Concern over ‘secret’ meetings between lobbyists, govt officials

The Integrity Commissioner has revealed as many as one in 10 meetings between lobbyists and officials are not recorded. That raises the risk of misconduct and corruption going unnoticed in Queensland.

Jul 16, 2021, updated Jul 16, 2021
Former Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov is heading to Toowoomba. Picture: AAP

Former Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov is heading to Toowoomba. Picture: AAP

Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov has long raised concern over the level of State Government resourcing for her office to oversee lobbyists. She requires agencies to register any contact with lobbyists but lacks the power to compel them to do better.

As the oversight regime comes under review, Stepanov asked agencies to compare their records with those compiled by her office. This annual audit has uncovered 43 discrepancies in the records held by government departments and 57 discrepancies in the records held by councils.

“Of the 103 discrepancies, 101 relate to possible failure by lobbyists to record lobbying activity with government representatives on the lobbying Contact Register,” Stepanov said.

While any agencies noting such discrepancies would be expected to address them, the Integrity Commissioner can issue a show cause notice or refer cases to police or the Crime and Corruption Commission. Other secret meetings may already go undetected.

Stepanov told a Budget Estimates committee hearing today she was “very concerned about unregistered and unreported lobbying”. She declined to comment on what was needed to deal with the issue, leaving that to the independent review.

CCC chairman Alan MacSporran, who has long held concerns over the integrity risk associated with paid lobbyists seeking outcomes from government, questioned whether the existing regime would even meet public expectations.

MacSporran and Stepanov took part in a recent national summit on the issue.

“A shared concern for agencies was whether current regulatory oversight regimes would be effective enough to satisfy public concerns,” MacSporran said.

“A practical first step to allaying public concerns would be to introduce measures that make detail about lobbying activity more readily available to all integrity agencies.

“That would enable us to understand the extent of influence and other issues.”

The review of the oversight regime is required under legislation and being conducted by Kevin Yearbury. He will not release a discussion paper, and has yet to call for submissions, but has consulted key stakeholders.

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