The original aim of this bill was to bring a measure of transparency and public disclosure to lobbying activity in New Zealand, and to enhance trust in the integrity of political decision-making by establishing a statutory register of lobbyists. The vast majority of those who made submissions on the bill supported the principle of greater transparency in political lobbying. What the submissions also showed though was that a lobbying disclosure regime for New Zealand needed to balance the principles of openness and transparency with the need to be practical and workable. After hearing from submitters, I drew up an alternative proposal that I felt addressed the concerns that were raised, however the Committee still decided not to pursue a register of lobbyists.
Even though it was disappointing that the committee decided that the bill should not pass, the committee did recommend a number of non-legislative options to introduce greater transparency around political lobbying.
The recommendations to Parliament and Government, if implemented, would really make a difference to the transparency of decision-making in New Zealand. The recommendations include:
- that the House develop guidelines for members of Parliament on handling lobbying communications, which could include mechanisms for disclosure and reporting by MPs and lobbyists
- that the Government require the regulatory impact statements and explanatory notes of parliamentary bills to include the names of any non-departmental organisations consulted during the development of legislation and policy
- the proactive release of policy papers to make the policymaking process more transparent.
The public has a right to know who is influencing MPs and about what, and citizens deserve to have confidence in the decisions made by Government and Parliament. Greater disclosure around how policy and legislation is formed, as well as guidelines for MPs about lobbying communications, should really help with that confidence.
Current political events have highlighted how important the principles of open government and transparency are to New Zealanders. I’m now urging Parliament and the Government to take these recommendations seriously and implement them as soon as possible. They were adopted unanimously by the Select Committee with cross-party support, so I can see no reason why this can’t happen.