19 June 2014
(Contribution to the Debate, 18 June 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I support the Electoral and Lobbying Legislation Amendment (Electoral Commission) Bill, which establishes the register of lobbyists and the lobbyist code of conduct. Under the bill the code of conduct will also apply to any organisation that lobbies the Government. The Electoral Funding Authority [EFA] will be abolished and its powers and functions conferred on the New South Wales Electoral Commission. The new commission will comprise the commissioner and two independent members and will take over management of the lobbyist register from the Department of Premier and Cabinet and impose penalties for noncompliance with the code. While I support the bill, it is yet another example of this Government's tendency to rush important legislation through the House without providing adequate time for members to assess properly and to consult on its impacts.
All legislation should sit on the table for five days and there is no reason for the rush. We will probably be sitting next week and we could deal with it then. While I support the bill, I have concerns that the EFA will be abolished. I have no philosophical objection to the Electoral Commission taking on the EFA's powers and functions, but I have not had the opportunity to determine how this will work or to assess whether any vital functions could be lost. I have worked well with the EFA. It does a great job in ensuring that members use their funds, accept donations and make disclosures in accordance with the law. I ask the Premier in his reply to assure the House that the knowledge and expertise within the EFA will not be lost. The lobbyist register and Lobbyist Code of Conduct were important reforms introduced by the Rees Government to improve transparency with regard to contact between decision-makers and those who will gain from those decisions.
The code created mandatory ethical standards for those who lobby and it makes sense that these important practices be given legislative support. I have not had the opportunity to consult with community organisations that advocate to government, such as environment, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, animal welfare and local community organisations. However, I understand why these groups should comply with code of conduct standards. I request the Government to run a targeted education campaign to ensure that these groups know their responsibilities and are not penalised for inadvertent breaches. The Electoral Commission is the appropriate body to manage the lobbyist register and to ensure compliance with the code as an independent body that is at arm's length from government.
The O'Farrell Government's ban on lobbyist success fees reduced risks by removing an incentive for lobbyists to exercise undue influence on decision-makers. I welcome the commitment to ensure that Ministers publish their diaries. This will increase transparency and public confidence and is in line with my questions in Parliament calling for New South Wales to adopt the Queensland model. Recent Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiries reveal the importance of ensuring that contact between decision-makers and those with vested interests is open and accountable. The community's desire to be informed about such meetings is clear.
The Queensland code of conduct also extends to the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and I believe that should be the case in New South Wales, and shadow Ministers should also be included. Lobbyists often target Opposition members if they think they will be future decision-makers, especially as an election approaches and there is talk of a change in government. This can also be said of crossbenchers who hold the balance of power—they can have considerable influence on decisions and their contact with lobbyists is in the public interest. I support the bill as a step towards further reform to improving transparency of contact with lobbyists.