Cash and politics: Playing dirty, or simply ‘networking’?

Despite the platitudes about being the backbone of our economy, small business often has very little input when it comes to policy development.

Instead, big business, with its deep pockets, has the resources to ensure the issues that concern them get in front of decision makers — starting with employing ex-politicians to lobby government on behalf of their interests.

According to the Australian Government Register of Lobbyists, there are 283 lobby groups, and more than 630 individuals, whose role consists of raising awareness of the cause of any number of clients. These lobbyists tend to be former ministers, senior advisers and public servants who have a wealth of experience of the inner workings of government.

For small businesses who have all their funds directed towards running and growing their organisations, it’s hard to think how we can possibly compete to get heard in this environment (not to mention when you add political ‘donations’ into the mix).

So is it fair that well financed organisations can employ services of ex-politicians to be heard and push their agendas? Is it playing dirty, or just simple networking? Given the current Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) investigations into corrupt conduct concerning soliciting, receiving and concealing payments, it’s clear the ethical lines can get blurred.

Where is the line drawn between a donation and a bribe? And short of heading down that dubious (and expensive) path, what can small business do to be heard?

First you need to understand the triggers for the politician you want to approach. Short of making a ‘donation’ to their party, what is the trigger to get them to respond — what’s in it for them?

Try to make your business valuable to them. Get involved in what’s important to them, for example, volunteering time for campaign efforts. Use social media to help spread your message to a wide audience, to get others on board — the greater the influence you have among your following, the greater influence you can have on policy.

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