Proposal to Curb Lobbyist Influence in Canberra Due to Their Outnumbering of Politicians

Canberra’s Lobbyist Influence Outnumbers Politicians

In the political landscape of Canberra, lobbyists have a significant presence, outnumbering the politicians they seek to influence. With 227 members of parliament, there are a staggering 705 lobbyists working for specialized firms, along with thousands more lobbying in-house for companies, unions, and industry associations.

Identified by their orange access passes in Parliament House, these lobbyists have the freedom to roam the halls, guided not by laws but by a code of conduct. However, both integrity experts and independent politicians have criticized the current standard of regulation in the industry.

Monique Ryan, the independent Member for Kooyong, expressed her dissatisfaction with the existing code of conduct, stating, “The current code of conduct for lobbyists is about as strong and effective and cohesive as a wet tissue.” She further highlighted that countries like the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand have stronger lobbying regulations compared to Australia.

Proposed Overhaul of the Lobbying System

Dr. Ryan plans to introduce a private member’s bill that aims to revamp the lobbying system. The bill includes measures such as legislating the code of conduct, regulating in-house lobbyists, imposing fines for breaches, extending cooling-off periods for ministers and staffers becoming lobbyists, publishing ministers’ diaries, and restricting lobbyists from playing substantial roles in election campaigns.

Dr. Ryan emphasized the need for transparency in government interactions with lobbyists, stating, “What we deserve as voters is to understand who the government’s talking to and why.”

Calls for Stronger Regulation

The current lobbying regulation in Australia has been criticized for its “light touch” approach. Melbourne Law School professor Joo-Cheong Tham described federal lobbying regulation as “decidedly weak” compared to international standards.

Unlike the US, where breaches of lobbying laws can lead to fines and even prison sentences, the consequences for lobbyists in Canberra are limited to being struck off the register. Lobbyists at the federal level also face less scrutiny compared to states like New South Wales and Queensland, where ministers are required to publish their diaries, revealing their meetings with lobbyists.

Former lobbyist Sean Johnson emphasized the need for comprehensive regulation that includes in-house government relations advisers. He stated, “When you’re only regulating a tiny portion of the industry, obviously that creates a massive gap that needs to be addressed.”

No Immediate Plans for Reform

While there have been calls from various quarters for stronger regulation of lobbyists, including from the Greens and senators like Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock, the Australian Professional Government Relations Association has resisted such reforms. The association believes that strengthening compliance within the existing regimes would be more efficient than enshrining new measures into legislation.

The Attorney-General’s Department, which administers the lobbyist code of conduct, stated that several lobbyists have been struck off the register in the past for failing to update their details. However, there are currently no proposals to change the code, although suggestions for reform are welcomed by the government.


Dr. Ryan is determined to make lobbying reform a priority during her first term in office. She emphasized that integrity and transparency are crucial to restoring public trust in the political process. As she stated, “People care about integrity and they want more transparency. The lobbying part of that puzzle is really important, and it will be in the government’s best interests to take this seriously because it’s not going to go away.”

About the Author

“The website author, an avid game theme lover, believes that informed and transparent decision-making is vital in the political landscape. With a passion for integrity and accountability, the author aims to shed light on the influence of lobbyists and advocate for stronger regulations. As they put it, ‘We deserve to know who the government is talking to and why.'”

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