Integrity Commissioner: How to deal with lobbyists
By Acting Queensland Integrity Commissioner Mark Glen
I thought it would be helpful to discuss lobbying given the obligations which apply to councillors when approached by a lobbyist, and as the Integrity Commissioner receives regular queries on lobbying from councillors and council staff.
Councillors are included in the definition of ‘government representatives’ in section 44 of the lobbying provisions of the Act and have associated obligations in relation to lobbying. Therefore, they must have a general understanding of the requirements in relation to lobbying.
The Integrity Commissioner’s functions under the Act include registering lobbyists, maintaining a register of lobbyists, and approving the lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, all of which assist in ensuring that contact between lobbyists and government representatives is conducted in accordance with public expectations of transparency, integrity and honesty.
Who or what are lobbyists?
Lobbyists are persons or entities who carry out lobbying for a ‘third party client’. They must be registered in accordance with the Act. Registration is free and normally straight forward. There are no formal qualifications or mandatory training required to become a lobbyist.
There are approximately 100 registered lobbyist entities and over 270 registered individuals on the Queensland Register of Lobbyists. You can view the list of registered entities and individuals on Integrity Commissioner’s website at: https://lobbyists.integrity.qld.gov.au/who-is-on-the-register.aspx
Individual lobbyists often have a strong political background and knowledge of government. Many openly discuss the existence of a stigma about lobbying, and encountering government representatives with inherent fears or reservations about dealing with them.
However, lobbying itself is widely acknowledged to be a legitimate activity and contributes to the contest of ideas in the democratic process. The expertise possessed by lobbyists would often assist clients in presenting proposals to government and in navigating options.
Some categories or classes of persons are deemed not to be lobbyists. They mostly include:
- entities constituted to represent members
- persons lobbying on their own behalf
- employees ‘lobbying’ on behalf of employers, and
- entities also carrying out incidental lobbying activities for their client.
Who is a third party client?
This is a central question. Most people who lobby on behalf of others or with regards to the issues that affect them, do not need to be registered. This is because they are not lobbying on behalf of a ‘third party client’.
A ‘third party client’ is defined in the Act as, ‘an entity that engages another entity to provide services constituting, or including, a lobbying activity for a fee or other reward that is agreed to before the other entity provides the services.’
The defining fact is usually the presence or absence of a pre-agreed ‘fee or other reward’.
Lobbyists’ meeting obligations
Under the Lobbyists Code of Conduct, a lobbyist making initial contact with a councillor must inform as to:
- their listing on the register of lobbyists
- the identity of their third party client
- the nature of the third party’s issue, and
- the reason for the approach.
After the contact, the lobbyist must enter certain information on the contact log maintained on the Commissioner’s website. This must occur within 15 days of the end of the month during which the contact occurred.
You can view the contact log maintained on the Integrity Commissioner’s website at: https://lobbyists.integrity.qld.gov.au/ContactLog.aspx
As a government representative, you must not knowingly permit an unregistered lobbyist to conduct lobbying activity for a third-party client.
If you begin to suspect unlawful lobbying activity, you should end the contact immediately to avoid breaching the Act. In the event of any uncertainty, you can seek the Integrity Commissioner’s advice. You should also refer any suspected breaches to the Integrity Commissioner’s office.
A record of your contact should be kept, in compliance with your general record keeping obligations. Your council may also have specific policies in relation to lobbyists and the reporting of contact.
Subject to various exceptions, section 42 of the Act relevantly defines ‘lobbying activity’ as ‘contact with a government representative in an effort to influence State or local government decision-making, including:
- the making or amendment of legislation; and
- the development or amendment of a government policy or program; and
- the awarding of a government contract or grant; and
- the allocation of funding, and
- the making of a decision about planning or giving of a development approval under the Planning Act 2016’.
‘Contact’ is defined to include, ‘telephone contact, email contact, written mail contact and face-to-face meetings'.
This discussion only covers the basic issues and requirements in relation to lobbying under the Integrity Act 2009. If you have any queries or concerns about lobbying contact, you can contact your designated council officers or the office of the Integrity Commissioner for further assistance.
Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006
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