Lobby Groups, Policy, Government and Influence

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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. 

LobbyLand. The scourge of powerful special interests and lobbyists.

By JOHN MENADUE | On 1 October 2020

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.

For more articles about Australian politics, climate change, conservative, fossil fuel pollution, libertarian economics, media and political strategy

Political Parties Hollowed Out and Identity Issues

Australian politics as with Trump’s America and U.K.’s Brexit has become hollowed out with declining membership, less organic policy development, more reliance upon both external policy development by trans national think tanks and promotion or opposition by media or PR.

An enforced focus upon immigration, population growth and refugees, or white nationalist issues, may risk bi-partisan support and ignore the immigrant heritage of Australia versus aggressive demands for a WASP white Anglo Saxon protestant and Irish Catholic culture to rule.

Brexit, Trump and Australian politics have obsessed about immigration.

Populist Politics and White Nationalism (Image copyright Pexels).

This is especially so among the less diverse above median age vote in regions, while Australia’s elites in business, government, politics and media also reflect the same mono culture or lack of diversity.

Further, positives and benefits of immigration are seldom cited and especially the leveraging of temporary resident churn over; whether students, backpackers or temporary workers who are net financial contributors supporting the tax base, vs. ageing and increasing proportion of pensioners or retirees in the permanent population.

From The Lowy Institute:

Hollowed out, but not unhinged

Judith Brett

The scenario put forth in Sam Roggeveen’s “Our very own Brexit” runs counter to the major parties’ economic realities.

Sam Roggeveen has written a lively essay on the current state of Australian federal politics, centred on the hypothetical scenario that one of the two major parties takes an anti-immigration policy to an election, overturning Australia’s post-war bipartisan commitment to immigration to gain political advantage. Such an election would be a referendum on continuing population growth, and bring to a halt our cultural diversification and our integration into Asia, which is now the largest source of permanent new settlers.

It sounds unlikely, but as Roggeveen argues, both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump were unlikely, rogue events that have overturned political assumptions. His scenario is not a prediction, he stresses, but a plausible, worst-case scenario arising from the current state of our political parties.

Our two major parties have become “hollowed out”, Roggeveen argues, untethered from their traditional social bases in class-based interests. Party membership and party loyalty have declined, leaving a more volatile and skittish electorate potentially vulnerable to the anti-immigration siren song of a party desperate to gain electoral advantage.

There are two parts to this argument. The first is that the parties have become hollowed out; the second that it is plausible that one of the major parties break the bipartisan support for the migration program.

First, the evidence is clear for the decline in rusted-on party loyalty.

However, Roggeveen does not, to my mind, have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the reasons for this decline and writes as if it is mainly the result of a deficient political class.

In the early 20th century, when our current party system took shape, it made social and economic sense to have two parties based on two class blocks. Working and middle class, employee and employer, labour and capital – these spoke both to people’s everyday experience and sense of themselves and to competing economic interests. This is no longer the case. More than a hundred years later, Australia’s society and its economy are much more complex.

In developing their policies, parties have to broker compromises among various competing interests, and this undertaking is much harder today. To take a stark example: the problem Labor has in developing policies responsive both to its traditional union base and to the middle-class social democrats who flocked to the party with Gough Whitlam. Compared with the early 20th century, lines of class division have blurred, and new lines of difference have been politicised: gender, race, ethnicity, attitude to nature, and, after the fading of sectarianism, religion again. If the parties are failing, it is in part because the task of uniting disparate constituencies is harder…..

……Second, I do not find it plausible that one of the major parties would break the bipartisan consensus on immigration.

A minor party might succeed with an anti-immigration policy, but neither major party could afford the electoral risk. The 2016 Census reported that 49% of the Australian population was either foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent. Not all of these people will be on the electoral roll, but all who are citizens will be, and once on the roll, they will have to vote.

Because of compulsory voting, Australian parties do not need highly emotional and divisive policies to get out the vote, and to support them carries considerable risks. Both Brexit and the election of Trump occurred in polities with voluntary voting, where it makes electoral sense to risk courting an alienated minority. There is no doubt there is a nativist faction in Australia that would support a stop to immigration, but Australian elections are won and lost in the middle, which is occupied by increasing numbers of foreign-born voters and their children.

Also holding the major parties to their consensus on immigration is its contribution to the economy. Australia’s recent sluggish economic growth would be even slower were it not for migration. The housing and retail sectors in particular would be sharply affected by its halt. Our two major political parties may be untethered from their historical social bases, but they are not unhinged from contemporary economic reality.’

 

For more articles about populist politics, demographics, immigration and white nationalism click through.