Guest Post: Statutory bodies lobbying government

A guest post by Gary Lindsay:

On Saturday I managed to get myself banned from the Facebook page for Fish and Game New Zealand, after commenting on this post about their blanket opposition to reforms. It's not the first time I have been banned from Facebook pages and will probably not be the last. It's also not the first time that I have been banned for putting forward a rational argument at odds with what the admins think. What makes this different is that Fish and Game is a statutory body, whose job is prescribed by New Zealand .

The Fish and Game Council is the body who get the money from hunting and fishing licenses (except for Taupo licenses). In return they are responsible for managing the fresh water fishery and game habitats and ancillary activities (link). One of their statutory functions is also to “Advocate generally and in any statutory planning process the interests of Fish & Game New Zealand and, with its agreement, any regional Fish & Game Council in the management of sports fish and game, and habitats.” Whether this includes a propaganda campaign opposing a major government policy that is vaguely in their sphere of interest is a matter of conjecture. Personally I think it'd be a hard sell to convince anyone.

As a statutory body, Fish and Game shouldn't have a policy of blanket opposition to RMA reforms, and certainly shouldn't be using such emotive terms as ”Attack on RMA” and “Attack on Kiwi Values”. They should also be careful about using the opinion of a former prime from the opposition party, even if he is head of the Law Society. The Environment Minister has said that the reforms will not result in water degradation, so the points raised are controversial at best or incorrect at worst. It reminds me of being required to join VUWSA when I was studying, even though I didn't agree with any of their policies either – although I am sure the Fish and Game Council won't be spending money on cannabis for J-Day.

Instead of blanket opposition to the reforms, surely the best result for anglers will be if the Fish and Game Council work with the government to ensure their concerns are dealt with. Shutting the door on dialogue is counter-productive and will only result in Fish and Game being ignored through the reform process. And it will be recreational anglers, not the Fish and Game Council or anyone else, who will (potentially) lose.

Today I am asking myself: to what extent should statutory bodies be allowed to lobby the government? Should those organisations be allowed to be the political mouthpiece of the people who are elected to run them? Or should the government demand that they should stick to their statutory functions and not overstep the mark? I know that other statutory bodies, such as the hundreds of commissions (such as the Human Rights Commission) do lobby the government and do criticise government policies, however their role is not to manage a resource. Other government bodies manage their business and make recommendations to the government but tend to stay away from politics, like the old Department of Building and . Exactly what should the lobbying role of this government body be?

Finally, since I know it will be brought up in the discussions, I would like to say why somebody who lives in Queensland has an interest in this at all. It is simple – although I live in Australia, I fish in both countries. I also retain strong ties to New Zealand through my family and friends, and I have an interest in politics and governance in general. Some will also recognise that I do sometimes enjoy a bit of trolling, and will think “I'm not surprised that he got banned.” I wasn't trolling in this instance (I wouldn't be writing this if I was), however I was questioning their policy. I can supply a copy of what I wrote prior to being banned.

It's bad enough when taxpayer funded lobby groups use taxpayer money to attack the Government (they should use their own not mine), but even worse when a statutory body with compulsory funding does so.

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