Chauvel on the union exemption from lobbying transparency

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald reports:

His amendment would exempt unions and labour organisations, as well as groups such as charities, non-governmental organisations, community groups, churches and sports bodies.

Five trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party and donate to it, but Mr Chauvel said he had put in the amendment off his own bat. He said the unions were relaxed about the bill, but he believed they were in a similar position to philanthropic, voluntary organisations which were not-for-profit.

“When trade unions came up, it seemed to me that they fell on the not- quite-so-sinister-and-behind-the-scenes side of things.”

He said corporate lobbying had the power to change policy, and was often done on the quiet.

What an incredible argument. Is he saying unions do not have the power to change policy? The CTU has actually written policy adopted by Labour. The unions have huge influence on parliamentary policy.

Ministers are obliged under the OIA to disclose any meetings, if asked. Opposition MPs are not, so any lobbying done on the quiet is of opposition MPs, but of Ministers.

“There is a big public interest in knowing what corporates are doing because they can afford heft lobbying and hospitality, and research and all the rest,” Mr Chauvel said.

I blogged on this some years ago, but be assured that the unions have far greater funds and assets than the business groups such as Business NZ and the Chambers of Commerce.

And is Charles arguing that it is a bad thing for research to be provided to MPs?

Ms Walker said changes were needed to ensure the bill did not cover everyone who spoke to an MP. However, she believed trade unions should be covered by the bill despite Labour’s stance.

Good. The current definition is problematic, and the solutions are not obvious. But one thing I can tell you is that an argument for unions to be exempt is a self-serving one that flies in the face of any claims to actually want transparency.

UPDATE: The Waikato Times editorial is excellent:

Labour’s says the bill can be made more workable by exempting the community and voluntary sector from a major burden. He has the gall to include trade unions in that group. This attempt to confine the bill’s scope to commercial organisations, as one commentator observed, would introduce “loopholes you could drive a busload of through” while undermining the bill’s objectives.

Wanting to flush National’s business mates into the open but allow Labour’s union mates to continue lobbying covertly is shamefully unprincipled. More perplexing, it would expose a well-intentioned bill to a partisan buffeting that would threaten to sink it.

It is shamefully unprincipled indeed.

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