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‘Back to the drawing board’ for Marshall’s lobbyist crackdown

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The Marshall Government has quietly killed off its own legislation honouring an election commitment to crack down on lobbyists in South Australia, with a Bill withdrawn from parliament last week – more than 18 months after it was first introduced.

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The Waiting Lobby

The legislation has had a troubled life, with Attorney-General Vickie Chapman first flagging it for imminent introduction in May 2018, before finally tabling it a year later – only for a promised ban on trade union officials acting as lobbyists to then fail to materialise.

It has languished ever since, before Treasurer Rob Lucas formally withdrew it altogether late last Thursday – the final parliamentary sitting day of the year.

Chapman was not available for interview, but in a statement told InDaily: “The Lobbyists Bill has constitutional limitations, which we want to work on further.”

“It is also clear the Bill in its current form does not have the necessary support to pass the Parliament,” she said.

“We are therefore going back to the drawing board.”

It’s understood the Bill was set to pass, but with a raft of crossbench amendments likely to carry.

These included a Greens amendment to extend a moratorium on former state government ministers becoming registered lobbyists to also include former federal frontbenchers.

It’s understood the proposed addendum had become colloquially known around parliament as the “Christopher Pyne amendment”, with Greens MLC Mark Parnell conceding the former Federal Defence Minister-turned-lobbyist, who left parliament last year, “was the inspiration for the amendment but it certainly wasn’t personal to him”.

“I’m speculating that the Government pulled the Bill in the basis of that amendment,” he told InDaily.

“Democracy is improved by giving these people time in the sin bin whereby they can’t take the field for a certain period of time [after they leave office]…

“We thought, we can’t control the federal rules but we can control the state rules… [Pyne] was an example of someone who we felt needed to be bound by the same sort of restrictions that applied to former state ministers – it wasn’t personal but … why don’t we make the standards consistent?

“We’ve always been concerned by the revolving door in relation to not just ministers but chiefs of staff and other people who go back and forth between ministerial officers and industry groups.”

But a spokesman for national lobbyists industry group, the Australian Professional Government Relations Association, said it would have been “a bridge too far for a state parliament to bind federal parliament – or indeed any other parliament, for that matter”.

“The regime for regulation of lobbying in SA is currently very strong, and therefore there would not be significant public benefits from the Bill proceeding,” they said.

Pyne declined to comment.

The legislation followed a pre-election commitment by the Liberals to “ban officials of political parties from undertaking government lobbying in SA”.

“We will amend the Lobbyists Act 2015 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 SA,” Marshall said in early 2018.

“Our prohibition will make it clear that a person can be an official of a political party or a lobbyist, but not both.”

But Parnell noted that the Government had not vigorously pursued the reform, saying: “This Bill has been on the notice paper for a long time.”

“We have a meeting with the Treasurer on Monday night of every sitting week to work out what the Government’s priorities are – this has always been at the very bottom,” he said.

InDaily reported last year that the Bill had hit legal hurdles during its drafting, with trade union officials no longer captured as “office holders in prescribed organisations” as they were not defined as such under the Electoral Act.

Shadow Attorney-General Kyam Maher said “this bit of legislation seemed to be ill-considered and the Government didn’t know what they were doing with it from the start”.

“It gets even more curious that on the very last sitting day, at 4.30pm, they withdrew their own Bill,” he said.

“The Government owes an explanation as to why this has been done.”

But Chapman suggested the legislation could be revived in a different form – although she didn’t specify when.

“The Government will continue to work on changes that will have the support of the parliament and that complements measures already in place, such as the Lobbyists Register and the prohibition on ministers and other senior public officials from engaging in lobbying for a specified period after leaving office,” she said.

A recent report from parliament’s Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee has recommended a separate – and even stronger – crackdown on former MPs becoming lobbyists, banning them from “lobbying, advocating, having business meetings with, undertaking employment with or providing services to any members of parliament, the public service, entities under the control of a minister or agents of the same – for a period of ten years after ceasing to be a member”.

It remains to be seen whether that measure gains cross-party support.

Committee chair and SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo had also introduced his own amendments to Chapman’s Bill, seeking to increase the ban on former ministers to three years after they leave office – and allowing for the publication of their ministerial diaries.

“I’m surprised they pulled [the Bill], because it’s necessary that we do have regulation that controls lobbyists and their access to MPs and ministers,” he told InDaily today.

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