Former politicians make incestuous lobbyists

Handshake, Flickr image by star5112The lists of political lobbyists published by the various Australian governments that have lobbyist registers are full of familiar political names. 

In NSW, former Premier Bob Carr, former federal Labor senator Graham Richardson and former state Liberal leader Kerry Chikarovski all lobby. In Queensland former Labor deputy premiers Terry Mackenroth and Jim Elder, former federal Liberal minister Santo Santoro and former federal Labor minister Con Sciacca are active lobbyists. In South Australia former Labor minister Nick Bolkus and former Liberal foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer lobby together.

As former political leaders they understand government and politics and can pass on that knowledge to others in the community. If they make the wheels of government run more smoothly then that is a good thing.

But I am unhappy when these former ministers play favorites to the detriment of a fair go for all. I worry even more when former ministers lobby governments that they have served in as senior members. A change of government can clear the air.

I agree with my former political science class mate at Flinders University, Dr Bob Such, once a Liberal minister in the 1990s and now an Independent MP in the South Australian Parliament. Dr Such has a bill on Lobbying and Ministerial Accountability languishing unloved in the South Australian Parliament. He observes that lobbying is too incestuous. The process of making public policy shouldn't be like a school reunion.

Such mixes his metaphors between school and family but his message is clear. He has been quoted as saying that 'it's a bit like the extended family mentality. Those ex-ministers or whatever are welcomed with open arms. It's like they have been through the same private school together, mixed in the same playground, but now we're mates so let's see how we can help each other.'

Though I defer to the right of former politicians to do what they like after leaving Parliament, I value those ex-ministers who re-invent themselves in serving good causes and move on rather than hanging around politics.

It helps to be offered a decent job by either your own or the other side of politics, or by a university or private company. Whatever the motivations of the Rudd Government might be, we should applaud their nonpartisan initiative in employing former Nationals leader Tim Fischer as Ambassador to the Vatican and former Howard environment minister Robert Hill to head the government's new Carbon Trust. Former Liberal Bruce Baird has also just been offered a federal government job.

But there are also many former politicians of all persuasions who have made their own way in public service. Former ministers Robert Tickner (Labor) and Jim Carlton (Liberal) have each been chief executive officer of the Australian Red Cross. Former Liberal Minister Fred Chaney has been co-chair of Reconciliation Australia.

Former Democrats Leader Cheryl Kernot has become an academic in the field of social entrepreneurship at the Centre for Social Impact at the University of New South Wales. Claire Martin and Kate Carnell, former chief ministers in the Northern Territory and the ACT respectively, lead community peak bodies.

Former Labor Minister Gareth Evans left Australia to be CEO of the International Crisis Group. Another former Labor minister Chris Schacht is president of the Australian Volleyball Association. Former Liberal Minister John Fahey was recruited to head the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The list goes on. Michael Tate, Barry Jones and Ian Sinclair are others now devoted to public service. These jobs may involve some lobbying too; many of these individuals are registered as lobbyists. But I'm always delighted when there is a major element of re-invention and a more direct element of community service.

Former politicians have highly tuned skills and valuable experience. I'd rather see a former minister or leading politician serving the community sector than as a victim of the revolving door syndrome by which former ministers are sucked back in to the whirlpool of politics.

John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and Flinders University and a columnist with The Canberra Times. 

Topic tags: lobbyist, australian politics, tim fischer, robert tickner, jim carlton, clarie martin, bob such



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Existing comments

In nature, every stream of excess productivity attract parasites; excess plant productivity thus attracts herbivores, and excess herbivores attracts carnivores.

That said, it so happens that the Lower Mary River-Wide Bay region of Queensland will be the immediate victim of the Q Govt's decision to dam the Mary River at Traveston Crossing.

Urban SEQ residents will thus be empowered to hose down their driveways, should they so choose.

Rather than allow the most productive farming country in the vicinity of urban South-East Queensland continue to supply food to urban tables, the government chose to listen, behind closed doors, to those of its now-retired members who are now lobbyists.

A previous generation of property developers who turned coastal wetlands south of Moreton Bay into the Gold Coast; their heirs and successors now see gold in converting the Cooloola coast into the next Gold Coast.
The Q ALP will attract funds into its coffers from said property developers, much as did Russ Hinze's National Party in times past.

Lobbying needs to be done, not behind closed doors, but out in the lobby where everyone can see and hear what is said. To do otherwise leaves a stench behind that closed door.

David Arthur | 26 August 2009  

Don't overlook Brian Burke in WA - he turned the state upside-down in Parliament and out of it as a lobbyist!

Betty Daly-King | 02 September 2009  

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