Vested interests and the subversion of the public interest

Lobbying now represents a growing and serious corruption of good governance, writes former top mandarin John Menadue. Departments need to return to being independent policy-powerhouses, with protections against influence from secret special interests.

There are many key public issues that we must address such as climate change, growing inequality, tax avoidance, budget repair, an ageing population, lifting our productivity and our treatment of asylum seekers.

But our capacity to address these and other important issues is becoming very difficult because of the power of vested interests with their lobbying power to influence governments in a quite disproportionate way.

Lobbying has grown dramatically in recent years, particularly in Canberra. It now represents a growing and serious corruption of good governance and the development of sound public policy. In referring to the so called “public debate” on climate change, Professor Ross Garnaut highlighted the “diabolical problem” that vested interests brought to bear on public discussion on climate change.

Ken Henry, a former secretary of Treasury, said in the forward to this policy series that “I can’t remember a time in the last 25 years when the quality of public policy debate has been as bad as it is right now”. He was followed as secretary of Treasury by Martin Parkinson who warned us about “vested interests” who seek concessions from government at the expense of ordinary citizens. The former ACCC Chairman, Graeme Samuel, cautioned us that “a new conga line of rent seekers is lining up to take the place of those that have fallen out of favour”. In referring to opposition to company tax and carbon pollution reform policies, Ross Gittins said “industry lobby groups [have] become less inhibited in pressing private interests at the expense of the wider public interest. [They] are ferociously resistant to reform proposals”.

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  • stephensaunders49

    If anything, understated. I usually say that contemporary LibLab is now almost incapable of perceiving or pursuing community interests as something that might just possibly be distinct from vested interests.

    We see this learned incapacity repeatedly in their approach to policy, including tax, population, school funding, public transport, environment, emissions control, home solar, the list goes on.

    We see it starkly in Mr Hockey’s cartoon IGR and cartoon budget.