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Rounding up lobbyists but poisoning the grassroots

By Richard Stanton - posted Tuesday, 8 June 2010

In a move which has enormous implications for community and grassroots organisations, The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in New South Wales has broadened its scope beyond the investigation of specific allegations of corrupt public conduct, to investigate persuasion and influence in the state.

In an ironically veiled attempt to begin investigating lobbying and lobbyists it has published an issues paper entitled the nature and management of lobbying in NSW.

This is the first time the ICAC has moved outside its proclaimed framework (ICAC Act 1988) of investigating specific allegations of corruption and moved into investigating systems.


The commission is inviting community and agency comment on the issues paper (due before June 23) but it is not difficult to read between the lines.

As well as preparing the ground for the government to create a legislative gatehouse through which financially well-off persuasion and influence can be kept track of, it may well be a bold move to proscribe the actions and activities of local organisations and individuals who seek to influence and persuade at “grassroots” level.

Grassroots groups have the capacity to stop government policy, though most often they are portrayed in the news media as little guys attempting to stop invasive corporate activity.

An example of an attempt to stop government policy in NSW is the grassroots protests in the Sydney suburb of Ryde against federal housing development.

The action is making the federal member for Bennelong, Maxine McKew, look relatively powerless in the face of community organisation and action.

It is this type of action that terrifies governments and indeed, has led some in America to create powerful legislation to stop the organisation of local communities and their political influence.


In Alabama state for example, according to a recent Institute for Justice report, failure to adhere to the law of lobbying can result in criminal penalties that include the possibility of a maximum sentence of 20 years jail and a $30,000 fine - the same as that for kidnapping.

In Washington state the rules allow for grassroots persuaders to be fined $10,000 per infringement.

This could lead to multiple fines if a local community group was unaware that they were violating the lobbying code.

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About the Author

Richard Stanton is a political communication writer and media critic. His most recent book is Do What They Like: The Media In The Australian Election Campaign 2010.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Richard Stanton

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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