Democracies are supposedly based on the concept of "one person, one vote" yet there are a group of people who have much greater influence and much greater access to our elected representatives than the average voter. I'm talking, of course, about lobbyists. Lobbyists and lobbying organisations work across the political spectrum and can be argued to give a voice to minority interests. Yet, more and more, the interests that lobbyists are giving a voice to are big business and multinational corporations.
Recently we saw the downfall of New South Wales’ first liberal premier in 16 years, Barry O’Farrell. While it’s somewhat ironic that the undoing of the man who introduced the recent lockout laws and liquor restrictions was a bottle of wine from a lobbyist, his resignation raises concerns about the growing influence of lobbyists on government decisions.
The power of lobbyists isn’t necessarily a bad thing—in fact, giving power to lobbyists plays a key role in maintaining democracy. Without lobbyists, minority interests might not be fairly defended, and laws may be easily corrupted. However, this double-edged sword begins to reveal itself in instances where lobbying is done in the form of $3000 bottles of Penfolds Grange, or where the monetary interests of corporations are being defended.
We’ve seen it over the years in the United States, where prison guard unions lobby against the decriminalisation of cannabis to keep privatised prisons filled with “criminals” charged with pot possession. Barry O’Farrell’s case may have taken a slightly different form, but it is deceitful and insincere all the same.
Currently, only third-party lobbyists who appear on the lobbyist register are regulated. Those who are not on the register, i.e. people directly employed by companies, may see ministers as they please. This means the door is wide open for CEOs to directly influence politicians.
To create the honest, transparent government we’ve been promised for so long, we need to take a deeper look into the overwhelming power lobbyists have over politicians. Barry O’Farrell’s resignation is a perfect catalyst for this much needed reform.