Lobbying is an important part of the democratic ‘contest of ideas’. But some groups have a lot more access to decision makers, and therefore more opportunity to influence public decisions in their favour.

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Transparency around lobbying activity can help level the playing field and protect the public interest. The goal is not to deter advocacy but to underscore the responsibilities of public officials.

Greater public scrutiny might encourage policymakers to seek out a wider range of views. And it can alert under-represented groups to speak up when a particular policy issue is ‘live’.

Sponsored passes to Parliament House provide privileged opportunities to influence decision makers, whether through formal meetings or more casual corridor catch-ups. Lobbyists who hold these passes should be publicly registered and should be required to abide by the lobbying code of conduct.

Former politicians, ministerial advisers, and senior government officials who engage in lobbying should also be required to register themselves and abide by the lobbying code of conduct.

Passholders who breach the lobbying code of conduct should have their pass to Parliament House suspended or withdrawn.

An expanded lobbyist register that includes sponsored passholders should also include more public information on lobbying activity – including who was lobbied, when, and on what topic.

These measures would improve public visibility of lobbying in Parliament House. But of course lobbying can take place anywhere.

Publishing ministerial diaries is a critical complementary measure to provide visibility on who is getting access to Australia’s most senior public policy decision makers. Publishing ministerial diaries would enable journalists and others to know who ministers are meeting – and, perhaps even more importantly, who they’re not meeting – which could encourage politicians to seek more diverse input.

Policymakers should actively seek out a range of voices – including those of disadvantaged groups and more diffuse interests. Boosting countervailing voices in policy debates would give politicians and public officials better information with which to adjudicate the public interest.

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Kate Griffiths

Chief of Staff and Democracy Deputy Program Director
Kate Griffiths is Grattan Institute’s Chief of Staff and Deputy Program Director of the Democracy program. Kate completed her Masters in Science at the University of Oxford as a John Monash Scholar and holds an Honours degree in Science from the Australian National University.