Lobbyists

Stuff reports:

Legislation to set up a register has been put forward by the Green Party.

Green MP today released a copy of Lobbying Disclosure Bill, which she said would go on to the member’s ballot at the next opportunity.

Well thanks to Labour filibustering, there won’t be an opportunity before the election, and as Sue is retiring it means the proposed bill will never be drawn unless another MP adopts it after the election. Its a good reminder of how Labour’s tactics are depriving all other backbenchers from having their bills considered.

Turning to the substance:

The bill would set up a register and a code of conduct for lobbyists.

As in Canada and other western countries, lobbyists would have to publicly notify all meetings with MPs.

I’m not entirely sure what problem this bill seeks to solve. All meetings are discoverable under the OIA. Do you need a law when an e-mail every six months will achieve the same with regard to meetings.

The proposed law also requires lobbyists to disclose their clients. Now look I’m not saying there is a problem with having a register, but it is already pretty well known who represents whom.  And some firms, such as Saunders Unsworth, actually list their clients on their website.

I’m not aware of any behaviour when a lobbyist has not disclosed whom they are acting on behalf of.

So while I’m not against a register of lobbyists, I don’t think it is the most pressing issue facing the country. but members bills are about backbench MPs proposing what they see as important, so Sue has done that.

”The public has no way of knowing who is lobbying their politicians or what they are being lobbied about. There is also no information available on which lobbyists have special access to Parliament granted to them by the Speaker,” Kedgley said.

This fixation with special access to Parliament mystifies me. Hundreds of non parliamentarians have ID cards for Parliament. Dozens of party office holders have them, as do dozens of the youth wings who often come in to volunteer. Family members have them, as do hundreds of govt officials.

We have security at Parliament not to make it hard for people to see MPs, but to stop terrorists coming in and blowing the place up. My view is that anyone who is a regular visitor to Parliament (say more than 2-3 times a year) should be able to get a ID card so long as someone will vouch for them.

I’ve had an ID card since 1996. I was staff from 1996 to 2004 and after I left I’ve kept a card as I usually come into Parliament once ever couple of months or so and it is handly to avoid going through the metal detectors.

In the last few months, most of my visits have actually been to meet Labour, Green and ACT MPs over the copyright and telecommunications bills (where I have in fact been lobbying for them to support changes that National was against), plus been attending meetings about the reporting of suicides chaired by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.

If there is a register of lobbyists, a key issue will be how you define lobbyists. 90% of lobbying is done directly by staff working for corporates. I would suggest they should be listed, not just the external lobbying firms.

Arguably I could be regarded as a lobbyist for InternetNZ. For many years I chaired their Public Policy Committee as Vice-President of InternetNZ. As VP I had a small honorarium of $12,000 a year. I’ve retired as VP, but still chair the now titled Policy Advisory Group. This involves literally chairing the monthly meetings, but also meeting with policy staff regularly to help develop submissions, pro-actively identifying policy issues etc. I am now technically a contractor, as I am no longer an officer, and still get $12,000 a year for it.

Now for the last seven years or so, I’ve been one of the InternetNZ people who speaks to our submissions at select committees, and meets with MPs to advocate for what we regard as good for the Internet.

One could argue I am a paid lobbyist for InternetNZ in my current role. I don’t quite see it like that because my advocacy is based on my beliefs of what is good for the Internet, which coincide with InternetNZ. But under the proposed law, I might be classified as a lobbyist. Now that doesn’t worry me at all, but it seems strange to me as I’m not like a lawyer or lobbyist who will argue for a client regardless of their own beliefs. If ever INZ adopted a policy position I disagreed with, I would not take part in the advocacy around it.

Now depending on how you define a lobbyist, my advocacy on behalf of InternetNZ might be deemed lobbying in my role as a contractor to them, but how about when I was their Vice-President? I was doing much the same then, as I was today. I would argue you should say that if I am deemed a lobbyist as a contractor, I am also a lobbyist as an office holder.

Now if you do take that definition, then just be aware that an awfully large number of people will now be classified as lobbyists. I’d suspect 1,000+ people would fall into that definition.

As I said at the beginning, thanks to Labour this bill will never see light of day. If it ever gets adopted by another MP in future, then a very interesting issue will be that definition of a lobbyist.

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