26 September 2023

ICAC shines light on PS and lobbyists

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The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has called for new laws to manage lobbying in the State Government, in particular making it illegal for lobbyists to communicate with Government officials in secret.

Chief Commissioner of the ICAC, Peter Hall said the Commission’s Investigation into the regulation of lobbying, access and influence in NSW (Operation Eclipse) found new legislation, or significant reform of the current Lobbying of Government Officials Act 2011 (LOGO), was required to safeguard public interest against the inherent lobbying risks of corruption and undue influence.

“While lobbying contributes to positive outcomes that are in the public interest when it is conducted ethically and honestly, Operation Eclipse and other Commission investigations have shown that lobbying, access and influence can result in favouritism, or even corrupt conduct, and the present regulation is deficient,” Chief Commissioner Hall said.

“The LOGO Act, while a step in the right direction, falls short of implementing all of the 17 recommendations made by the Commission more than 10 years ago in its previous lobbying investigation, Operation Halifax,” he said.

“In Operation Eclipse, the ICAC has made a further 29 recommendations to address this shortfall and to better regulate lobbying practices in NSW.”

Chief Commissioner Hall said the ICAC commenced Operation Eclipse on its own initiative in February 2019.

The Chief Commissioner said the Operation differed from investigations the ICAC usually conducted as it wasn’t concerned with examining whether any particular individual may have engaged in corrupt conduct, but sought to examine particular aspects of lobbying activities and the corruption risks involved in the lobbying of public authorities and officials.

“Despite its name, the LOGO Act imposes few if any obligations on Government officials who interact with lobbyists,” he said.

Chief Commissioner Hall said key recommendations included that NSW created a dedicated lobbying commissioner whose primary purpose was to regulate the LOGO Act; any fundraising event, where an attendee pays for any form of exclusive or private access to a minister, be classified as a ‘scheduled meeting’; the Lobbyists Code of Conduct be expanded to create obligations for Government officials who are lobbied, and renamed the ‘Lobbying Code of Conduct’; and the standards and obligations in the renamed Code include a prohibition on undocumented or secret meetings.

He said the ICAC also recommended that a broader range of lobbyists be required to register with the NSW Electoral Commission, particularly professional in-house lobbyists, “who ought to be subject to a similar level of regulation as third-party lobbyists”.

The ICAC’s 89-page Report can be downloaded at this PS News link.

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