The Lobbying Disclosure Bill

Gareth Richards reviews the Lobbying Disclosure Bill in NZ Lawyer:

As drafted, the Bill applies only to lobbyists that receive payment to carry out lobbying activities. This requirement seems difficult to justify, as in principle, there is little difference between:

  • A paid lobbyist lobbying a Minister for policy change on behalf of an organisation;
  • A person lobbying a Minister for policy change voluntarily on behalf of an organisation; and
  • A person lobbying a Minster for a policy change for their own private benefit.

It is unclear why being paid to lobby is a threshold test that triggers the requirement to disclose lobbying activities. The explanatory note offers no clues to explain why paid lobbying has been singled out.

One reason may be that removing the payment requirement would open “lobbying activity” up to an extremely large number of interactions; absent the ‘payment’ requirement, arguably a constituent who met with their local MP seeking a policy change would meet the definition of “lobbying activity”.

Requiring a payment relationship between the lobbyist and his or her principal before the lobbying activity is reported risks an under-inclusive regime. It will catch only a subset of the influence the Bill is concerned to cast sunlight on. There are readily conceivable scenarios where individuals may seek to lobby Ministers and MPs to obtain private benefits, for example immigration or foreign investment policy changes, which would not be caught by the Bill as drafted because the lobbyist is not paid for his or her services. There are also people who will, unpaid, communicate with MPs or Ministers on behalf of influential groups and organisations.

The current definition is problematic. I would have to register as a lobbyist for InternetNZ (which I do little lobbying on behalf of) yet would not to have to register as a lobbyist for KeepIt18 (which I do much lobbying on behalf of).

MPs and local authorities frequently lobby Ministers and other MPs about legislative, regulatory, and policy change, yet there is no requirement to disclose these activities under the Bill.

It is presumed the response to this is that lobbying is such a core and frequent part of the role of MPs and local authorities that: (a) it does not need to be proactively disclosed; and (b) if it had to be disclosed, the volume of interactions would make the register unworkable.

If those responses are accepted, then the Bill will create two classes of lobbying – one done by elected representatives which the public must uncover in some way and another done by everyone else which must be proactively disclosed.

Also a valid issue.

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