Re-thinking lobbying regulation: Have your say
In light of recent papers published by interstate integrity agencies examining the effectiveness of lobbying regulation in their jurisdictions, the South Australian Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is now examining the adequacy and effectiveness of lobbying regulation in South Australia.
As many readers may already be aware, the ICAC has recently published a Discussion Paper (available here) which summarises the current regulatory framework in South Australia, and provides questions for consideration. Submissions are due by Friday, 18 August 2023, and can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The ICAC invites submissions not just in response to the specific questions in the Discussion Paper, but about all aspects of lobbying and influence in South Australia.
A particular area of focus which emerges in the Discussion Paper is whether the definition of lobbying should be expanded, and if so, what kinds of activities should be captured. Another issue which arises in the Discussion Paper is that most regulatory schemes focus on the conduct of the lobbyist, with only secondary attention directed towards the lobbied party. However, the ICAC observes in its Discussion Paper that lobbying is a ‘two way street’, and the question arises as to who should be included in lobbying regulation.
We encourage our Local Government readers in particular to review the Discussion Paper and to ensure that any relevant views or experiences from the Local Government sector are made known to the ICAC. The ICAC has made the following observations in its Discussion Paper specifically about Local Government:
LOBBYING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
At present, activities directed towards influencing decision making at a local government level are not captured by the South Australian regulatory scheme. However, local government decision makers are not immune from the risks associated with lobbying, and are likely to be a target of influencing activity, particularly in the context of grants administration, development applications and procurement.
The benefits of regulation need to be weighed against issues like the costs associated with administration and compliance, and the risk of reducing access to decision makers. These matters may assume greater importance when considered at the local level. This may particularly be the case in South Australia where local governments have less involvement in planning approvals than local governments in other jurisdictions.
The above passage reflects the fact that the regulatory framework of the current Lobbyists Act 2015 (SA) does not apply to lobbying of Local Government officials. However, it is worth noting that this does mean lobbying of Local Government officials is completely unregulated. The integrity provisions of the Local Government Act 1999 (including those regarding gifts and benefits and conflicts of interests) and Behavioural Standards issued under that Act already restrict the extent to which Council members and employees can engage with parties whose intention is to influence their decision-making. In many cases these provisions are further supported by policies, processes, systems and expectations designed to ensure integrity is maintained in everyday decision-making processes.
Norman Waterhouse are specialists in assisting Local Government authorities and officials to fulfil their functions lawfully, accountably, and effectively. We also have extensive expertise in assisting councils with employee and elected member integrity issues. We will closely follow the progress of the ICAC’s evaluation of lobbying regulation in South Australia, including any eventual reform proposals which may arise from this exercise. Should the landscape of lobbying regulation in South Australia ultimately change, we look forward to assisting Councils with any necessary advice and other assistance.