Why we need lobbying transparency

Public hearings on my Lobbying Disclosure Bill will start tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to hearing directly from stakeholders and the public, and to working through the details of the bill with the committee.

No doubt the public hearings will also reignite debate about whether lobbying transparency is needed in New Zealand.

Mai Chen, public lawyer and “powerful lobbyist”, has already started stirring things up last week. While some of her concerns about the bill are valid (and are areas that I’ve flagged as requiring amendment at Select Committee to ensure the bill is workable), I disagree with her assertions that there is no need for a lobbying disclosure regime. Indeed the testimonial page from her law firm’s website shows some great examples of the influence successful lobbying can have, including statements like:

“Chen Palmer were prepared to turn on the resources at all levels, including legal support for arguments, political analysis and lobbying. We were working in an area of public policy full of pitfalls that are often difficult to see and predict. They certainly seemed to capture the attention of the right people.”

Mai and others have argued that New Zealand doesn’t need a disclosure regime because we haven’t experienced the high profile scandals involving lobbying that have been common in places like the US and UK.

While this may be true, the reality remains that some people do have a better chance of being heard than others and a lot of the time we don’t know who these people are or the extent of this access. A lot of the time, lobbying takes place behind closed doors, and there are no rules regulating lobbying activity.This bill is a chance for us to create best practice here while we still can.

There is certainly a long list of policy and legislative change over the last few years that are directly attributable to lobbying from a range of groups or individuals. These examples include:

There are also a number of high profile issues in the media right now, including alcohol law reform, plain-packaging for tobacco, mining, and the SkyCity convention centre, which raise legitimate concerns about the influence of political lobbying.

While the upcoming discussions at the select committee will no doubt be robust and at times difficult as we work towards a lobbying disclosure regime that balances workability and practicality with openness and transparency, I’m in no doubt that bringing transparency to lobbying in New Zealand is necessary and worth it.

11 Comments Posted

  1. The irony about Mai Chen’s opposition to the proposed legislation is that specialist lobbyist groups, such as her own, are not the problem now.

    They are just professionals providing advocacy for a client, similar to a beneficiary advocate. They represent clients who do not feel they have any political clout. And they would comply with any rules set up.

    Maybe there is resentment that some groups lobby government more directly and would circumvent the rules. They consult with party official intermediary’s and donate to the party in return for consideration and unofficial access.

    Perhaps all groups donating over (or intending to) a certain amount to a political party in any year (or over a 3 year period before an election) should also have to outline their history of contacts with government (or another political party) over that time. This would supplement the transparency regime for lobbying.

  2. we all know bill like this will not stop some abusing their powers and influences nor stop corruption…
    Did laws against drunk driving ever stop driving drunk completely?

    But we need it to slow the speed of such problem worsening, to make those people think twice before they do wrong things, hopefully it also inconvenient those people…better yet to expose them more…

    Certian kind of lobbying is good and necessary; it’s those secret deals made behind door between lobbiers and govt which ended up damaging public’s wellbeings we aim to watch out for…

  3. I think the bill should go further and give us an insight into the internal machinations of all parties in parliament including the Green Party. But then, I won’t hold my breath. These sorts of bills are usually designed to go only as far as necessary to make a political statement, while maintaining the status quo in one’s own backyard.

  4. Activists are showing us the truth but in some cases they’re just showing and making us belive in the way of their benefits..moreover great article

  5. “would be better spent on health care or public transport or wind farms”

    I look forward to your support for this spending.

  6. Of course Mai Chen and people alike will not like a bill like this. Those people all they can see is big dollor sign and nothing else…whomever can afford their high fees, will be happily taken in as clients, without any consideration of public good, integrity or morals.

    The worst of it all; these legal firms (and other lobbiests)are still trying to look good and decent in front of public…

    In my view, if you have got nothing to hide, you hide nothing.
    According to Mai Chen, we will not need many existing laws in this country since we haven’t had large scaled disasters happened yet, like they did in US and UK…
    Do we even need army?

  7. And in each of the six examples we know who the lobbyists are and… who cares? The government is the one who actually makes the decisions and if we dont like what they do we will cane them. Who cares who they talked to? Still dont see the problem you are trying to solve. The parliamentary costs and ongoing administration costs would be better spent on health care or public transport or wind farms, ………

  8. Great in theory, poor in practice perhaps? The USA lobbying rules require extensive disclosure yet that hasn’t really prevented crony capitalism or government interference in markets it shouldn’t be interfering with…

    But more transparency is always a good thing – provided Labour’s proposal to exclude their own lobbyists – the unions – doesn’t succeed!

  9. Your Bill is flawed, and I think I know why. If you want lobbying transparency, then a workable definition of lobbying would have been a good place to start. A practical disclosure regime would then be fairly self evident. You seem to have started with disclosure and worked back. And don’t put too much credence in Mai Chen’s boasting. Fact is, lobbying in much more effective from representative groups with an engaged constituency. These groups are generally open about it and want to report progress and successes to their membership, so have a built in level of transparency. Flunkies like Mai seldom make any real difference.

  10. Keep up the great work Holly, it is becoming apparent that those who are the loudest critics of the bill are those who would gain most from the status quo. I can see that some of the concerns may be not be just regarding who has influence over the Government but some lobbyists may feel uncomfortable about having who they represent revealed. A successful lobbyist like Mai Chen may lose clients if the breadth of who they have represented becomes common knowledge and they become recognized by the causes they lobby for.

  11. Good onya Holly..
    there are very powerful lobby groups in Aotearoa. I remember hearing that about 65% of kiwis polled in favour of Medicinal use of cannabis. The NZ law commission has also recommended trials & yet this Govt. do NOT support it & even say things like “no real public support for it”

    How can 65% of an adult population be ‘no real support’ ? Unless there are others who are talking over them, that this Govt. ARE listening to !


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