By Elaine Abery. Elaine worked in the Australian Federal Government for over a decade, her roles including designing legislation and the Secretariat to the Board of Taxation. She spent a decade on the other side of the negotiating table, working with peak industry groups, KPMG and various charities. She recently founded Unravelling Red Tape to offer high quality government relations and policy advice to all sectors of the community.
2018 may well have been the year of Royal Commissions in Australia. The ramifications will continue to be felt in the coming years. Let’s look at what is happening with Australia’s current Royal Commissions and how that impacts government relations.
1. Child Sexual Abuse The child sexual abuse Royal Commission precipitated numerous Court cases. Churches, schools and community groups are enforcing new rules for all staff and volunteers, including the controversial working with children checks. Many organisations now require all volunteers to hold working with children checks, whether or not they interact with children. Teachers, subject to checks as part of their employment, need to fill out additional paperwork for each of their volunteer roles. Anecdotally, organisations that rely on volunteers say they are experiencing declining numbers as volunteers refuse to fill out more paperwork and subject themselves to further checks for each organisation they volunteer with.
2. Banking and other Financial Services Some feel that the banks have come out of the Royal Commission lightly, despite a raft of shocking allegations. The stock market seems to agree – bank share prices rose again when the report was released. The mortgage broking industry is campaigning against the Royal Commission’s recommendation to remove trailing commissions for mortgage brokers. Commissions remunerate many sectors of our economy, including real estate agents and comparators.
3. Aged Care Aged care organisations have largely not responded to the Royal Commission’s requests for information. The industry may be weary of inquiries – twenty in as many years. The lack of responsiveness from the industry has not stopped clients, carers and others from telling their shocking stories.
4. Disability Sector Draft terms of reference for a Royal Commission into the disability sector were released for public consultation in mid March. It will be interesting to follow the differences between this and the aged care Royal Commission.
5. What Next? The Royal Commissions will result in changes in legislation, regulation and industry practice. As a government relations specialist, your role is to interface between your client and government to produce the best possible outcome for both your client and the Australian community. Some people may argue that your client is your only concern. However, government relations specialists obtain better results when they consider both the broader community and their clients.
Tips for Government Relations Specialists • Keep up-to-date with the various Royal Commissions • Remain in touch with your government contacts • Research the recommendations, and possible outcomes, relevant to your clients • Investigate what other countries are doing – what works and doesn’t work • Understand the unintended consequences (e.g. declining volunteer numbers mentioned above) and ensure you explain them to clients and government contacts • Have solutions ready for any problems you identify – nobody needs to know about more problems!