This is a joint media release from the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission and the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, South Australia (ICAC SA).
Representatives from 20 integrity agencies across Australia put lobbying practices and their influence on the public sector under the microscope at the inaugural Integrity Summit held in Brisbane on 25 March 2021.
The meeting was convened by the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) and the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, South Australia (ICAC SA).
Queensland Integrity Commissioner Dr Nikola Stepanov said the summit’s theme, ‘Lobbying and the public sector’ had been chosen for its particular relevance to all integrity agencies and the wider community.
“Members of the public appear to have a reasonably clear view of what lobbying is and how it may lead to corruption by way of bribery or unfair access and influence on decision makers,” Dr Stepanov said.
“The clear concern for both the public and integrity agencies was the lack of transparency of lobbying activities.”
Dr Stepanov also noted that, “There had been a significant increase in lobbying activity in Queensland in the previous 12 months, 988 contacts this financial year up from an average of 239 per year over the past seven years.” (Based on data from the lobbying Contact Register)
CCC Chairperson Alan MacSporran QC, said that discussions at the summit showed that many Australians see corruption, including undue influence, as a problem in government.
“A shared concern for agencies was whether current regulatory regimes oversight regimes would be effective enough to satisfy public concerns,” Mr MacSporran said.
“A practical first step to allaying public concerns would be to introduce measures that make detail about lobbying activity more readily available to all integrity agencies.
“That would enable us to understand the extent of influence and other issues,” Mr MacSporran said.
This issue becomes of significance given that the outcome of the office of the Integrity Commissioner’s annual audit revealed:
- 46 discrepancies between the records held by chief executives of government departments and the lobbying Contact Register held by the Integrity Commissioner, and
- 57 discrepancies between the records held by chief executive officers of local governments and the lobbying Contact Register held by the Integrity Commissioner.
“Of the 103 discrepancies, 101 relate to possible failure by lobbyists to record lobbying activity with government representatives on the lobbying Contact Register”, Dr Stepanov said.
“When considered against with the number of contacts recorded on the Contact Register which stands at 988 for the 2020-21 financial year, the 101 discrepancies identified suggest that as many as one in ten contacts with government representatives are not being recorded by lobbyists on the lobbying Contact Register” Mr MacSporran said.
At present, almost all jurisdictions had very limited powers under existing legislation to adequately deal with lobbying issues, and that this extended to include the range of sanctions available.
In Queensland, the functions of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner and legislation concerning lobbying, the Integrity Act 2009, are due for review later this year.
South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, the Hon. Ann Vanstone QC, emphasised the importance of public trust in government.
“Part of our discussion focussed on what we, as integrity agencies, could do to ensure that the public can have confidence in the decisions being made on their behalf by elected officials and public servants,” the Hon. Ann Vanstone said.
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