Politicians who become lobbyists can be bad for Australians’ health

By Peter Miller, Gary Sacks, and Narelle Robertson. 

The impacts of heavy drinking, gambling and unhealthy food are among the leading causes of preventable health harm in Australia. And for the most part, we know what to do to reduce them.

Most of us would hope the policies governments introduce are based on the best available evidence. However, our study published today suggests that may not be the case.

We found former politicians, staffers and public servants who go on to work for the industries they once regulated have a major influence on the current policy environment. They’re paid to advocate what’s best for their client, not for the Australian public.

Of the 560 people on the Australian government Register of Lobbyists in 2017, 197 stated they had previously been a government representative. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as most “lobbyists” are directly employed by the companies they lobby for and are therefore not recorded on the register.

In interviews with former politicians and advisers, we found the policymaking process could be corrupted by using knowledge gained in service of the community to advocate for industry.

Lessons from tobacco lobbying

Just like tobacco lobbyists have done over the past 50 years, profit-driven industries such as alcohol, junk food and gambling seek to deter, delay and water down effective public health polices that could restrict the availability of their harmful products.

These industries use lobbying tactics established by the tobacco industry to achieve their goals – from offering free tickets to sporting events and parliamentary wine-tastings, to faking grassroots campaigns and using PR organisations, to donating to political parties.

These strategies have been described as “water dripping on stone”. They rely on persistence, rather than force, to persuade.

Another key tactic is to employ political representatives and public servants into industries they have recently been tasked with governing.

Our research

We obtained basic data about this last tactic from three soures: the Australian Government Register of Lobbyists, LinkedIn, and lobbyist business websites.

We have analysed the results from the Register of Lobbyists previously in 2014 and 2015. We found the registers did not meet the stated objective of making lobbying activity transparent to the Australian public.

In that study, we concluded the processes were in urgent need of reform in order to keep accurate records on lobbying, allow free and real-time access to the public, and ensure the records were adequately archived.

For this latest study, we looked at the job history of 122 lobbyists. Of those, most had held influential positions: 18% had been a member of parliament or senator and 47% had been a senior advisor or chief of staff.

The majority had spent more than ten years in government prior to their roles as lobbyists.

We also interviewed 28 key informants, including current and former Australian politicians, journalists, former political staffers, current civil servants and lobbyists.

These interviewees reported on several examples of people working at senior levels of government going on to work directly for alcohol, food or gambling industries, often in areas directly related to their previous government role.


Read the original article  (published on The Conversation). This article is based on research the authors published in the latest edition of Public Health Research & Practice and written by: Peter Miller, Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, Deakin University; Gary Sacks, Associate Professor, Deakin University, and Narelle Robertson, Research Fellow, Deakin University.