Holly Walker

Snapper example makes case for lobbying transparency

by Holly Walker

New information on the National Government’s involvement in helping a company to get a contract in Auckland’s integrated ticketing shows why we need a transparent lobbying disclosure regime.

In answer to questions in the house a few months ago, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee provided a list of occasions when his predecessor Steven Joyce met with Snapper’s operators and said that, while Snapper’s involvement in Auckland integrated ticketing may have been raised in some of these meetings, the Transport Minister had no part in the council’s commercial decision to contract with Snapper.

That appears to have been untrue. Information gained under the Official Information Act includes a letter showing that a meeting not mentioned by Mr Brownlee took place between Snapper and Mr Joyce in March 2010. The letter thanks Mr Joyce for meeting with NZTA to express his opinion that Snapper should be part of the integrated ticketing system.

(Since then, Auckland Council has terminated its contract with Snapper and could potentially be sued for millions).

This new information certainly raises questions about Mr Joyce’s involvement in the decision. But we’re only just finding out about this now, two and a half years after the fact – by which time Steven Joyce is no longer the Minister and Snapper no longer has the contract with Auckland Council.

And it’s only coming out because the opposition has managed to ask the right questions. If Snapper’s troubles with Auckland Council hadn’t cast the spotlight on its contract, then we might never have found out about Steven Joyce’s role in getting them that contract in the first place.

This is why we need proactive disclosure of lobbying. It should be every New Zealander’s right to know who is approaching Ministers about what. Currently, such meetings can remain secret unless the correct questions are asked – and even then there is a long history of Ministers circumventing the Parliamentary question and OIA processes.

A proactive lobbying disclosure regime would mean that such communications would be a matter of public record much sooner, and without the need for someone to know exactly what to ask for in order to find out. It would give New Zealanders peace of mind that Ministers and lobbyists aren’t trading favours behind closed doors.