Lobbying and business meetings

What is lobbying?

The term ‘lobbying’ means any attempt to influence the decision-making of a government or opposition representative in the exercise of their official functions on behalf of a third party, for a fee or other reward. Under the Integrity Act 2009 lobbyists who act on behalf of third-party clients must register with the Integrity Commissioner before they contact a state or local government representative for the purpose of lobbying activities.

Lobbying, by its very nature, is a necessary part of a democratic system of government, however problems can arise where those lobbying government are allowed more time, access or greater influence than other lobbyists. This is particularly the case where the lobbyist is a former public official.

The definition of lobbying does not apply to some organisations, such as not-for-profits, but when considering leaving the Queensland public sector, you need to understand that the type of work you are undertaking may still be classed as lobbying activity. Depending on your seniority within the sector, this may have implications under the Code of Conduct for how former colleagues can engage with you.

To protect the public interest, quarantine periods apply to when Queensland public sector employees are able to engage with certain former colleagues in a lobbying capacity post-separation.

The Queensland Integrity Commissioner website provides more information about how lobbying is managed to protect the public interest.

How does lobbying differ from business meetings?

A business meeting is different to lobbying because it has a commercial focus, convened to discuss matters with a profit-motive in mind. However, there are also quarantine periods applied to business meetings held with former senior government officers. It is important to understand the difference between lobbying and business meetings, as different restrictions periods apply to both.

Limitations for lobbying and business meetings

The Post separation employment provisions policy outlines restrictions placed on lobbying activities and business meetings undertaken by former senior government representatives.

The roles outlined in the guide are defined under the Integrity Act 2009 as:

  • government representative – the Premier or another minister, assistant minister, councillor, public sector officer, ministerial staff member, assistant ministerial staff member
  • former senior government representative – a person who was a government representative but is not now, and is not an Opposition representative
  • public sector officer – a former senior government representative who was a chief executive, senior executive or senior executive equivalent.

People who have held these roles are not permitted to:

  • undertake lobbying activity for a third-party on matters which they had official dealings within their last two years in public sector employment for a two-year period after they cease public sector employment.
    • official dealings include specific policies, procedures, transactions, negotiations or cases in which they previously acted for, or provided advice to, the government (either through the CEO or the Minister).
    • simply viewing documents (such as Cabinet submissions and decisions) would not constitute official dealings on a matter. However, the confidentiality provisions of the Queensland Cabinet Handbook would still apply.
  • have business meetings with a Queensland Government representative on any matter which they had official dealings as a former senior government officer within their last 18 months for a period of 18 months after they cease public sector employment
  • disclose confidential information in breach of their contract of employment.

However, they are permitted to:

  • undertake lobbying activity for a third party on matters which they had no official dealings within their last two years in public sector employment
  • have business meetings with a Queensland Government representative on any matter which they did not have official dealings as a former senior government officer within their last 18 months in the public sector
  • disclose information which does not amount to confidential information, and therefore would not be in breach of their employment contract.

Potential risks

The primary risks related to lobbying and business meetings include:

  • public perception that a Queensland public sector employee has been improperly influenced to favour an individual or group (loss of public confidence)
  • potential for the agency to fail to obtain the best value for money and be subject to allegations of corrupt conduct (business or financial loss)
  • close relationships between lobbyists and Queensland public sector employees creating the potential for the organisation to become unwittingly “captured” by that relationship, resulting in decisions that are perceived to be or are unfair (conflicts of interest)
  • a Queensland public sector employee using their position to influence decisions and advice in favour of the interested party (biased decision making).

If not addressed, these risks have the potential to adversely affect public confidence in the integrity and reputation of government, as well as the former employee’s own professional reputation.

Continuing Queensland public sector employees are likewise bound by the Code of Conduct to ensure their interactions with former employees adhere to the code and protect the public interest.

Ways to reduce your risk – former senior government officers

The Queensland Integrity Commissioner suggests:

Pre-separation

  • listing all agencies and government representatives (including ministerial staff) that you have had official dealings with during the two years period prior to separation
  • declaring post-separation obligations and limitations with prospective employers

Post-separation

  • if meeting with a government representative, preparing an agenda to ensure matters are carefully articulated prior to the meeting and to avoid potential breaches of the post-separation provisions
  • absenting yourself from meetings and matters where potential breaches may arise
  • erring on the side of caution if there is any uncertainty and seeking relevant advice

Ways to reduce your risk – current Queensland public sector employees

Before meeting with former senior government representatives and former Opposition representatives:

  • determine whether the meeting is permissible or whether it is a prohibited lobbying or business meeting (the Post separation employment provisions policy will assist you in determining whether a meeting is permissible)
  • check the Lobbyists Register maintained by the Queensland Integrity Commissioner to confirm the status of the person seeking the meeting
  • check your agency’s “contact with lobbyists” register
  • where meetings are held, take a file note as a record of the meeting.

Further advice

Employees can seek advice about these matters from their manager or local HR team.

Public sector agency HR and IR practitioners may seek advice about these matters from the PSC advisory service.

Chief executives, senior executives and senior officers may contact the Queensland Integrity Commissioner for written advice about conflict of interest matters. However they are encouraged to first seek advice from their agency.