Senate debates

Thursday, 23 March 2023



10:19 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The Greens strongly support this motion. After years of political scandals, secrecy, misuse of funds and the trashing of conventions, the community has little confidence that politicians in this place will act in anything other than their own interests, and too often their own interests are influenced by industry lobbyists offering cushy post-parliament roles sweetened by the winking promise of political donations. Far too many deals in this place are thrashed out between ministers and their donors behind closed doors. You only have to see the number of orange lanyards in the hallways to understand that lobbyists are constantly in and out of ministers' offices. And you only have to look at the policy outcomes to see the influence they have over decisions. Privileged access, generous donations and promises of a cushy role when they're done clearly influence political decisions.

We know that the minister responsible for regulating gambling has met with the gambling industry seven times more often than she has met with gambling harm reduction advocates, and we only know that because it was interrogated through estimates, not because that information is put out in the public for all to see. So it's safe to assume that the ministers responsible for the safeguard mechanism are being lobbied by the very industries that will be regulated by it. It's no shock that many of them have loudly supported the weak proposal that would allow them to keep polluting. Remember when the Minerals Council toppled a prime minister over a proposed superprofits tax, or when casinos were exempted from COVID restrictions? It's a level of access and influence that most community organisations working in the public interest can only dream of, and it undermines democracy. The very least that the public could expect is for ministers to be open about who they're meeting with and what they're talking about. Labor should be supporting greater transparency. The current Attorney-General took legal action arguing that former attorney-general George Brandis should release his ministerial diaries. The Queensland state Labor government has been publishing ministerial diaries for years, and the sky hasn't fallen in.

The Greens want to get big money and corporate influence out of politics altogether. We were calling for a national integrity commission for about a decade before Labor finally saw the light, and we're glad that we'll finally see one this year—albeit without the public hearings and whistleblower protections that we'll keep calling for. But a strong corruption watchdog is just one step in restoring public confidence in democracy. Cleaning up politics is not just about exposing corruption and punishing the corrupt; it's about getting rid of the conditions that allow corruption and poor standards to flourish in the first place. We need better checks and balances on who gets to bend the ears of politicians—a strong lobbying code that lets people see who's meeting with who, and one that would put an end to the revolving door that sees politicians and staffers, within moments of leaving parliament, take on highly paid senior roles in industries they used to regulate.

Lobbyists are defined under the current weak Lobbying Code of Conduct as people or companies lobbying 'on behalf of a third party'. This excludes in-house lobbying—lobbying directly for a company or an industry—which is a loophole the size of a mining truck. Ministers exploit that language so that in-house lobbyists and post-ministerial roles are treated in a way that falls outside the lobbying regulated under the code. It clearly undermines the objectives of the code, and it must be fixed. We need an enforceable code of conduct for politicians, with meaningful consequences for misconduct. We've recently strengthened the code to address harassment and bad behaviour, but we need to go further and address integrity. We need a strong public sector providing frank and fearless advice to ministers and curbing their excesses. We need well-resourced oversight agencies, like the ANAO, and freedom of information laws that actually promote transparency. We need a culture that encourages people to expose misconduct, knowing that there are strong protections for whistleblowers and a genuine expectation that the misconduct they have exposed will lead to punishment for those who are abusing their positions. And we need to remove the corrupting influence of political donations.

We want to ban donations from industries with a track record of buying influence, like fossil fuels, weapons, gambling and pharmaceuticals, to stop those industries standing in the way of science based reforms and humane policies. We also want to ensure that all donations over a thousand dollars are disclosed in real time, not up to 19 months after the gift, which is currently the case. And we want the definition of gift to capture the full gift—not just the money explicitly given as a donation but exorbitant memberships, meeting fees and expensive dinners. Real-time disclosure of gifts would allow people to know who's funding the parties they voted for. Everybody benefits from a culture of honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability in politics. Let's just get on with it.


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