Lawyer and lobbyist Jordan Williams, in his opinion piece on my Lobbying Disclosure Bill in the Dominion Post today, has taken a narrow view of the importance of transparency in our political system and is misguided in some of his concerns about the effects of the bill.
The intent of this bill is to bring openness and transparency to lobbying activity in New Zealand. It does this by establishing a code of conduct for lobbyists and a disclosure regime for those undertaking lobbying activity. While we haven’t been caught up in the high-profile scandals that have been seen overseas, lobbying is increasingly influential and is completely unregulated. This bill is an opportunity for New Zealand to create best practice while we can.
Jordan Williams, as one of the select few lobbyists with swipe card access to Parliament, is hardly a neutral bystander on this issue.
Many of the fears raised by Mr Williams are unfounded. The bill as currently drafted does have a very wide definition of what counts as lobbying activity in order to ensure that it captures influence whenever and wherever it takes place. However, as I flagged in my first reading speech, the bill as currently drafted is a starting point only, and those definitions will be amended as necessary to ensure public access to MPs is not affected.
A wonderful thing about New Zealand is how approachable and accessible our MPs are. In no way is this bill an attempt to restrict this access or to have a chilling effect on interactions between the public and their representatives. However, as part of this open and accessible system, we need to be transparent about who has that access – the public has a right to know who is lobbying MPs on which issues, which is the purpose of the bill. Lobbying transparency will help to level the playing field in terms on influence on decision making.
Since the bill was pulled from the ballot, I have met with many stakeholders and members of the public to talk through the ins and outs of the bill, including with the mining industry. I have received great suggestions and feedback from a wide range of stakeholders. In these meetings, and in my first reading speech in Parliament, I have been open about the changes that will be required to ensure that the bill is workable and practical, while still upholding the importance of openness and transparency.
The bill is currently before select committee, where it will be worked through to make the amendments needed. Submissions are open until Friday 5th October and I encourage everyone who’d like to have their say on this issue to make a submission to the committee. I’m confident that we will enact a great lobbying transparency regime with wide public and political support.