Another deal shows importance of transparency

This week we’ve had another reminder of the importance of transparency about lobbying activity.

On Wednesday in the House, Winston Peters forced Immigration Minister Nathan Guy to come clean about an agreement between the Government and a Chinese airline to allow frequent flyers to skip normal border checks when coming into NZ. It’s since come to light that SkyCity has been working with this same airline to bring VIP gamblers into Auckland “seamlessly”.

Peters was only able to do this because he had obtained leaked documents detailing the agreement.

The public have the right to know the extent of the Government’s relationship with SkyCity, which keeps coming up again and again. The Auditor General is currently investigating the Government’s ‘pokies for a Convention Centre’ deal with SkyCity and this latest revelation again raises serious questions about Ministerial influence and fairness.

Instead of stories like this emerging through a flurry of accusations, speculation and dramatic exchanges at Question Time, there needs to be transparency through a proactive lobbying disclosure regime, to make public who is meeting with our decision-makers about what issues.

The problem is, as I raised in relation to the Snapper example last week, these instances only become public because people know how to ask the right questions or are able to get hold of private documents.

And while this has provided us with yet another example of lobbying activity, it’s also important to remember that this sort of activity is going on all of the time. While some instances, like this, bubble up to the surface and become public knowledge, many others never come to light.

8 Comments Posted

  1. But that is exactly the point; the government are elected to express their views, whereas the unelected can merely offer advice, which may be taken or ignored.

    In my world the government (political branch) aren’t elected just to express their views. They’re elected to make decisions and authorise the implementation of those decisions.

    We’re already paying a heap of qualified professionals to generate expert advice in an impartial way. With some exceptions this advice is available openly, where the public can use it to assess decisions made by Ministers. Even when it’s not directly connected with decisions, this information and advice streams out of departments all the time for Ministers and everyone to read, and affects day-to-day decisions. Irrespective of whether Ministers accept that advice, it ensures the decision-making process and the bulk of the information used to arrive at those decisions remains above board. There’s a clear context of the information available when watching what decision-makers decide things over and over again. It’s an important element in helping people to understand and trust the system.

    As soon as lobbyists are involved, potentially substantial amounts of significant information and influence received by Ministers becomes obscured, uncertain and generally hidden. A Minister will always reassure everyone that they’ve assessed all available information and made an appropriate decision, but the publicly visible context is gone. You can no longer know beyond reasonable doubt that any decision hasn’t been strongly influenced by favoured entities paying for privileged access, and potentially using practised manipulative techniques to influence the decision making, but more importantly it’s very possible you won’t even consider that possibility without first having had access to the alternative information the decision maker received.

    Influence from privileged access on day-to-day decisions isn’t necessarily apparent unless there’s clearly visible documentation on who has that access and what it’s about. If we know that Minister X has been regularly meeting with Entity Y officials and discussing certain topics, it might suddenly be far more apparent that many of Minister X’s decisions have been silently favouring Entity Y over others, and it might suddenly imply a very good reason for Minister X to more clearly explain why they’ve been making decisions as they have.

    Aside from the obvious, this is largely about members of the public being able to trust the process and system of government, giving everyone a clearer picture of what’s going on and who’s pulling the strings. It’s not just about being able to examine big major decisions and trace them back to possible corruption. It’s at least as much about being able to look at countless small day-to-day decisions in a fuller context of how they were made and the influence that’s been involved.

    Fostering public trust of government is why we have things like the Official Information Act, it’s why we have an anonymous paper-trail electoral system with manual counting, and it’s why we should have an open record of who’s lobbying government officials with privileged access over others and at least the gist of what they’re talking about.

  2. The immigration department has pointed out the dangers of the special deal organized by sky casino, the Nats and this Chinese airline.

    I know precisely jack about the Chinese flying deal or the Sky City deal, so will say zip on it, however there is an underlying issue, and nznative’s comment exactly addresses that issue.

    What we essentially elect a government to do is manage risk, and different complexions of governments have differening opinions on the likelihood and impact of risks eventuating, and the benefit and/or value to NZ if we address or ignore the risk.

    Based on the comments, the elected representatives of the people clearly are less risk adverse than the immigration department. But that is exactly the point; the govnerment are electred to express their views, whereas the unelected can merely offer advice, which may be taken or ignored.

    As we are discussing risk, it is the very nature of risk that something may or may not happen. It is entirely possible that the non-elected view is correct. Give it enough time, and every view will be correct.

  3. Strange there is no concern about the 57 countries from which we have no visa requirements. Gamble way. No problem.

    Arana – you must have misread the issue. It’s about offering preferential treatment to a subset of citizens of China (based effectively on financial status as a measure of legitimacy) as opposed to amending visa requirements for all Chinese citizens.

    Further, it’s effectively legislating to apply commercial advantage to a foreign airline – I haven’t seen the same exemption positioned for Air NZ – which is absurd.

  4. The immigration department has pointed out the dangers of the special deal organized by sky casino, the Nats and this Chinese airline.

    Its Nationals style of government tho …… they just make the shit up as they go…… and then lie about it.

    Resignations are looming I would have thought …..

  5. Strange there is no concern about the 57 countries from which we have no visa requirements. Gamble way. No problem.

    So, the question becomes, why are we being so hard on the Chinese?

    I think this highlights one of the many problems with this bill – and the main idea that I suspect is driving it – politicians making a mountain out of a molehill to serve their own dubious political ends.

  6. There is so much important stuff that needs immediate attention. This issue is just a distraction. It doesn’t matter.

  7. As I understand it the deal allowed members of the gold and silver flyer program the ability to enter the country without proving salary, which by any stretch of the imagination is along way from skipping border checks. I’d expect slightly more due diligence from Green Party MPs than jumping on Winston Peter’s latest bandwagon.

  8. It seems like Winston the old attack dog has caught out National once again.

    The Nats style of Government seems to be about doing backroom deals ( with backhanders? ) and then telling lies about it when questioned.

    When will we start seeing resignations???????

    John Key’s government …….. masters of the backroom shady deals.

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