Proud to be a lobbyist
Our Chief Executive Gill Morris writes for the Public Relations Institute of Australia after giving a webinar on lobbying. This is her article on why she is proud to be a lobbyist which can be found here.
It was great to be part of the PRIA Webinar on lobbying – even though it was in the middle of the night! Despite the time difference it was clear that my co-panelist, Annabelle Warren and I found common ground. Whilst Australia and the UK have ended up in different places with regard to statutory regulation and registration I think we share the principle of universality and believe that all lobbyists should be transparent not just third party lobbyists.
Recent UK lobbying scandals demonstrate that it is more usually the legislator and not the lobbyist who has been “unethical”. I want to see statutory registers which capture the “act of lobbying”. The “act of lobbying” refers to those who “interact with the institutions of Government in a professional capacity in order to influence policy or legislative decision making.
In the UK it has just been too easy for major corporates, law firms, trade unions, charities and management consultants etc. to exempt themselves from registers or regulation. Whether in Sydney or Westminster there are a host of people who lobby in a professional capacity who do not abide by any rules. I would suggest, for example, that Sir Richard Branson is a very effective lobbyist – but would he be captured on the UK statutory register? Possibly? or possibly not? In the UK it has been far too easy to avoid transparency and our new Lobbying Act and statutory register does absolutely nothing to increase openness and transparency.
The debate needs to move on and all governments need to work with the industry to come up with statutory regulation and processes which work to encourage transparency and openness. In the UK we now have a statutory register which is too narrow and provides minimal public information and certainly does not mirror Minister’s diaries
If we all agree that lobbying is a legitimate and useful exercise which is helpful to democracy we need a license to operate which is fair. In the UK our self regulatory Code of Conduct is strict and prohibits the payment of all legislators, misleading and exaggerated claims and demands the full publication of clients and consultants etc on a quarterly basis. Over the decades, so many who “lobby” do not sign up to a register or a code – because they don’t have to and rather prefer to benefit from working outside a regulatory regime. I am afraid there is still a demand for “old school” lobbying in the UK where legislators, lobbying agencies and clients – who want discreet, access focused lobbying which is under the radar. This is the problem and this is the problem any statutory code or register needs to address. In the UK our APPC Code is clear. If you are a member of the APPC your actions as lobbyist should not bring the reputation of the lobbying industry into disrepute – its our badge of honour. We do not boast about who we know but we do help clients inform, persuade, advise and influence decision makers and the decision making process. I am proud to be a lobbyist. From our work on Civil Partnerships, Policing and to allowing unmarried couples to adopt – I know that our “lobbying” has changed literally millions of people’s lives. Now is the time for Australia and the UK to work together on that common ground and create a level playing field – where all play by the rules of transparency and openness – not just the few.
Gill Morris’ profile:
Gill has worked for more than twenty years in parliamentary and public affairs work and is currently the Director of the UK Public Affairs Council. specialising in housing, homelessness, regeneration issues and regional policies. She is also Chief Executive of the full service communications agency; Connect Communications.
Annabelle Warren’s profile:
Her advice has guided organisations in technology, telecommunications, energy, aviation, law, insurance, travel, government services and the professions. She offers a unique blend of academic, corporate, international and community experience. Building on her earlier university leadership and Asia Pacific executive experience, she has led the communication profession at the highest level.
The blog can be found on PRIA’s website here.