Telstra tops Canberra lobbyist list

Summary:Telstra has emerged as the most active employer of Canberra lobbyists in the IT&T field, although others such as Apple and Google also employ external firms to push their agendas with politicians and government workers.

Telstra has emerged as the most active employer of Canberra lobbyists in the IT&T field, although others such as Apple and Google also employ external firms to push their agendas with politicians and government workers.

(Credit: Australian government)

IT companies are amongst the biggest employers of professional government lobbyists in Canberra, with almost one in five counting a tech firm amongst its clients.

Since the beginning of July, professional lobbyists have had to be listed on the Register of Lobbyists, and maintain up-to-date details of all clients they represent, in order to be able to meet with ministers, departmental officials and other government representatives.

As of yesterday, 186 unique firms were listed on the register. Of those, at least 40 had an IT&T company listed as a current client, ZDNet.com.au research has revealed.

Telstra has emerged as the most active employer of lobbyists in the IT&T field, with Cato Counsel, Enhance Corporate, Hawker Britton and Public Policy Solutions all listing the company as a client, and another three companies employed by its co-owned Foxtel subsidiary and one by its KAZ division.

Other companies who show up on more than one company's disclosure record include Cisco Systems, Dimension Data, EDS, iiNet, Keycorp, Oracle, Philips and Sun Microsystems.

Many lobbyists specialise in a particular policy area, so it's not unusual for a large business to employ specific firms to help promote a particular agenda.

Activity is often particularly heavy during the early months of a newly-elected government, according to lobbyist Col Parks, director of government relations for Gavin Anderson & Company.

"New governments are always good for lobbyists; it's always good for business," Parks said at a public affairs seminar in Canberra this week.

Gavin Anderson lists Apple, Google, Foxtel, Vodafone and Unisys amongst its clients. Another organisation with an A-list roster of tech firms is Government Relations Australia Advisory, which has worked with ARIA, ICANN, Microsoft, eBay and PayPal.

Dominant player
But the dominant provider to the IT industry appears to be John Blackwell & Associates, whose local client roll consists almost entirely of technology and communications firms.

Companies whose agenda it promotes to government include Cisco, Dell, Sony, HDS, APC, Autodesk, Check Point, GE, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Kyocera, Ricoh and Sharp, according to the JBA register entry.

Telecommunications is a particularly active field, with lobbyists being employed by companies of all sizes, ranging from number two provider Optus (which uses Richardson Coutts) to small specialist firms such as NewSat (on the books of BartonDale Partners).

"New governments are always good for lobbyists; it's always good for business," Parks said at a public affairs seminar in Canberra this week.

New governments are always good for lobbyists.

Lobbyist Col Parks

Even organisations which themselves exist largely to promote a particular industry, such as the Australian Information Industry Association and the Australian Computer Society also employ professional lobbyists.

While the emergence of the register has given a high-tech sheen to the practice of pushing for policy changes, lobbyists say that it has not altered their day-to-day work. "I can't imagine any official agreeing to see a lobbyist without knowing who they were there representing," Parks said. "Governments are governments, and I think talking with them is very much the same."

IT accounts for a healthy percentage of the registered lobbyists' business, but the total size of the industry is hard to determine.

In his book Lobbying In Australia, Julian Fitzgerald estimated that there were around 1,000 lobbying organisations active federally, though that number included industry organisations which are not required to register under the current scheme.

The register and an associated code of conduct were launched in May, with the stated goal of ensuring the political decision-making process was more transparent and that federal politicians could not resign and move instantly into highly paid lobbying roles that utilised their political contacts. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had foreshadowed its introduction in December 2007.

What do you think about the lobbying activities of technology companies? Post your thoughts below this article.

Topics: Telcos, Cisco, Networking, Telstra

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