Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's That Noise Up In The Lobby, Darling?

Suppose you are the CEO of a major international oil company, or a bank, or even an arms dealer, and you want to put an idea into Kevin Rudd's head, or maybe even make him an offer he can't refuse. How do you go about it?

Sure, you could call the Lodge and wait for someone to take you seriously. You might even have Kev's personal contact details, but that's really not a good look, is it? Especially if the media get hold of the phone records or transcripts.

So what you do is call someone like Sandra Eccles. She's the head of Canberra lobbying firm Government Relations Australia (GRA). The former head, David Epstein, is now Kevin Rudd’s chief of staff.

Oh, and Epstein just happens to be married to Sandra Eccles.

How do I know this? Because I read Christian Kerr's article, which has lots about GRA and other lobbyist firms, their operatives and their clients, as seen on the new list at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet website.
As for the client list, well, even a one-time Crosby-Textor heavy gushed. Microsoft, Bluescope Steel, coal-to-liquids project Monash, energy, construction and infrastructure giant Bilfinger Berger, OneSteel ... and more up on the web. All to be regularly updated.
Why isn't this story front page news? Because it's old news, darling. That's just how things work these days. We all know that, right?

Remember, Rudd's older brother Greg sold his lobbying business, Open Door Consulting, to avoid any perceived conflict of interest. But it doesn't really matter, does it? These days the links between government and business are as good as seamless.

In the UK, on the other hand, The Independent today leads with this explosive story, Exposed: the arms lobbyist in Parliament ('We'll ask the questions that you can't, without your fingerprints,' he tells clients):
A senior arms lobbyist is gaining access to ministers, MPs and peers inside Parliament using a research assistant pass allotted to a member of the House of Lords who benefits financially from one of his companies, The Independent has learnt.

Robin Ashby, who is chairman of a defence consultancy firm that offers to ask questions of government on behalf of its clients "without your fingerprint being evident", includes among his acquaintances the Defence Secretary, the Chancellor and the Chief Whip.

Mr Ashby's firm, Bergmans, lobbies on behalf of more than a dozen large defence and aerospace companies including BAE Systems, Northern Defence Industries, UK Defence Forum, Boeing and Rolls-Royce, which has been criticised for its past links to the Burmese regime.

Mr Ashby's name features on an official staff list that was published by the House of Lords for the first time last night following pressure from media outlets including The Independent.
Democracy is alive and well in the UK, it seems. Australia? Not so much.