I’m proud today to stand and second the motion from the member for Kooyong because, like me, the member for Kooyong is clear. Every time she stands in this place, she is representing the people of Kooyong who elected her. And, as an Independent MP, I am confident that, every time I speak in this place, every time I vote and every time I make a decision, I know who I represent. It’s not the party bosses or big businesses or unions; it’s the people of Indi.

But too often in this place questions are raised over the decisions made and positions taken by those in power. Whose interests are being represented and who stands to gain? The answers to these questions—who is represented and who stands to gain—are too often found in who has access, who knows the right people or who paid for the right seat at a dinner, when instead it should be the people who elect their representatives and send them here to Parliament House to do exactly that—represent their interests.

We are, of course, talking about the practice of lobbying and the distortionary effect it can have on the decisions made here. Lobbying itself is not the problem. Advocacy is a vital part of our democracy. We need different points of view, different experiences and new ideas. We need diverse voices to be heard in order to make the best decisions and develop the best and most robust policies. The problem is that not all voices have equal access to decision-makers and to elected representatives. In fact, it’s clear there’s a significant imbalance in who gets access to members of this place. With easier access comes easier influence and a smoother way to make one’s case more often at the critical moments.

You may ask: why is this a problem? We know alcohol industry lobbying delayed implementation of mandatory pregnancy warning labels for more than a decade in Australia. We know from the data collected under the Queensland government’s lobbying registers and analysed by the Grattan Institute that highly regulated industries dominate donations, commercial lobbying contracts and meetings with senior ministers. We also know from that data that the gambling and property development sectors are overrepresented in their share of external donations, lobbying contracts and meetings with ministers compared to their economic contribution. It is the industries with the most to lose from government regulation that are knocking on the doors more often and saying, ‘Don’t worry about us; you don’t need that law’, even when the evidence says, ‘Yes, we do actually need that law.’

There is too much we don’t know about how lobbying works in Australia. Yes, we have a lobbying register, but it only covers third-party lobbyists who are contracted by outside companies to open doors. It doesn’t cover in-house lobbyists, often labelled ‘government relations officers’. Lobbyists stroll the halls of this building easily through building passes sponsored by parliamentarians, but there’s no way for the public to know who these people are and which MPs have sponsored them to have this access. We don’t know who meets with ministers or how often they do so. We don’t know who is going through the revolving door between MPs’ offices and lobbying jobs. Getting to know how big the problem is is the first step towards solving it.

This motion once again shows how important it is to have a strong crossbench in this place. It’s the Independent members who are working to increase transparency and accountability and improve integrity in this place. As I’ve already said once today and, no doubt, will say many more times again, sunlight is the best disinfectant. We know many members of this place are confident enough to take meetings with, for example, the tobacco lobby, the alcohol lobby or the gambling lobby because they can do so without publicity. How many of these meetings would happen if ministers knew their diaries would be made public?

Addressing the imbalance created by lobbying isn’t just about transparency. It’s about members of this place asking: who doesn’t have a voice here? We must commit to transparency, to accountability and to seeking out the voices that generally find it harder to make themselves heard—those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable, not just those who have deep pockets and know which doors to open.

Yes, this government has done good work in establishing the National Anti-Corruption Commission, a formidable and important reform to integrity in this nation. But that’s not the end of the story. There’s so much more to do. This government needs to step up to the plate on many measures of integrity, and this issue of lobbyists and access to power must be addressed. We must have fairness in access to decision-makers. We must make sure that those with power don’t have the greatest propensity to exercise it when it comes to elected members, ministers and decisions of this parliament.

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