Analysis by Dr Bryce Edwards.
Political Roundup: Lobbyists use the revolving door into mayoral offices
Lobbyists are currently facing increased scrutiny, especially in terms of their propensity to shift back and forwards through Parliament’s “revolving door” – most starkly illustrated by former Cabinet Minister Kris Faafoi setting up a lobbying company only months after leaving the Beehive, where his former Government colleagues still hold power.
But there are also revolving doors for lobbyists and political insiders in and out of New Zealand’s mayoral offices. The recent local government elections involved a number of lobbyists and PR insiders either standing for office or helping candidates win their campaigns. In the last week have seen questionable conflicts of interest created by new appointments and elected roles.
A Lobbyist Mayor of Wellington
Perhaps the most obvious example is the election of corporate lobbyist Tory Whanau as the Mayor of Wellington. Whanau was previously the Chief of Staff for the Greens in the Beehive, but left that role last year to join Neale Jones’ corporate lobbying firm, Capital Government Relations to work alongside other prominent lobbyists like Ben Thomas, Clint Smith, and Hayden Munro.
Whanau’s lobbying role and networks were never given much scrutiny during her campaign. But now that she has won office, pressure needs to be put on Whanau to disclose Capital Government Relations’ clients. If this doesn’t happen, there will always be suspicion about Whanau’s role as mayor and any continued loyalties and association with corporate vested interests.
Whanau might protest that she has now stepped down from her Capital Government Relations lobbying position, but the whole point of the “revolving door” critique is that conflict of interests don’t magically dissolve the minute someone moves from lobbyist to politician or vice versa.
The most important Capital Government Relations clients Whanau needs to disclose are property developers. She is now embarking on a programme of housing reform in Wellington which has the potential to greatly enrich numerous property developers by policy changes she says she will push through. And given that Capital Government Relations actively lobby politicians on behalf of property developers, this disclosure of her previous employer’s property links is vital.
Whanau’s three-way trip through the revolving door (to the Beehive, to lobbying and now to being a politician) provides an important case study in the “revolving door”, as it’s all happened without any stand-down periods or scrutiny about conflicts of interest. She has gone from sitting on different sides of the vested interests table three times within the space of about a year. And of course, there will be nothing to stop her going straight back into a lucrative lobbying career in three years’ time.
Auckland Council lobbyists and political operatives
The election of Wayne Brown as Auckland’s mayor also represents a useful case study of the shift through the revolving door of lobbyists and political insiders. Brown’s election campaign made heavy use of professional political operatives, some of whom have just been employed to work in the Mayor’s Office in Auckland.
Whanau’s firm Capital Government Relations was involved in the campaign, too – making the lobbying firm central to the election of politicians who run both cities. In particular lobbyist Ben Thomas, who also provides political commentary for Stuff, the Spinoff, and RNZ, was Brown’s media manager. It’s not clear if he will continue to work for Brown.
Thomas’ former boss at the lobbying firm Exceltium, Matthew Hooton, was also involved in Brown’s campaign as an advisor, and has since been employed as the Mayor’s Interim Head of Policy and Communications. Hooton writes a weekly column for the New Zealand Herald.
The Mayor’s new acting Chief of Staff is Tim Hurdle, who is a professional political public relations consultant – with a long background of electioneering for the National Party. He has also working for international rightwing political consultants Crosby Textor. He and his wife, Jacinda Lean, run a consultancy that was utilised to do all the market research that gave Brown the edge in the mayoral campaign. Lean has also been employed by Brown, as his acting Deputy Chief of Staff. In recent months Hurdle has appeared on RNZ’s weekly political commentary slot, alongside fellow lobbyist Neale Jones.
Another key figure appointed by Brown is Max Hardy, a partner at top law firm Meredith Connell. Hardy is regarded by lobbying insiders as one of the most successful lobbyists in the field. He is married to rising Labour Party MP and close ally of the Prime Minister, Arena Williams.
Yesterday it was also announced that former New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft had also joined Brown’s staff as a political adviser.
Shining a light on the corporate connections in mayoral offices.
Local government has long been seen as a place where elected and appointed officials have been able to push the agendas of the wealthy, including property owners and developers. Rules and policies that are developed at the local level can have a huge impact on the value of property and business in particular. Too often the powerful political and corporate connections in mayoral and council chambers stay in the dark. Hence, we need much greater scrutiny of the vested interests operating at the local government level, as well as central government.
In particular, citizens should be asking how confident they can be that the new powerful people in mayoral offices in places like Wellington and Auckland are not pushing the interests of the wealthy vested interests they have been working for or connected with prior to moving into their new positions.
The answer is transparency. A light needs to be shone on the clients of the political insiders going through the various revolving doors. The best way to do this at the moment is to have any lobbyist going into public office – elected as in the case of Whanau, or appointed in the case of Hooton, etc – make a declaration of recent clients of their respective firms.
We need much better regulation of the lobbying industry, and it’s positive that there is now a growing conversation about this. Of course some lobbyists can see which way the wind is blowing on this and will suggest minimal regulation such as a register of lobbyists or a code of conduct. Those are all useful mechanisms, but ultimately what we need is full transparency – lobbyists disclosing their clients. And the good news about this mechanism is that it could occur immediately without any law change. Lobbyists involved in local government like Tory Whanau or Ben Thomas could simply choose to disclose their clients today if they want to. But to do so they will need to be pressured by the public. Hopefully that pressure will start building now.
Items of interest and importance today
GOVERNMENT AND PARLIAMENT
Damien Venuto (Herald): Why Government lobbying rules need to change
David Farrar: Misinformation from the PM on lobbyists
Michael Neilson (Herald): National leader Christopher Luxon unaware Kuriger met Agriculture Minister over son’s MPI dispute
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): It’s time to drop the voting threshold and give smaller parties a chance
Duncan Garner (NBR): An old political dog is barking (paywalled)
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Jacinda Ardern says she hasn’t faced ‘blatant’ sexism from other politicians like Julia Gillard did
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why National have no solutions to the economic problems we face
Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Paul Eagle returns to Parliament after Wellington mayoral defeat, stays mum on whether he’ll run for MP again
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Transport Minister Michael Wood kept Aucklanders in the dark over rail disruption, says National
Graham Adams (The Platform): Three Waters: Voters don’t know the half of it
Thomas Cranmer: It’s Stop Work on Three Waters
Anna Rawhiti-Connell (Spinoff): Mayor adds more charge to Three Waters lightning rod
Richard Harman: Brown could end up sinking Three Waters (paywalled)
RNZ: Wayne Brown asks Watercare to stop work on Three Waters
Sapeer Mayron (Stuff): Auckland mayor Wayne Brown asks Watercare to tighten pursestrings, ignore Three Waters
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ELECTIONS
Todd Niall (Stuff): Who will Auckland’s new mayor Wayne Brown turn out to be?
Tom Peters (World socialist website): New Zealand local elections highlight growing opposition to Labour government
Mana Wikaire-Lewis (Māori TV): Ngāi Tahu’s first Tiriti members join Environment Canterbury
Logan Savory (Stuff): Invercargill mayor wants council workshop meetings open to public
No Right Turn: User-pays democracy for some, but not for others
Lincoln Tan (Herald): Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival funding to be continued, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reveals
William Hewett (Newshub): Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says funding will continue for school Shakespeare competition
James Wenley (Stuff): The fuss over Shakespeare is a distraction from the real scandal of arts funding
ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT AND INEQUALITY
Mohammad Alafeshat (RNZ): Spiralling costs driving whānau to breaking point, KidsCan founder says
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Nasty surprise: annual inflation almost unchanged at 7.2%
Susan Edmunds (Stuff): Good news in sight for inflation, but when will NZ households feel relief?
Brent Edwards (NBR): Fair pay will be short-lived if National forms next government (paywalled)
Tom Hunt and Piers Fuller (Stuff): ‘Cautious lift’ in business confidence, but inflation and labour headwinds remain
Andy Fyers (BusinessDesk): Is monetary policy having any impact? (paywalled)
Michael Reddell: Taxes
RNZ: Employment, supply challenges curb growth in buoyant services sector
RNZ: Hospital wait time issues are systemic, say healthcare specialists
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): How do you lose 5000 people in a hospital system?
Emma Russell (Herald): Damning Middlemore Hospital report: ED doctors fear further tragedy at overwhelmed health services
Stephen Forbes (Local Democracy Reporting): Middlemore ED slammed as unsafe for patients and staff
Today FM: Middlemore failure? Health Minister Andrew Little flounders on first question from Tova
Jayden Holmes (Today FM): ‘Frankly wrong’ – National Health spokesperson blasts Andrew Little over Middlemore failure
Anne Gibson (Herald): Aged care crisis: Ryman Healthcare downsizes new hospital bed numbers (paywalled)
RNZ: New Covid-19 legislation key to reducing rushed law making, public law expert says
Adam Pearse (Herald): Covid-19: Lockdowns, vaccine mandates and MIQ to be removed from Govt Covid powers
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Government to consider removing seven-day isolation period, as Covid-19 cases rise
Michael Neilson (Herald): Covid-19 Omicron: Government considers extending Covid-19 Act as case numbers rise, further waves predicted
1News: Covid-19: NZ facing ‘triple threat’ with new variants – expert
Simon Wilson (Herald): The idiotic ideas that dominate our climate debate (paywalled)
Sharon Brettkelly (RNZ): Climate change and our survival instincts
Graham Pinnell (Herald): One simple solution to farm emissions controversy (paywalled)
Luke Kirkness (Herald): Hindsight won’t help us in the fight against climate change (paywalled)
Gordon Campbell: On The Battle Over Emissions Pricing
RNZ: Wellington’s Mount Victoria tunnel closed as climate activist group lowers banner over road
Philippa Toley (Stuff): Tough decisions ahead for NZ if China’s leader gets third term
Eva Corlett (Guardian): New Zealand MP says Rocket Lab launches could betray country’s anti-nuclear stance
Thomas Manch (Stuff): ‘Reinvigoration’ of trans-Tasman military alliance agreed as New Zealand and Australia rebuild pandemic-stricken defence forces
Forough Amin (Stuff): Iran protests reveal NZ politics has flipped
Gavin Ellis: News media face distrust by association
Mohamed Hassan (Guardian): As a Muslim in New Zealand I’ve long yearned for a TV show that reflected my life. So now we’re making one
James Croot (Stuff): A Question of Justice: Don’t expect answers from Prime’s fascinating, but flawed legal series
Imogen Wells (Newshub): Gang numbers: Number of gang members skyrocket since Labour entered Government
Lee Kenny (Stuff): Calls for second chief executive and Māori co-governance at mega-polytech Te Pūkenga
Laura Smith (Herald): Immigration: Rotorua hospitality businesses shut down in protest over Government policy
Stephen Day (Spinoff): Is it time for Picton to have the conversation about changing its name?
Gianina Schwanecke (Stuff): When does a protest become counterproductive to its cause?
Anaru Eketone (ODT): Considering our true founding document
Katie Harris (Herald): ‘Lives can be overturned’: Is deporting migrant sex workers causing more harm than good?
Herald: Russian oligarch targets Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta with racist, homophobic attack
Laura James (1News): 10,000 Kiwis demand ‘more grit’ in accessibility bill
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): How ‘consensual’ is fingerprinting and photographing of Children by Police?
Joseph Los’e (Herald): Te Pāti Māori says racist letter writers and keyboard warriors need to get themselves checked out