Submission: ministerial standards

8 August 2019

The appointment of Christopher Pyne, former Minister of Defence, illustrates weaknesses in the regulation and oversight of the Ministerial Standards and the influence of lobbyists as a defining feature of Australia’s political landscape.

Current restrictions on ministers moving from politics into lobbying roles need to be enforced.

Revolving doors and ‘golden escalator’ opportunities for ministers and senior political staff, creates a ‘culture of cosiness’ and increases the likelihood that the well-resourced are heard more often, and more sympathetically, in policy discussions. This poses a risk to good decision-making: policy makers should be listening to interest groups with the best ideas, not simply those with the right connections.

The community expects politicians to conform to a higher set of standards. However, stronger checks and balances on interest groups who attempt to influence policy and decision-making is needed. This would make Australian politics cleaner and fairer, and to help ensure policy decisions are made in the public interest.

Weaknesses in our political institutions, and a failure to enforce standards, expose politicians to the risk of capture by special interest groups. We need to ensure policy decisions are in the public interest. We need to guard against politicians making decisions to assist in their future employment and using information and knowledge for private gain.

Secret lobbying damages the legitimacy of government institutions and leads to a loss of public support and trust.

Australia’s lobbying regulations are weak by international standards. Voters know next to nothing about who federal ministers meet with.

The federal lobbyist register needs to be substantially expanded to include both in-house and external lobbyists. It needs to be made public and disclose who has unrestricted access (security pass) to Parliament House and politicians.

Ministerial Standards and Codes of conduct for parliamentarians and lobbyists should be independently administered, to build public confidence that the high standards of public office are respected and adhered to.