Misinformation from the PM on lobbyists

Radio NZ reported:

She rejected any implication that Faafoi’s knowledge of the workings of the government and positions of individual MPs could expose them to more targeted lobbying.

“Every New Zealander knows our policies by our manifesto,” Ardern said.

Is there a word beyond farcical? Is the Prime Minister really suggesting that a member of her Cabinet knows no more about what the Government will do than a member of the public? It’s ludicrous and insulting to our intelligence.

The only way this could not be misinformation is if the Cabinet doesn’t actually discuss policies or legislation when they meet. Considering how appalling their delivery is, you can’t entirely rule that out as an option 🙂

But seriously it is also factually wrong. Take for example Three Waters. It was not even in Labour’s manifesto. Neither was consolidating the polytechs etc.

Cabinet debates and decides on every major piece of government legislation. They decide on what options to proceed with, and when to backtrack (as with KiwiSaver Funds GST). They debate pros and cons in great detail. At Cabinet Committees they receive detailed advice from officials.

And within their own portfolios Minister receive the most valuable info of all – oral briefings. This is the stuff so sensitive that it is never put in writing so it can’t be discovered under the OIA.

There is also great commercial impact from decisions. They can decide on share sales, on regulatory regimes, on proposed taxes. The criteria for being a default KiwiSaver fund can be worth a billion dollars to a KiwiSaver fund manager.

I can’t think of anything more valuable to a lobbyist (and I know most of the ones in NZ) than having sat around the Cabinet tables just a few weeks ago.

“What’s important is transparency. Ministers, when they meet … we report through our pro-active diary release every single person that we meet with, we report on what subjects we meet with [them about].

“It is not voluntary – it must be reported as part of our official information Act proactive releases, which we’ve been doing since we’ve been in government.

This is also factually incorrect as Thomas Cranmer points out.

When you look at the dairy entries themselves there are numerous errors and inconsistencies. For instance, Minister Mahuta’s diary records a meeting on 19 May 2020 at 8:30pm with Minister Davis. The corresponding entry doesn’t appear in Davis’s diary. Likewise on 14 April 2022, Minister Woods’s diary records a meeting with, amongst others, Minister Mahuta. The corresponding entry doesn’t appear in Mahuta’s diary. …

Of more concern are some of the omissions in Minister Mahuta’s diary. On 21 April 2022 Mahuta listed a meeting in her diary with “Taumata Arowai Board Chair”. When asked by National’s Simeon Brown if anyone else was present at the meeting, Mahuta replied that it included government officials and her sister, Tipa Mahuta, the Chair of the Maori Advisory Group (Te Puna) within Taumata Arowai. That is clearly a significant omission because the appointment of Tipa Mahuta and her on-going professional interactions with her sister, the Minister, has attracted criticism due to its inherent conflict with personal and professional relationships.

When the Minister was asked why her diary omitted to state that she had met with her sister, Tipa Mahuta, in her capacity as Chair of Te Puna, the Minister replied:

The pro-active diary release is not intended to be an exhaustive list of meeting attendees.

If only media were as good as Cranmer about fact checking!

“There are literally thousands of public servants who equally are privy to the decision-making and the positions of ministers – we don’t require a cooling off period for them.

This is a nonsense comparison. Public servants only have insight into their portfolio area, or a section of a portfolio area. And none of them attend Cabinet except the Cabinet Secretary. The value of say a Deputy Chief Executive of a government agency to a lobbying firm is minor compared to a just retired Cabinet Minister.

We also don’t require someone … who comes out of government to stand down from being in a private sector company, who equally could benefit from knowing the positioning of government.”

This is also a fairly nonsensical comparison. Private sector companies are about selling their particular goods and services. Certainly a former Minister can add some value to their boards but it will be about their understanding of the general political environment.

But you have to understand what a lobbyist is about. The job of a lobbyist is to influence government policy on behalf of a client. It may be to stop or amend a proposed law or policy, or to get a law introduced. But it is about impacting the political process. Again the benefit of having someone who sat around the Cabinet table a few weeks ago is massive.

“New Zealand is not like the United States, I would even argue it’s not comparable to Australia. 

No we are not comparable. They have stand down periods for Ministers to become lobbyists. We do not.

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