Lobbying – out of the shadows

The announcement by the Prime Minister of potential regulation of lobbyists and other matters is welcome news to those TINZ members and Directors who have built an evidence base to support our advocacy on political integrity. 

It also highlights the value of good research and good journalism. This includes comparison of New Zealand lobbying with 9 other countries and an Assessment of lobbying in New Zealand against the OECD principles - both were provided to the New Zealand chapter of GOPAC (the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians against Corruption) 

TINZ will actively participate in the next stage. 

Scope, transparency, reporting and accountability are key elements in developing effective regulation. Key points:

  • Any register of lobbyists should be public.
  • Third party lobbying coverage should be broader than lobbying specific individuals or organisations, but should not be so wide as to limit freedom of speech (this was a major criticism of the 2012 draft Lobbying Disclosure Act).
  • A lobbying regime must cover both the behaviour and actions of lobbyists, and the lobbied, e.g. government officials and MPs/advisors.
  • A code of conduct for lobbyists needs teeth through an oversight mechanism, reporting and consequences.
  • A cooling off period for Ministers is supported by New Zealanders as it reduces the likelihood and perception of conflict of interest.
  • Upskilling on lobbying ethical practice for MPs, senior public service officials and lobbyists should be part of any policy measures.

Lobbying reform is a key component of an integrity net for Ministers, Members of Parliament and senior public servants that also includes the Cabinet Manual, Standing Orders, Official Information Act use, openness of Minister’s diaries and clear conflict of interest guidance. 

With these measures in place and observed, a more transparent and ethical government should follow.

As Prime Minister Hipkins stated, we are behind other countries. Three examples amongst many are: 

  • Australia has had lobbying regulation since 1983 including a federal public register of lobbyists, which is dated as it only covers third party lobbyists. More recent Australian state legislation in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia have evolved a deeper scope and more transparency.
  • Scotland has a searchable lobbyist database which focuses not just on lobbying to parliament but also includes returns for instances of regulated lobbying made by registered individuals or organisations.
  • Canada has over 5,000 registered lobbyists with regulation in place since 1998 and ethics requirements to cover both those lobbied and those lobbying. Canada is just progressing through a five yearly statutory review, which would be a worthwhile measure to include in any New Zealand legislation, as there is clearly a pattern of regulatory evolution in this area.

Lobbying influence sits at the heart of equity of access of citizens to the public debate. Maintaining the effectiveness of legislative development and of Select Committees in the face of a powerful Executive is another important aspect of equity. That is for a future article.

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