Facebook and Google have recruited five of Australia’s most influential lobbying firms, some with close ties to the Morrison government, as they press their case against the proposed news media code.

This small army of highly paid lobbyists, which includes former prime ministerial staffers, has been central to the digital giants’ attempts to influence the direction of the legislation behind the scenes.

Last week Google launched its News Showcase product in Australia as Morrison said he had a “constructive” conversation with the global head of Google, Sundar Pichai, after Google threatened to remove its search engine from Australia.

Google has no fewer than four heavy-hitting firms stalking the corridors of parliament: Christmas Jalili, Newgate Communications, TG Endeavour and Eloquium Group, according to the Australian Government Register of Lobbyists.

The register, however, does not list the names of the internal lobbyists from Facebook and Google who visit parliament.

TG Endeavour, led by Paul Chamberlin and Mark Brandon-Baker, has a former advisor to the prime minister, Brendan Tegg, on board. Tegg left Scott Morrison’s office where he was director of policy in 2019.

Fresh from working for the government, Tegg’s sales pitch is that he was “integral to policy development for the last three federal budgets”.

While the public has been bombarded with heavy-handed messages across social media about the dangers of the code, including that the proposed legislation will “break Google search”, these guns for hire have been working hard behind the scenes.

Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia and Facebook has threatened to remove news from its feed for all Australian users if a code forcing the companies to negotiate payments to news media companies goes ahead.

Lobbyists do everything from sitting down to cups of tea with backbenchers and meeting with ministers, to keeping their ear to the ground for developments, to writing submissions and briefing documents.

Google and its operatives have been making direct approaches to key MPs to put the case against the proposed code, and have been meeting with Labor and Greens media spokespeople.

The media companies, including Nine Entertainment, News Corp Australia, Seven West Media and Guardian Australia, have also been lobbying parliamentarians although they are represented by internal communications operatives and chief executives rather than specialist lobbyists.

Some of the lobbyists have insider knowledge of the negotiation process through their previous jobs. The principal of Eloquium is Ishtar Vij, who worked for 11 years for Google in the public policy area where she developed relationships with powerbrokers in the national capital.

Facebook has just one outfit, DPG Advisory Solutions, on its influence team, according to the register of interests.

DPG is a lobbying firm headed by David Gazard, a former Liberal staffer described by the Australian Financial Review last year as “a regular presence in parliament’s ministerial wing [who] is sought after by business and decision-makers alike”.

“[Gazard’s] power stems from a sophisticated understanding of the process and his close relationships with those who matter” the AFR said.

Gazard advised Liberal prime minister John Howard and treasurer Peter Costello and more recently worked on high-profile campaigns including “quarantining” the mortgage-broking industry from the royal commission into financial services.

Gazard works alongside one of Morrison’s longest-serving advisers, Sasha Grebe, and former Liberal party official Scott Briggs, who is a close friend and confidant of Morrison.

Lobbyist firm Christmas Jalili is also working with Google. Principal Damon Jalili is a former advisor to Mathias Cormann when he was finance minister in 2015-16.

“Damon has worked on a number of high-profile and sensitive issues for a range of clients including Google,” he says on his website.

Newgate Communications is the fourth influencer hired by Google, and is led by managing partner Brian Tyson.

Google said not all the firms were working on the media code issue, but did not specify which ones were. Guardian Australia understands DPG Advisory Solutions for Facebook and TG Endeavour for Google are working the corridors of Canberra on this issue.

“We are committed to a workable code and have engaged constructively through this process,” a Google spokesman said.

“We’ve repeatedly raised our concerns with aspects of the current code and the reasonable amendments that would ensure the code is fairer for platforms, publishers, users and businesses.

“As we’ve said previously, these companies do not all work for Google on this issue.”

Companies of Google’s size typically have their own teams of government relations experts, who can lobby without any public transparency.

The current system only shows the details of third-party lobbyists.

Even then, problems with the system obscure the details of third-party lobbyists.

The former role of Tegg as an advisor to Morrison, for example, does not appear on the lobbyist register.

Instead, that column lists his prior government role only as “null”.

The flaws with the system have sparked repeated calls for reform. In New South Wales, the Independent Commission Against Corruption is exploring whether it’s possible to give transparency to the activities of in-house lobbyists, in a way that would capture the full gamut of lobbying activities engaged in by companies like Google.

• Guardian Australia has been in discussion with Google over inclusion in its new “Showcase” offering that would see the company pay news providers for inclusion in this product

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