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Marshall's lobbyist crackdown could hit party fundraisers

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The Marshall Government will ban lobbyists from holding official roles in political parties and associated entities – including trade unions – under new laws to be introduced to parliament in coming weeks.

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Legislation is still being drafted to amend the Lobbyists Act to meet a pre-election pledge to “prevent any office bearer of the state governing body of a registered political party or an associated entity such as a union from becoming a registered lobbyist in South Australia”.

The legislation will prohibit office bearers from being registered lobbyists for the period they hold the role, and 12 months thereafter.

“This is another step towards more accountable and open government here in South Australia,” Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said in a statement.

She told InDaily organisations prescribed under the Bill would include “those who are registered political parties or associated entities as defined in the Electoral Act”.

Associated entities would include “those who have a relationship to a registered political party, namely an incorporated or unincorporated body or the trustee of a trust that is controlled by one or more registered political parties; or operates wholly, or to a significant extent, for the benefit of one or more registered political parties”.

It would also apply to bodies or trustees with a financial stake or voting rights in a political party.

Prominent SA lobbyists with ties to both Labor and Liberal parties say they’ll abide by whatever’s introduced – but warn it’s a complex area to legislate.

It appears likely to preclude former Labor powerbroker Nick Bolkus from retaining his role as chair of the ALP’s fundraising arm, SA Progressive Business, and could also force former Olsen Government minister Wayne Matthew to quit his role as vice-president of the Liberal Party’s Adelaide Business and Professional Branch, an influential business support network focussed on the seat of Adelaide, held by Marshall Government frontbencher Rachel Sanderson.

Matthew was uncertain whether the changes would apply to him, telling InDaily: “I’ve seen the policy but I haven’t seen the legislation yet.”

“If they decided to go down to the level of any office bearer, that would leave me with no choice but to resign from the position I’m in [but] I’d be surprised if they did.”

The move follows a similar crackdown on lobbyists holding positions of influence within political parties in New South Wales, which was spearheaded by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

But Matthew said: “I don’t really see the position of branch president or vice-president as having any undue influence.”

“If they decide that’s getting too close to the mark, that’s fine by me… that’s their prerogative, but I don’t think at that level it is.

“I don’t get any business advantage whatsoever from undertaking those roles.”

Matthew, who heads Government Relations Solutions, said: “I would think most lobbyists are probably members of a political parties.”

The SA Lobbyists Register contains several former MPs from both major parties, including Pat Conlon, Chris Schacht, Michael Wright, Graham Ingerson, Graham Gunn and Iain Evans, although there’s no suggestion any hold any other roles that would be covered by the legislation.

Prominent lobbyist Bolkus said he was not convinced his role at SA Progressive Business would be affected by the changes, but “let’s just wait and see what they come up with”.

“It’s a difficult area to navigate,” he said.

“My position is, whatever the legislation is – we’ll live with it. I won’t play a role to try to influence the outcome.”

Bolkus argued that previous debates on the issue had raised curly questions “on equality grounds”, saying “they can’t just tackle the unions and not tackle industry organisations” such as Business SA, the Motor Trades Association, the Australian Hotels’ Association and activist groups such as GetUp and the Wilderness Society.

“I’ll just watch it and see what the parliament comes up with, but it’s not an easy area,” he said.

Chapman said current laws “already prevent or restrict certain individuals from engaging in lobbying and from being a registered lobbyist”.

“For example, a former minister cannot engage in lobbying for two years after ceasing to hold office, nor can they apply for or hold registration during that period,” she said.

“But we think it’s prudent to strengthen these laws to prohibit political party office bearers and union office bearers from engaging in lobbying.”

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