Regulation of Lobbyists Adjournment Speech: Legislative Council 11/09/14

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Delivered in the Legislative Council, September 11, 2014.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY (Leader of the Opposition) [4.05 p.m.]: Honourable members would be aware that I have taken an ongoing interest in the regulation of lobbyist activity in New South Wales. I have taken the opportunity at the Premier's estimates hearings in 2013 and 2014 to ask many questions of the directors general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet about the day-to-day regulation of the activities of registered lobbyists. I was assured last year by the former director general, Mr Eccles, this year by the current acting director general, Mr Smith, and by Premiers O'Farrell and Baird that the regulation of lobbyist activity is undertaken by the Department of Premier and Cabinet without the involvement of the Premier and without the involvement of his office. That is as it should be.

I have welcomed certain actions taken in the life of this Government to strengthen the regulation of lobbyist activity—namely, the banning of success fees, the prohibition on lobbyists holding a management position in a registered political party, and the transfer of the responsibility for the regulation of lobbyists to the Electoral Commission. That transfer will occur at a date prior to the next election when the legislation passed by the Parliament in June this year is proclaimed. Until then the responsibility remains with the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Last year the director general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet investigated matters that I raised at an estimates hearing concerning the activities of 1st State and its principal Mr Joseph Tannous. That investigation resulted in a finding that there had been a breach of the Lobbyist Code of Conduct. To my knowledge that remains the first and only formal finding by the regulator of a breach of the code of conduct.

I advised the House and at this year's estimates hearing I raised further matters that have come to my attention concerning the conduct of 1st State and Mr Tannous. The acting director general undertook to investigate those matters. The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council [ALC] is a client of Mr Tannous' lobbying firm. I have been provided with board papers from the council that state that 1st State, Mr Tannous' firm, facilitated attendance of New South Wales ALC staff at John Sidoti's fundraiser—he is the member for Drummoyne. It perhaps would have been more appropriate for the New South Wales ALC to attend State level functions rather than a local MP's function that was aimed at receiving donations from local business owners. My concern is that there may have been a breach of clause 7.1 (d) of the Lobbyist Code of Conduct. That clause states:

Lobbyist shall keep strictly separate from their duties and activities as lobbyists any personal activity or involvement on behalf of a political party.

I note that Mr Tannous was thanked in the inaugural speech of the member for Drummoyne, Mr Sidoti, for his work as campaign manager. Further, I have been provided with a copy of a report to the Auburn City Council concerning the 2013 engagement of 1st State to assist the council with government relations. I note that 1st State neglected to advise the director general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet of its work for the Auburn City Council when making a submission, prepared by Corrs Chambers Westgarth, to Mr Eccles last year. My concern is that this omission may itself constitute a breach of clause 7.1 (c) of the Lobbyist Code of Conduct—in particular, the requirement that lobbyists shall not misrepresent the nature or extent of their access to institutions of government. I have confidence in the acting director general of the department to investigate these matters. I look forward to receiving his findings in due course. I advise the House that I will continue to take a very active interest in the regulation of the activities of lobbyists in this State. I look forward to a supplementary estimates hearing to examine further this public policy challenge.