I don’t think New Zealand politicians have anything to fear from more open and transparent rules around the activities of lobbyists. The lobbyists I’ve come into contact with in my short time as an MP have been decent people and shouldn’t have anything to fear from a more transparent system either. In fact, the natural suspicion that the secrecy around their current activity arouses would be reduced, potentially leaving them better off in the long run.
I’m pleased the Labour Party has decided to support the Private Members Bill introduced by Sue Kedgley at First Reading, should it be drawn from the ballot. The Bill does two main things. First, it establishes a Register of Lobbyists, to be administered by the Auditor General. Second, it requires the Auditor General to establish a Lobbyist’s Code of Conduct and ensure that it is enforced.
I’ve had a chance to have a quick read through Sue’s Bill and I think it’s a good start, although I’m concerned that it may go wider than necessary. For example, as I read it under the current wording of the Bill, a plumber who makes an appointment to see their local MP to complain that the registration fees imposed by their professional body are too high would technically be deemed to be a lobbyist and therefore be required to register as one or be in breach of the law. I think that’s going a bit far.
New Zealanders are fortunate that we have a form of government that is incredibly open and accessible. Anyone can make an appointment to see their local MP and I’d hate to see any moves to regulate professional lobbyists compromise that. But that’s a question of detail and I’m sure it can be worked through at select committee, should the Bill make it that far. This is certainly a debate worth having.