Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Billson, Mr Bruce, Tasmania: Law Enforcement
You'd think it would be a simple statement of truth that if you're paid to lobby you're a lobbyist. But for some reason we have laws in this country that say night is day, black is white, east is west and people whose job it is to lobby aren't lobbyists. We have laws that say that you're only a lobbyist if you're a third party lobbyist. If Google hires your firm, you're a lobbyist; if Google hires you, you're not. If the Minerals Council of Australia hires your firm, you're a lobbyist; if the Minerals Council of Australia hires you, apparently you're not. If Coles, Woolworths, Westpac or Wesfarmers hires your firm, you are a paid lobbyist; if they hire you to lobby, pay you to lobby and expect you to lobby every day from here until the end of the world, under the law you are not a lobbyist; under the law, you're not anything; as far as the laws around lobbying go, you're not a lobbyist, so there aren't any.
There's supposed to be a cooling-off period preventing ministers from becoming lobbyists within 18 months of losing their ministerial responsibilities. But because we define 'lobbyist' so narrowly and because the cooling-off period doesn't have any legal enforceability, we have no protections from improper influence at all. Any minister in the Turnbull government could resign their post today and sign a contract tomorrow with any company they liked. They'd go from minister to corporate lobbyist in a heartbeat, and they'd be absolutely untouchable. Their colleagues today would become their business opportunities for tomorrow—all within the rules and all within the law.
So what a surprise it is, then, that the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet would find nothing wrong with what happened with Bruce Billson. Of course he was within the law. The law, if you can call it a law, is absolutely ridiculous. Let's remember what actually happened here. Bruce Billson was a minister, then he was a backbencher, then he was the Executive Chairman of the Franchise Council of Australia—except it's a bit messier than that. There's a bit more of an overlap than that. Bruce Billson was a member of parliament at the same time that he was Executive Chairman of the Franchise Council of Australia. What's the Franchise Council of Australia? It's an organisation that has been set up to lobby on behalf of its members. We don't call it a lobbying organisation, of course. It lobbies, but it's not a lobbying firm. It's set up exclusively to lobby, but that doesn't matter with the laws that we have. So we have a former minister who as minister was responsible for the Franchising Code of Conduct and who, within 18 months, became the head of an industry group designed to lobby the government of which he was still a member.
He apologised and said it was a discourtesy to parliament. That was very big of him. I say that's not good enough. I say it shouldn't have happened in the first place, and I ask where his integrity was. Why would he have two jobs at the same time if he couldn't do both at the same time? If he was doing both at the same time, he had a clear conflict of interest and shouldn't have been allowed to continue to do that. The public says you serve the public interest. Special interest groups pay you to serve their special interests. You can't do both. There's no two ways about this: you can't do both. Except, because we have laws that don't work and protections that don't protect and safeguards that don't guard anything, you can do whatever the hell you want. The laws are broken and we should change them. That's what I plan to do.
Tonight I released the Jacqui Lambie Network's plan to clean up Canberra. It starts with reform to the Lobbying Code of Conduct. When the Rudd government introduced the code in 2008, it was an attempt to regulate the way lobbyists work in Canberra. It didn't work, for a lot of reasons: it wasn't independent, it was full of loopholes and it couldn't be legally enforced. Now's the time to take another look at the Lobbying Code of Conduct and actually fix it. Here's how: we expand it, we legislate it and then we enforce it. We expand it by harmonising the parliament. How? We align the parliament sponsored-pass definition of 'lobbyist' with the code's definition of 'lobbyist'. We strengthen the code of conduct's post-separation employment restrictions for former ministers. We extend the post-separation employment restriction for former ministers from 18 months to five years, lining up with Canada, the European Union and the United States. We legislate the Lobbying Code of Conduct by turning it from a toothless feel-good instrument into a mandatory industry code governing everybody who lobbies federal government representatives: businesses, unions, NGOs and industry groups. Everyone who lobbies will be called for what they are, a lobbyist. We give the ACCC the power to police the mandatory industry code and make all of their decisions reviewable by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Then we enforce it by establishing a parliamentary integrity commissioner. That would be an important independent statutory body that would administer the register and report to the parliament. We give the commissioner the power to enforce the Statement of Ministerial Standards and provide advice to the government. Finally, we expand the Parliament House visitor pass register to include a field specifying on behalf of whom a visitor is visiting and we allow access to the register under freedom of information law. That is a short summary of a long process.
This reform package is the product of extensive consultation across all sides of the political divide. It's taken a huge amount of time and energy and proposes the biggest shake-up of lobbying reform in a decade. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. My plan breaks every window and kicks down every door and sheds more light on lobbying than has happened at any other time in Australia's parliamentary history.
People elect Independents to the parliament to hold the parties to account. This policy is a demonstration of what Independents can do to make good on that promise. Bruce Billson didn't do the right thing, but he'll get away with it. He shouldn't, but he will. So will the next person to make the jump through the revolving door of political influence and so will the person after that and so will the person after that, and we'll just keep shaking our heads, saying something should really happen and looking to our major parties to lead the way. We'll wonder why nothing has changed, why this keeps happening and why major parties aren't leading the way in this field. Under my plan, we don't have to wait for them to lead; the ball is already rolling. You elected a Senate full of Independents, and because of you this is going to happen.
Earlier this month, my local newspaper, The Advocate, reported that the Bandidos had moved into East Devonport. I can guarantee you that they did not move in to enjoy riding on Tasmania's beautiful country roads. No, the Bandidos have moved into the Devonport area to cause trouble, and I want to know what the federal and state governments are going to do about it. Clearly, Tasmania's new antifortification laws don't scare an international outlaw gang like the Bandidos. They are obviously not concerned about the security measures on the Spirit of Tasmania because they didn't chose East Devonport because of its prestigious neighbourhood, I can assure you.
We need to send a stronger message to organised crime gangs and tell them to, 'Get out!' We can do that if we take a national approach. If we don't, we'll just keep playing whack-a-mole. When one state gets tough on organised crime—guess what? The gangs are a bit smarter than what you take them for, and they will just move to the next state, which is exactly what is happening. And that will keep happening until the federal government gets a backbone and takes a lead on the matter. I mean, what are you scared of: some boys on bikes?
I've seen firsthand the effect of organised criminal gangs on families. I have flashbacks every time a family member of someone who is caught up in drugs or the gang world pleads with me and asks me, in tears, to intervene and save the life of their child. But I can't, and that's because Australia doesn't have tough enough laws. These gangs aren't going to be scared off by antifortification laws, not when they have the money—your money—to set up elsewhere.
Organised crime must be addressed at COAG and the states must walk away with a comprehensive plan; otherwise, gangs will continue to prey on our children, seducing them with the idea of belonging, with drugs or with the opportunity to make big bucks. These gangs are stealing our children's futures. I was lucky. My son was in a position where he had no choice but to go into rehab, and he is now doing well. But that isn't every mother's story; most stories end up in heartbreak.
Organised crime is very real and it impacts everyone. No-one is safe from the threat of bike gangs. Organised crime isn't isolated to disadvantaged communities; it's everywhere.
If that isn't enough to convince you of the seriousness of this matter then let me tell you how much organised crime costs the community in a language you understand. According to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, organised crime cost this country $36 billion in 2013-14. Let me put it to you in another way: organised crime costs every single Australian around $1,500 every year. What could you do with an extra $1,500? What could Australia do with an extra $36 billion? Imagine what that money could do to our health system, to cut our energy costs and to support small businesses. Imagine the jobs that we could create which would actually be legal. Australia needs to band together as a community, grow a backbone, stand up to organised criminal gangs and pull up the welcome mat, because it is way overdue.