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New report exposes Northern Territory’s murky lobbying laws as Senate Inquiry investigates Middle Arm

A new report reveals the Northern Territory is home to Australia’s weakest lobbying rules and the jurisdiction has little protection against undue influence on government decision makers. Report available here.

To be tabled today during day two of the Middle Arm Senate Inquiry (April 11), In Whose Interest? gives the NT the lowest ranking for lobbying transparency and accountability of all Australian states and territories and several international examples. See scorecard below.

“The Northern Territory lobbying regime lacks all of the hallmarks of a robust regime. It is the weakest of all Australian lobbying regimes and makes no real attempt to eliminate undue influence or promote integrity in government decision-making.” (Report Pg 8)

The report zeroes in on the Middle Arm proposal, raising integrity questions about the $1.5 billion Albanese Government subsidy for the project, and the lack of transparency around it. If built, fracked gas from the Beetaloo Basin would be processed and exported from Middle Arm.

“The… case study on the Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct illustrates just how much more knowledge the public might have about the exercise of public power under a best-practice lobbying regime.” (Report Pg 9)

While the report identifies numerous individuals with vested interests who quietly lobbied the NT Government, it points out that these activities were legal in a jurisdiction with integrity laws as weak as the Territory.

Founder of community group Protect Big Rivers and Katherine veterinary Dr Samantha Phelan, who will provide evidence to the Inquiry today, said, “Territorians often don’t feel like their voices are heard in major environmental decisions that will ultimately affect our future. 

“Strong laws governing transparency and accountability are even more important in the Territory, given its small population and the remote nature of projects. 

“This report makes it clear that the NT lacks a robust transparency and integrity framework, so it is very concerning that the Albanese Government has decided to provide billions of taxpayer dollars for a new fossil fuel precinct right in our beautiful harbour on the basis of lobbying from those with vested interests. 

“Territorians, and the broader Australian public, have a right to demand proper scrutiny and accountability of such an enormous subsidy for a highly controversial and environmentally hazardous project.”

Environment Centre NT executive director Kirsty Howey said, “The report case study reveals an interconnected web of interests were involved in the leadup to the Middle Arm decision, but the weak lobbying rules mean influence occurred behind closed doors.

“The lack of transparency concerning lobbying in the NT means the public can’t trust that the Middle Arm decision was made in their interests, and further highlights the enormous risks to the reputation of the Federal Government in subsidising Middle Arm.”

Centre for Public Integrity spokesperson and report author Catherine Williams said, “The invisibility of lobbying is the scourge of Australian democracy. Without reform to regulation around the country, lobbying will continue to have the potential to steer the exercise of public power away from its proper driver: the public interest.”


How the transparency and integrity framework in the Territory can be fixed:

  • Creating a lobbyist register

  • Publishing details of meetings between politicians and staff with lobbyists 

  • Making ministers’ diaries publicly available

  • Strengthening the NT Ministerial Code of Conduct so it is enforceable, and penalising rulebreakers

  • Closing - or at least slowing - the revolving door between lobbyists and the government


Lobbying Scorecard:

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