DPC’s oversight of SA lobbyists the focus of ICAC review

The Independent Commission Against Corruption will investigate the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s policies and procedures on lobbying as part of a wider inquiry into the industry’s influence and regulation.

Dec 20, 2023, updated Dec 20, 2023
Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ann Vanstone. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ann Vanstone. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Commissioner Ann Vanstone released a statement this morning updating progress on her office’s work on the inquiry into lobbying, announced earlier this year.

In September, Vanstone wrote an InDaily opinion piece outlining her concerns about the integrity risks posed by lobbying in South Australia, and seeking public submissions on the issue.

Today, Vanstone said that the Commission had received 17 written submissions and had interviewed interested parties about lobbying and regulation.

“One matter which has become apparent as the project has progressed is the need to have a detailed understanding of the regulatory scheme created by the Lobbyists Act 2015,” she said.

“The responsibility for administering this scheme sits with the Department for the Premier and Cabinet. Accordingly, I have determined, pursuant to s 7(1)(b) of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 2012, to conduct an evaluation of the practices, policies, and procedures of that Department insofar as they relate to the administration of that scheme. I have advised the Chief Executive of this decision and have received every assistance from his Department.”

The Commissioner further said that on December 1 she appeared before the Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee to discuss ICAC activities, and advised of her plans to hold a public forum in early 2024 to “further explore lobbying and influence”.

The public would be invited to share their experience and opinions about the benefits, risks and regulation of lobbying in South Australia, and how it compared with interstate jurisdictions.

“The forum will not be looking at any allegations or suggestions of wrongdoing by any particular persons. Rather, it will be a forward-looking exercise, concerned with matters of policy arising from our growing understanding of the integrity risks associated with lobbying,” Vanstone said.

In September, Vanstone wrote that while access to government and public sector decision-makers was important, “access to and influence over decision-makers is also sought by the dishonest and corrupt, those harbouring improper motives and those seeking undue advantage”.

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“Sometimes, too, our decision-makers may be vulnerable or amenable to improper influence, either through carelessness and weakness, or, worse, through a desire to advance their own personal interests,” she wrote.

“Lobbying methods that lack transparency and fairness can expose public administration to the risk of bias, nepotism or cronyism and even corruption.

“We have seen this play out in other jurisdictions – to the point of serious criminality – and it would be naïve to suggest that South Australia is somehow immune to these risks.”

Vanstone warned in her article that due to secrecy provisions of ICAC laws, “most of the worrying behavior we see in lobbying practices cannot be fully detailed to the public”.

“Much of the questionable behavior we see will not amount to criminal conduct, and so will not be revealed during court proceedings. Nevertheless, such conduct indicates the presence of a real risk of corruption in public administration.”

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