24 Oct 2012

Bill on lobbyists 'could have chilling effect'

9:00 pm on 24 October 2012

A parliamentary committee has been warned that a member's bill on lobbyists would put both the openness of committees and the way MPs carry out their work at risk.

The Lobbying Disclosure Bill would set up a register of lobbyists that could be accessed by the public, as well as a code of conduct for the industry. They would have to disclose the date of the meeting, who was present and subjects discussed.

Clerk of the House of Representatives Mary Harris told the Government Administration Committee that the bill inadvertently includes her office and staff in the Parliamentary Service as lobbyists.

She says it is possible that the general public might think they need to be registered to make submissions to Parliament under the proposed disclosure regime.

"One of the great strengths of our system is that openness, where anybody really can have a say. I think the bill could have quite a chilling effect on the way in which Parliament operates."

Deputy Controller and Auditor-General Phillippa Smith said the legislation would extend its role considerably, from that of a public sector watchdog to a regulator of anyone who wanted to engage with MPs or ministers.

Ms Smith says the office would require extra resources, including funding.

The Retirement Villages Association says the bill would be an expensive and unnecessary waste of public money.

Executive director John Collyns says the legislation would capture thousands of groups, organisations and individuals who have some sort of interaction with an MP and would be complicated and costly to administer.