Flat White

Time to put the spotlight on Big Tech’s lobbyists

25 August 2020

5:00 AM

25 August 2020

5:00 AM

Big Tech, including Google, has spent an estimated $582m lobbying the United States Congress since 2005.  

Google has spent big lobbying on issues pertaining to privacy and competition.  

They are now using their position as the world’s only genuine monopoly to try and stop the federal government making them pay for Australian news content.  

Make no mistake. If they lose in Australia, this sets a precedent for every other market. 

Google, like all companies, has the right to defend their corporate interests and spend millions on lobbyists.  

However, the aggressive lobbying tactics of a monopoly associated with misinformation campaigns, censoring conservative voices and tax settlements needs to be called out. 

Consequently, the role of lobbyists and their influence in working for Google and Big Tech needs to be called out. Why?  

The Australian public needs to know how lobbyists are using their ministerial, political party and departmental relationships to push the Google and more broadly Big Tech agenda.  

In the United States, Canada, and the UK there is significant transparency around the operation of lobbyists. 

As an example, you can view the filings of individual lobbyists who have undertaken work for Google in the US here. 

In Australia federally, there is minimal transparency. 

According to the federal government’s Lobbyist Register, there are three firms which list Google as their client Christmas JaliliNewgate Communications and TG Endeavour.

It is unknown if any of these firms are actively engaged in the current Google campaign against the Federal Government.  

Stephen Conroy is chairman of the advisory board for TG Endeavour and is a regular media commentator across a range of topics. 

How often do hosts of any Australian public affairs show ask any lobbyist or an adviser to disclose either their client list or the client list of a firm they are advising? They should do it every time. 

Various studies, including one by the Grattan Institute, have detailed the revolving door between political offices and lobbying. 

The “lobbyist problem is currently more pronounced on the Liberal side. 

Liberals complain a lot about union influence. They need to get their own house in order.  

The Google Australia CEO did not pick up the phone to Sally McManus to run their current campaign against the government 

The system is so broken that lobbyists feel no need to hide their reported influence on the Prime Minister and his government.  

As an example, the DPG Advisory home page provides links to stories such as “Bubble Boys: Who’s in Scott Morrison’s inner circle?”   

Reviewing the site triggered memories of Dwight from The Office 

According to the Lobbyists Register, DPG Advisory has Facebook on its’ extensive client list. 

The findings in the recent Australian National Audit Office report entitled Management of the Australian Government’s Lobbying Code of Conduct — Follow-up Audit”, support the argument that the system is broken.  

This audit report was released on a Friday afternoon, with the ANAO tweeting its’ release at 3:26pm. 

The day of the release coincided with the last day of the school term in Victoria; the COVID situation in Victoria materially deteriorating; ASIO raiding an NSW Labor MP’s home; the Prime Minister giving a detailed National Cabinet press conference and the Roosters and Collingwood playing matches. 

Sir Humphrey could not have done a better burial job on a report.  

Welcome to Australian democracy 2020. 

No wonder Transparency International called out Australia following a significant fall in its 2019 standing stating: “Even in democracies, such as Australia and India, unfair and opaque political financing and undue influence in decision making and lobbying by powerful corporate interest groups, result in stagnation or decline in control of corruption.” 

The problem is not that lobbyists are breaking any laws federally. They are not. 

The problem is that Australian lobbyists are not subject to specific legislation; have no public reporting requirements; code enforcement does not include fines nor criminal penalties and Australian Government Ministers are not required to publish diaries detailing meetings with lobbyists. The UK, Canada and the US all have materially tougher operating requirements than Australia. 

The lack of transparency around the operation of lobbyists federally is compounded by the lack of a federal Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC). 

There is a simple solution which would fix most issues around lobbyist transparency. 

Put a lawyer from the Attorney General’s department in every meeting (virtual or in-person) between a Minister and a lobbyist. 

Publish the meeting details on a government website, redacting any content which is deemed commercially or personally sensitive or national security-related. 

This single act will do more than any complicated regulatory and sanctions regime to deliver transparency and accountability. 

Big Tech is entitled to spend millions on lobbyists to defend their interests. 

Australian voters are entitled to defend their interests, by knowing what lobbyists are doing for that money. 

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments