Nic Crowther
Tue 21 Oct

The murky world of lobbying is one that is fraught with danger – both for companies and for politicians alike. One doesn’t need to look particularly far to see the implications of poorly given (and received) donations to political organisations, but how can companies operate in a way that promotes a political party while remaining transparent and maintaining corporate reputation?

Industry bodies are the easiest and most obvious forms of lobbying in Australia. Skilled negotiators, free from the micro-issues of individual corporate entities look across a range of issues relevant to a particular industry and work previously earned connections in order to find a sympathetic ear.

Many of these have been around for years. Most people would be familiar with the Australian Medial Association or the Minerals Council of Australia. They do a good job – typically with a CEO and a fully functioning board that inform the chief-lobbyist of key priorities for their industries under a very careful guidance and consideration.

While the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry remains one of the highest profile industry bodies in Australia, they pale in comparison to the murky world of US politics. Take for example the astonishingly rich Koch Brothers. These two are estimated to have donated around $US150 million to various political causes over the years, and there is almost no transparency around who-what-or-when of these offerings.

Think that’s a lot of money to promote your causes without gaining winespread credit? Well, the Koch Brothers’ networks are estimated to have channelled some $US400million towards conservative lobbying groups in the 2012 election cycle alone. Of, course, that’s just a rough guess. The sun doesn’t shine on these guys.

Meanwhile, back in the clear waters of Australian political donations, what was is that caught up NSW Ministers, a Lord Mayor and business associates as a result of ICAC? Well, it appears that most were sprung having breached legislation introduced in 2009 that prevented property developers from donating to political parties. Not only does it seem these donations continued to be made, but that the NSW Liberal Party facilitated the funnelling of funds through front companies – effectively laundering the cash for their coffers.

It’s not a good look.

This is the dark side of lobbying, and there are certainly many, many more public servants and members of the public whom engage in the process in a thoroughly legal way. In fact, it’s part of the lifeblood of this city and has been essential in turning over the wine collection of many of Canberra’s better restaurants over the years.

Regardless, it’s tricky stuff, and best not to get directly involved with unless you know exactly who you are dealing with, and the legislative obligations under which they operate. One only has to examine the fall from grace of Arthur Sinodinos.

This is a man yet to be convicted of anything, yet he’s managed to find himself in a position that either reveals him as supremely guilty or grossly negligent  - neither of which will see him return to Federal Parliament anytime soon.

Them’s the breaks, especially when involving yourself with the falling dominoes of NSW ministers as a result of this year’s ICAC hearings. Regardless, when heading ‘up to the hill’ in order to advocate one sort of change or another, beware the pitfalls of political lobbying and its underlying nest of vipers.