ᔥ Sydney Morning Herald
There is a lot of focus right now on lobbyists, not only in New Zealand but also in Australia. Lobbyists are moving from the dark shadows out into the public gaze:
Public lobbying has been common in American politics for years, and has recently become widespread and high-profile in Australia. Is this because business leaders cannot get meetings with ministers, or after the success of the miners a simple case of follow the leader?
A Rudd confidant, Bruce Hawker, believes there is more to the trend than companies feeling shut out of government. ”There have been a number of high-profile and high-impact decisions by the government that pose big financial threats to wealthy companies,” Hawker said. ”These companies have a lot to lose and therefore they are prepared to spend.”
Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and friends spent $22 million on their advertising campaign and saved themselves an estimated $60 billion over 10 years. British American Tobacco has spent $4.5 million on its campaign against the plain packaging legislation.
British American Tobacco Australia maintains it went public only because its chief executive could not get a meeting with the then health minister, Nicola Roxon.
”Our CEO requested meetings with the then health minister via email and phone a number of times without success,” Scott McIntyre, a spokesman for BATA, said.
Roxon, now the Attorney-General, rejected the implied criticism: ”My then department met regularly with representatives from big tobacco. However, I saw no value to meet personally with companies that had already trenchantly declared their total opposition to our action.”
The Minerals Council said it had no choice but to pursue a public campaign. Their argument gained credibility after Gillard criticised her former boss for not adequately consulting with the mining companies.
”We didn’t really set out to change public opinion. We set out to send a message to government because we weren’t getting access to them,” a source close to the council campaign said. ”The policy didn’t pass the pub test, and all we did was confirm that view by being so vociferous.”
I like the idea of the pub test…kind of link the blink test. Many politicians and policies fail the pub test because politicians and policy wonks spend too much time inside the beltway.
This will be the result, however, of the Green’s insistance at controlling lobbying. Companies, unions and interest groups will simply mount public information campaigns. Pressure…and ironically lobbying…will come to bear on politicians to free up the current legislation regarding political advertising on television which is currently the sole preserve of the political parties. It is outrageous that only political parties get to have a say on television.
If the Greens want more transparency then let’s have it by all means, including the freeing up of access to the medium that allow for more transparency.