Weak Integrity Laws Ensure Albanese, Just Like Morrison, Prioritises Corporate Want

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Weak integrity laws

On election, Albanese promised to end the “climate wars”, which much of the constituency took to mean commence the winding back of fossil fuel extraction, exportation and use, so as to limit the causes of global heating, which would have served as an example to other Global North nations.

A year later though, whilst appearing to have acted in this manner, and having provided some relief to those who consume the government version of events trumpeted on the six o’clock news, the Albanese crew has done what it does best, appear to be acting whilst maintaining business as usual.

Last year’s bill to cut 43 percent of emissions by 2030 doesn’t go far enough, even if we were on a track to achieving it, as well as this year’s overhaul of a system that allows corporates to pay to continue emitting and a commitment to 116 new fossil fuel projects, will just maintain status quo.

So, why would Labor, which has traditionally protected workers – and did suffer significant vote losses under the mass rejection of the major parties at the last election due to climate inaction – be bending over backwards, just like the Coalition, to appease the want of the fossil fuel industry?

Well, the answer is lobbying that’s backed by corporate donations, which is underpinned by weak integrity rules that don’t stop corporates from paying for favourable legislation to be enacted, along with the revolving door that sees ex-MPs turn their expertise to lobbying their former colleagues.

Buying favourable laws

“Economic and political power reinforce each other in a feedback loop: businesses use economic power to accumulate political power, and then use their political power to capture even more economic power,” explained the Human Rights Law Centre in last year’s Selling Out report.

And the Melbourne and Sydney-based centre warns that if left unchecked, things are only going to get worse.

In terms of political donations, HLRC outlines that providing this financial support, which basically bankrolls election campaigns, gets corporates a foot in the door, and leads politicians to consider private interests over that of the public.

In the worst cases, this system results in cash for favourable legislation. Although the Albanese government, to its credit, has established the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which is designed to stamp out this last form that constitutes corruption.

NACC proceedings, however, will take place behind closed doors, which was the most prominent criticism of Morrison’s proposed toothless watchdog.

According to the report, these financially-established relationships that provide political influence to corporations is stronger when it comes to industries that are “particularly harmful” to people and planet, which also results in “more technical and complex” laws that serve to conceal their purpose.

So, while it might seem counterintuitive for Labor to placate fossil fuel corporations, when the last election results demanded action, the industry did contribute to a “disclosed $15.2 million in contributions to the Coalition and $4.9 million to Labor” in the 20 years to 2019.

And keep in mind, the Liberal Nationals were in power for the overwhelming majority of those two decades.

Corporatised lobbyist pollies

Lobbying politicians is part of the democratic process. Politicians can’t serve the constituency, which voted them in, without being aware of its interests. But the issue in the Australian setting is, these days, highly professional lobbyists fill the halls of Canberra, with big industry reps first in line.

“For too long… the Commonwealth’s lax regulation of lobbying has allowed a revolving door of former government representatives to wield their disproportionate influence on behalf of monied interests,” The Centre for Public Integrity detailed in a report released last month.

And the chief reason for this is weak integrity rules, which allow a laissez-faire approach to lobbying operations at the federal level in Australia, which isn’t the case in many jurisdictions, both local and overseas, which do have stricter regulations governing those whispering into the ears of MPs.

Indeed, the federal Lobbying Code of Conduct that’s overseen by the Attorney General’s Department, isn’t legislated, which means that whilst it contains a set of rather flimsy standards, these aren’t even legally-binding and, therefore, can’t be enforced.

The Centre for Public Integrity is calling for the code to be “enshrined in legislation”, along with its definitions tightened so that under the table lobbying can be identified, and that some of the chief culprits in the lobbying domain – ex-MPs, advisors and staffers – can be brought under restraint.

The revolving door

Clause 12 of the Lobbying Code of Conduct currently provides that ministers and parliamentary secretaries must not engage in lobbying for entities that they’ve had “official dealings” with for 18 months after leaving office.

This is reduced to 12 months for Australian Defence Force officers, political advisors and senior public servants. However, for other members of parliament, there are no such restrictions whatsoever.

The integrity centre states that these limits, “combined with the restriction to ‘official dealings’ and inapplicability” to ex-MPs, permit “a significant number of former elected representatives and senior government officials to lobby in support of some of Australia’s largest corporations”.

Its report lists former defence ministers Christopher Pyne and Joel Fitzgibbon, ex-foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, Roman Quaedvlieg, who used to be the Australian Border Force commissioner and once senior advisor to Scott Morrison Jarryd Williamson are now all lobbying government.

A case in point

In many of these scenarios the recommended time periods aren’t even followed. Take former defence minister Pyne, for instance. On leaving his position in mid-2019, he took on a consulting role with EY (Ernest and Young) less than a month later to help it in growing its defence business.

And just after the Albanese government revealed the details of its Defence Strategy Review 2023, which outlined a commitment to this country expanding its spending on foreign weapons and expanding the local defence industry, the Defence Connect DSR Summit was held in Sydney.

The summit, which was to facilitate defence industry players with access to “key government decisionmakers”, including current defence minister Richard Marles, was hosted by the NSW government, Investment NSW and Pyne and Partners.

Christopher Pyne founded lobbyist firm Pyne and Partners in 2020, after the conduct code’s stipulated lobbying wait period, which has since been engaging with government on behalf of weapons manufactures. And Pyne was a key speaker at the DSR Summit held early last month.

And another case that’s led to calls to strengthen integrity laws came to light in May, which involves former PM Morrison being in line for a role at a UK defence firm, when he soon leaves parliament, which has links to the almost half a trillion dollar AUKUS submarine deal he brokered in 2021.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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