird announced today.

The new rules, which include publication of ministerial diaries and an independent lobbying regulator, were approved by Cabinet last night.

“I am determined to restore the public’s trust in our political system and the MPs that represent them,” Mr Baird said.

“We are nailing shut the back door to government – this is an important step that puts on notice any lobbyist or business thinking about breaking the rules or expecting favourable treatment.”

The package will increase transparency and enhance regulation of lobbying by:

  • Establishing the Electoral Commission as an independent regulator of lobbyists;
  • Applying a set of ethical standards to all third-party lobbyists and other organisations that lobby government;
  • Empowering the independent regulator to investigate alleged breaches and impose sanctions, which could result in lobbying firms being removed from the Lobbyist Register and other organisations placed on a Watch List and their access to government restricted; and
  • Requiring Ministers to publish quarterly diary summaries of scheduled meetings with external organisations on portfolio-related activities; and
  • Approving a recommendation from ICAC that the Ministerial Code of Conduct become applicable under the ICAC Act, giving the watchdog the power to investigate and make findings on a Minister’s compliance with the Code.

“The public has a right to know who is gaining access to government,” Mr Baird said.

“By proactively disclosing this information we are shedding light on politics in this State – the public can then judge for itself what influence lobbyists have had over government decisions.

“We’ve already made progress since coming to office by banning lobbyist success fees and restricting lobbying by former Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.

“These reforms go even further – as Premier, I will do whatever is necessary to stamp out the backdoor, decisions-for-favours culture that was allowed to flourish under the Labor Party,” Mr Baird said.

Under the changes, the existing Register of Third Party Lobbyists and a new Watch List will be independently maintained and enforced by a Registrar of Lobbyists, who will be an officer of the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission’s existing powers to compel information will be extended to its lobbying regulatory functions.

A minimum set of ethical standards currently contained in the Code of Conduct applicable to registered third-party lobbyists will be applied to a broader range of individuals and organisations seeking to influence government policy and decision-making.

Sanctions for breaches of the code for third party lobbyists include removal from the Register, in effect banning them from lobbying in NSW. Individuals or organisations that breach the code can be placed on the Watch List and have their lobbying activities severely restricted where strict meeting protocols are enforced, such as having two departmental officials including a note-taker present.

The Ministerial Code of Conduct will be amended to reflect this change.

By applying these standards to all persons lobbying government, the NSW Government believes it is not necessary to place in-house lobbyists and peak industry bodies on the Register, as its purpose is to primarily disclose to government officials whom lobbyists are acting on behalf of. There are no transparency issues for in-house lobbyists, as it is self-evident who they represent.

To improve transparency, Ministers will be required to publish quarterly diary summaries of scheduled external meetings held on portfolio-related matters. This is similar to information published by Queensland Ministers.

Cabinet, commercial-in-confidence and personal information will not be disclosed. Nor will strictly personal, electorate or party-political meetings.

The Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet will be able to determine if a meeting should not be disclosed.

The new system will commence on 1 July. The Department of Premier and Cabinet will coordinate a review of the system over the next 12 months, including consideration of additional reforms covering ministerial staff, the public sector and local government.

Published 13th May, 2014