Peter Costantini, Managing Director
Earlier this year, I wrote to you about the SAS Group Integrity Charter. This is our commitment to maintaining the highest ethical and professional standards in our dealings with clients, public servants, and elected representatives. Our aim, in applying these values, is to go further than the behaviours required under the Lobbying Codes of Conduct.
The Commonwealth and State Governments apply Lobbying Codes of Conduct which primarily recognise the importance of integrity of Ministers, advisors and public servants, and that lobbying is a legitimate and important part of the democratic process.
To date, these Codes have only applied to third-party lobbyists, such as the SAS Group. This means that the vast majority of lobbying, which is undertaken by exempt professional firms and in-house lobbyists, is not covered by the Codes of Conduct and there is greatly reduced transparency to the public as a result.
It has been a turbulent time recently for the Queensland Government dealing with integrity issues, resulting in part from the relationship with a couple of lobbyists who were reportedly paid for election campaigning services at the same time as lobbying for their clients. This attracted a lot of media and public attention and, in part, led to the review undertaken by Professor Peter Coaldrake AO.
Professor Coaldrake released his report this week into the culture and accountability in the Queensland public sector. It addressed, amongst a range of other matters, the status of integrity issues within the Queensland Government. He made 14 recommendations, and the Premier quickly responded with a “lock, stock and barrel” acceptance of all recommendations and advice that they will be implemented.
The SAS Group supports Professor Coaldrake’s recommendations which are balanced and present an opportunity to further improve the transparency and integrity of government and their interaction with people and organisations they engage with.
If the recommendations are implemented, then for the first-time transparency and integrity rules will apply to the lobbying activities of professional firms that have hidden behind their exempt status. In-house lobbyists will be subject to greater transparency through Ministerial and staff diary entries. And the separation between providing lobbying and political campaigning services will be strengthened.
Because the SAS Group has already set a much higher benchmark through our Integrity Charter than the existing rules, we are confident that there will be no need for significant change to our operations on behalf of clients.
We will continue to do what we have always done – provide the highest quality counsel and strategic advice to our clients, and support their communications and interactions with all stakeholders, including government. And we will always do that in way that not only adhere to the laws but adheres to the exacting standards we set for ourselves.