In March 2016 the Department of the Chief Minister said the $506 million included stamp duty, but Mr Giles has declined to clarify how much.

“I’m not going to go down the breakdown of taxes … it’s illegal for me to do so,” Mr Giles said.

Mr Giles also declined to say how much consultants were paid.

When Landbridge emerged as the most serious bidder, a call went back to China. Within a couple of days, the billionaire behind Landbridge, Ye Cheng, was sitting on the 14th floor of NT House on Mitchell Street, staring out over the tropical working port from behind a modest wooden table.

Forbes lists Cheng as the 206th richest man in China, personally worth an estimated A$1.77bn. His deal to buy the Brisbane-based gas producer WestSide Corporation in 2014 was witnessed by then-prime minister Tony Abbott and Chinese president Xi Jinping.


Unprecedented access

The best lobbyists do not merely lobby a government contact:
they lobby a friend

A lobbyist’s efficacy primarily depends on their ability to gain access to decision-makers.

Of the 538 lobbyists registered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet at the time of writing, 191 are former government representatives.

Working in government in any capacity provides knowledge that is invaluable to lobbyists. But the advantage is not merely informational: having worked with government officials means knowing them. It often means having had drinks with them, or knowing their loved ones’ names and birthdays, or their personal phone numbers.

The best lobbyists do not merely lobby a government contact: they lobby a friend.
This immediately creates a conflict of interest that cannot be overcome;
we are fundamentally biased toward those we like.

The revolving door: why politicians become lobbyists, and lobbyists become politicians

Image 20160825 30209 1r1d6ad.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Former resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson went into lobbying for that sector after retiring from politics.
AAP/Paul Miller

George Rennie, University of Melbourne

The “revolving door” of politics – the means by which government officials leave office to become lobbyists, and by which lobbyists become government officials – presents problems for modern democracies that largely go unrecognised, unaccounted for and unpoliced.

In certain respects, the revolving door is inevitable, a natural byproduct of political tragics fulfilling a varied career in politics. But when even the most senior politicians go on to work as lobbyists, it can profoundly undermine democracy.

Unprecedented access

A lobbyist’s efficacy primarily depends on their ability to gain access to decision-makers.

Of the 538 lobbyists registered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet at the time of writing, 191 are former government representatives.

Working in government in any capacity provides knowledge that is invaluable to lobbyists. But the advantage is not merely informational: having worked with government officials means knowing them. It often means having had drinks with them, or knowing their loved ones’ names and birthdays, or their personal phone numbers.

The best lobbyists do not merely lobby a government contact: they lobby a friend. This immediately creates a conflict of interest that cannot be overcome; we are fundamentally biased toward those we like.

Incompatibility with the law

However, the conflict of interest does not end there. The revolving door makes it all too easy for corruption to take place, because it creates problems that aren’t adequately policed by anti-corruption laws in Australia (or in democracies generally).

The Commonwealth Criminal Code prohibits government officials from “dishonestly” asking for, agreeing to receive or receiving a benefit, where that benefit will influence the exercise of their duties. Beyond this, a patchwork of state and federal laws and codes of conduct exist with the express purpose of preventing quid-pro-quo forms of corruption in politics.

However, with rare exceptions, such as the prosecution of former New South Wales state MP Eddie Obeid, the laws designed to prevent corruption among government officials are rarely enforced.

This can be viewed two ways. One is to argue corruption isn’t occurring because the laws work as a deterrent. The better view is the law makes it almost impossible to prosecute corruption, owing to difficulties with investigation, evidentiary rules and the burden of proof. The phenomenon of the revolving door complicates these problems exponentially.

Intemporal conflicts of interest

Consider this hypothetical. If a minister benefits from a decision immediately, it is in breach of their code of conduct. It may also be in breach of the law.

A delayed benefit, however, is more likely to escape legal restriction and scrutiny. The official is no longer bound by their code of conduct, and it is too hard to prove a criminal act.

The acts of receiving $1 million and thereafter conferring a political favour can be readily associated for the purposes of prosecution. However, it is far harder to associate the same political favour with a job offered many years later, following retirement, that pays $1 million as “salary”.

The deck is very stacked in that sense. All former government officials deserve the presumption of innocence and many may well accept private sector jobs, or positions as lobbyists, for innocuous or even altruistic reasons. But even in these scenarios, the conflict of interest remains.

This is in part illustrated where ministers from the most recent era of Labor governments have left their positions to work as lobbyists, often for industries directly tied to their portfolios.

Ministers, in particular, can use their access to help their clients, but they also create conflicts of interest that become apparent only after they leave office.

Take, for example, former senator Mark Arbib going to lobby for Crown, or the former resources and energy minister, Martin Ferguson, lobbying for … the resources and energy sector.

Arbib and Ferguson are not alone; the problem is rife. Former Howard government ministers went on to work as lobbyists in prolific numbers: Nick Minchin, Mark Vaile, Michael Wooldridge, Peter Costello, Richard Alston and Peter Reith, among others, went on to become lobbyists despite these delayed conflicts of interest.

Reith, a former defence minister, offers a most interesting example. He joined Tenix, a defence and logistics firm, after retiring in 2002. Tenix had won an important supply contract when he was minister in 2001. It went on to secure numerous other defence contracts while he lobbied for the firm.

We assume Reith acted perfectly legally. But that’s the problem – the law is inadequate.

(Partially) closing the door

In a representative system, lobbyists fill an inevitable and important role.

However, their ability to gain disproportional access to decision-makers means non-profit organisations, let alone the hoi polloi of the Australian electorate, are not given anywhere near the same ability to converse, dine and wine with their own government. The revolving door dramatically compounds this problem.

And while politicians decide on contracts worth billions of dollars, there is significant incentive (however fulfilled or unfulfilled it may be) for corporations to act nefariously and try to use government for their own gain.

The proliferation of lobbying, the loopholes that allow conflict of interests, and the lack of rigorous regulation and oversight make it impossible to calculate just how much money the taxpayer loses when officials decide to put their self-interest ahead of public duty.

As radical as it may sound, the revolving door may need to be legislatively closed, at least for ministers. Those who take high elected office, well-paid and prestigious as it is, must remember they are public servants. They should not then accept positions that create clear conflicts of interest.

The ConversationIf that means forgoing the astronomical financial windfall of accepting work as a lobbyist at their retirement, the parliamentary pension is hardly cold comfort.

George Rennie, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Political Lobbyists

The proliferation of lobbying, the loopholes that allow conflict of interests, and the lack of rigorous regulation and oversight make it impossible to calculate just how much money the taxpayer loses when officials decide to put their self-interest ahead of public duty.

Coming soon – keep watching

Political $ystems smell of
$ystemic corruption.

Ex Government employees, ex Ministers, ex Politicians lurking and sliding through the backrooms of State and Federal Parliament. Political donations have moved beyond the family’s love and support of an ideology Left or Right Liberal or Labor. Big money Big players. Greed and Power rule.

Mr Ferguson accepted a role as chairman of an advisory board of the gas and oil industry’s peak body, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association.

The association’s website acknowledges its status as a lobby group, saying it “works with Australian governments to help promote the development of the nation’s oil and gas resources in a manner that maximises the return to the Australian industry and community”. Its board includes representatives from Australia’s largest oil and gas companies including resources giants BHP Billiton, Origin Energy and Shell.

Mr Ferguson has taken a newly-created position of chairman of the association’s advisory board.

The association’s chairman, David Knox, says of Martin Ferguson, who served as energy minister for over five years: “There are few people in Australia with such a comprehensive understanding of Australia’s oil and gas industry.”

He says as chairman of the advisory board, Mr Ferguson will be responsible for “providing strategic advice” to the chair, board and chief executive of the association.

Both sides play the greed card

Political $ystems smell of
$ystemic corruption.

Liberal Andrew Robb took $880k China job as soon as he left Parliament

Former Australian trade minister Andrew Robb walked straight out of Parliament last year and into an $880,000-a-year job with a billionaire closely aligned to the Chinese Communist Party and its key trade policy.

Mr Ye is the owner of Landbridge, which controversially acquired the 99-year lease for the Port of Darwin in 2015. He is also a member of the national Chinese People’s Consultative Committee, an advisory body that President Xi Jinping has directed to “uphold the CPC [Chinese Communist Party] leadership without wavering”