In Australia and the Anglo world of UK and US especially, political parties mostly of the right can be compromised by lobbying, especially in government.
The Liberal (conservative) Party in Australia, like its coalition partner the National Party (nominally based upon regional and/or agricultural interests), has become hollowed out through declining (grounded) membership, lack of original or organic policy making, deferral to lobbyists and US libertarian influenced think tanks in providing ‘oven ready’ policy.
Policy is then sold to both voters via media e.g. News Corp, 9Fairfax and 7, to MPs and committees directly, also ‘astro turfed’, then enacted and legislated, while often flying under the radar e.g. using cultural ‘wedge’ issues to deflect attention, with unclear sources of funding.
Following is an excerpt of an article from John Menadue, part of a series called ‘Lobbyland’ in Australia.
A major reason for the loss of trust in governments and parliaments is the way powerful special interests with their lobbyists have come to dominate the public debate and skew decisions in their favour. The fossil fuel sector is the most obvious and recent example…..
…..Lobbying has grown dramatically in recent years, particularly in Canberra. It now represents a growing and serious corruption of good governance and the development of sound public policy. In referring to the so called ‘public debate’ on climate change, Professor Ross Garnaut highlighted the ‘diabolical problem’ that vested interests brought to bear on public discussion on climate change.
Martin Parkinson, a former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has warned about ‘vested interests’ who seek concessions from government at the expense of ordinary citizens. Some time ago the former ACCC Chairman, Graeme Samuel, cautioned us that ‘A new conga line of rent seekers is lining up to take the place of those that have fallen out of favour’. In referring to opposition to company tax and carbon pollution reform policies, Ross Gittins in the SMH said ‘industry lobby groups [have] become less inhibited in pressing private interests at the expense of the wider public interest. [They] are ferociously resistant to reform proposals.’
These problems are widespread and growing.
There are about 280 lobbying entities registered in Canberra with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. They lobby on behalf of over 3600 clients and employ close to 900 staff as lobbyists.
On top of these ‘third party’ lobbyists, there are the special interests who conduct their own lobbying, such as the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Pharmacy Guild and the Business Council of Australia.
These lobbyists encompass a range of interests including mining, clubs, hospitals, private health insurance funds, business and hotels that have all successfully challenged government policy and the public interest in many ways.
Just think what the Minerals Council of Australia did to defeat the Mining Super Profits Tax and bring down Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. That same Council led the campaign to defeat the Carbon Tax which remains the most sensible way to cut carbon pollution by taxing ‘externalities’….
…..With journalism under-resourced, the media depends increasingly on the propaganda and promotion put into the public arena by lobby groups. Many of the so-called economic and business economists we read, hear and see on our media are in the employ of the banks and accounting firms with their own self-interested agendas. It was no surprise that they gave us no inkling of the malaise and corruption of the banks. Only a Royal Commission exposed what was really happening….
…..All proposals by special interest groups should be accompanied by a public interest impact statement prepared by an independent and professional body. This statement should be made public and would be attached to representations from the interest group. Major private consulting firms and the four large accounting firms should be excluded from this process as many of them have shown themselves to be compromised in the interests of their clients.
‘Think tanks’ such as the Institute of Public Affairs and the Sydney Institute, which are secretly funded and act as fronts for vested interests, should not receive tax benefits….
…… No minister or senior official should work with a vested interest group that they have been associated with for at least five years after retirement or resignation. It is estimated that more than 50% of registered lobbyists have previously worked in government, for the Coalition and Labor.
Adequate funding of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, to ensure it can assert the public interest and promote public debate, is now more important than ever. The ABC, despite its obvious shortcomings, is still the most trusted media institution in the country. News Corp is the least trusted.