Who's in the Room? Access and Influence in Australian Politics and How to Regulate

Electoral Regulation Research Network (VIC) Seminar

Monday 30 October


  • Ms Kate Griffiths
  • Dr George Rennie

About the Seminar:

Public policy should be made for all Australians – not just those with the resources or connections to lobby and influence politicians. And mostly it is. But sometimes bad policy is made or good policy is dropped because powerful groups have more say and sway than they should. Australia’s political institutions are generally robust, but many of the ‘risk factors’ for policy capture by special interests are present in our system. Political parties are heavily reliant on major donors, money can buy access and political connections, and there’s a lack of transparency in dealings between policymakers and special interests. Kate Griffiths presented the findings of a new Grattan report, co-authored with Danielle Wood and Carmela Chivers.

George Rennie tackled the question of how to regulate access and influence in a way to promote democratic objectives. Specifically, he examined the proposal for an anti-corruption agency at a federal level. Assessment of this proposal requires careful consideration about how democracies have defined “corruption” in law, and whether this definition captures a wide enough range of activities that undermine a democracy, and erode trust in its institutions. Using examples from Australia and the United States, George argued that the definition of corruption is too narrow, because it does not adequately address the underlying cause and problem of corruption: undue bias and conflicts of interest. While legislating for a determined, well-resourced and independent anti-corruption agency would be an important first step, to meaningfully protect Australia’s democracy, it will also be necessary to restrict gifts and the revolving door.

About the Speakers:

Kate Griffiths is a Senior Associate in Grattan’s Institutional Reform program and coauthor of the report Who’s in the room? Access and influence in Australian politics. Kate is a scientist and analyst, with experience in strategy consulting and public policy development. Prior to joining Grattan, Kate worked for The Boston Consulting Group with clients in the health and energy sectors, and in science and research policy for the Australian Government (Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research & Tertiary Education). Kate holds a Masters in Science from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor of Science with Honours from the Australian National University.

George Rennie lectures in politics at the University of Melbourne. His research expertise includes lobbying, political systems and political messaging in Australia and the United States. His recent teaching responsibilities have included coordinating American Politics, Lobbying Strategies, and Campaigns and Elections at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He writes regularly on lobbying and politics for The Guardian, The Conversation, and numerous other Australian and international publications.