This time it’s the influence of the alcohol lobby on the Government’s decision not to tackle RTDs in the Alcohol Reform Bill. This story was highlighted in yesterday’s Sunday Star Times, where details of the number and nature of interactions between Justice Minister Judith Collins and representatives of the RTD industry were revealed.
The power of the alcohol lobby was one of the concerns that prompted my former colleague Sue Kedgley to draft the Lobbying Disclosure Bill in the first place. As well as my predecessor as open government spokesperson, Sue was the Green Party’s health and alcohol spokesperson, and she had witnessed the apparent influence of the industry on government policy first hand for a number of years.
In the Government’s decision not to tackle RTDs, or indeed the important issues of price and marketing in reducing alcohol-related harm, it appears we have another example of that influence.
Once again, it is only because some smart savvy people knew what questions to ask and what information to request that this influence has come to light publicly. If we had more robust rules about lobbying transparency, like those proposed in my Lobbying Disclosure Bill, information like the number of times Ministers met with industry representatives would be proactively disclosed to the public much sooner.
It would also enable us to judge whether Ministers are getting a balanced perspective on key issues – by revealing, for example, how many times the same Ministers met with health campaigners and NGOs. If the lobbyist register showed that Judith Collins met with the New Zealand Drug Foundation as often as she met with the alcohol industry, then perhaps we would have nothing to worry about.
The fact that this seems highly unlikely is part of the reason we need greater transparency about lobbying activity across the board. If Ministers end up seeking a more balanced perspective before making key decisions in the knowledge that who they met with will be a matter of public record within three months, all the better.