• Should Australia have tighter lobbying laws?

    Lobbying is a function of a democratic society. Simply put, it is any actions made by citizens or advocacy groups who seek to make their own agenda understood and preferred by policymakers.

    Its purpose is to make messages heard and voices more dominant in the public sphere, and theoretically, by means of persistent and persuasive communication, is a way to solve client and community issues. As long as lobbying actions are performed both ethically and transparently, according to the Lobbying Code of Conduct, then these outcomes are likely.

    However, many critique the weak regulatory environment surrounding the industry in Australia. So what are the issues and what can we expect to happen to the profession in the near future?

    Australia's Lobbying Code of Conduct and Register

    As of September 2013, Australia adjusted how the lobbying industry was federally regulated. However, some critics argue that the regulations are not enough. While all lobbyists are required to register, they are not required to disclose their expenses or the people they have contacted to influence. In fact, all they are required to do now is state the details of the lobbying firm, themselves, the body or person they represent, and whether or not they are a former government representative.

    Former Prime Minister Tony Abbot said that these changes would "keep the lobbyists out," as reported in a government paper by Deirdre McKeown. However, Ms McKeown concluded her research by suggesting that at the moment, the code of conduct is insubstantial and needs to evolve to ensure greater transparency from lobbyists.

    The future for regulated lobbyists

    Experienced lobbying scholar from the US Burdett Loomis wrote a piece for Sydney Morning Herald in 2013 – ironically, in her own effort to influence policymakers. According to Burdett, Australian laws need to be tightened up in accordance with the changing nature of the professional lobbying industry.

    "There is a great need, here and in the US, to expand the definition of lobbying to include attempts to influence through grassroots campaigns, advertising, and the use of social media as so-called strategic communication firms increase their lobbying roles," she said.

    Ms Loomis argued that greater monitoring of lobbyist activities, as is done in the US, would not only enhance the positive impact of lobbying in Australia, but those who exploit the loose regulatory requirements would also be forced to adopt more transparent methods.

    For lobbying to benefit a democratic society and gain credibility as a corporate affairs function, such creases in the profession and its reputation need to be ironed out. Tighter regulations could be a way to achieve this.

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