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Analysis by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Political Roundup: Momentum growing to reform lobbying laws

Political scientist, Dr Bryce Edwards.

This week global anti-corruption agency Transparency International released a report on lobbying, which described New Zealand’s lack of regulation as “glaring”.

Transparency International New Zealand has developed an international comparison of New Zealand’s lobbying regulations so that MPs here can decide whether to reform this sector. Currently, a group of MPs who are members of the Global Organisation for Parliamentarians Against Corruption, are reportedly weighing up the pros and cons of regulating lobbying in New Zealand.

Transparency International compared New Zealand’s lobbying rules with ten other similar countries, including the US and Canada, and found that New Zealand is at the unregulated end of the spectrum. In contrast, US lobbyists can face prison sentences of up to five years for the activities that are carried out in New Zealand.

The report looked at the seven areas of lobbying regulation that typically occur and found that New Zealand only had two of these: the publishing of Government Ministers’ diaries and MPs’ personal, financial, and business interests. The anti-corruption report says that “the absence of independent oversight of, and personal gains from lobbying in New Zealand is glaring.”

Even lobbyists see that something is wrong

With Transparency International joining the voices highlighting the way that lobbyists have carte blanche ability to assist vested interests and corporates to get their way in New Zealand, will there now be a stronger chance of reform of corporate lobbying?

Revelations that former Cabinet Minister Kris Faafoi recently moved almost straight from the highest levels of government to be a lobbyist highlighted the lack of rules. And Transparency International’s report shows that New Zealand is an outlier in not having any enforced “cooling off” period for politicians before they move into roles with conflicts of interest.

This has become embarrassing even for those working in the lobbying industry. Former journalist Jonathan Hill wrote last month about his own experiences in the area, saying a “stand-down” period for ministers and their staff before they move into lobbying is necessary, and such a rule would help improve public confidence in the industry.

Hill says the industry has been growing very quickly recently, “and there are large sums to be made in it”, but it’s made him feel “uneasy”. Hill writes: “My personal view is that lobbying – or government relations (GR) as it is termed – is a bit of a fraudulent industry.” He goes on to explain how easy it is to lobby politicians in New Zealand.

The fact that political insiders can come into lobbying with no regulation of their conflicts of interests clearly needs attention according to Hill. He points out: “The private sector has restraint of trade, gardening leave and the principle of continuous disclosure to prevent trading on inside information. But our democracy has nothing.”

Hill also suggests that the media is enabling the lucrative lobbying model: “Media should stop using lobbyists as political commentators. This has become common, for no good reason, and serves only to raise the profile of the lobbyist. That’s why they do it.”

Hill isn’t the only one involved in lobbying with doubts about the lack of controls on conflicts of interest. Lobbyist Holly Bennett, who runs the government relations firm Awhi, told RNZ last month that she was able to go straight from working as a ministerial and policy adviser in Parliament to lobbying MPs five years ago. She bluntly states: “I think it’s entirely inappropriate. I shouldn’t have been able to do that.”

Bennett is arguing that the lobbying industry should now proactively set the rules for themselves, arguing in favour of “a code of conduct; a register; and the establishment of an industry regulatory body, similar to the Media Council.”

Politicians arguing over lobbying reform

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is under pressure to do something about the lack of lobbying regulation, especially in light of the Faafoi scandal. Last month she faced strong questions from Guyon Espiner on Morning Report about why Faafoi should be allowed to take insider information from his role as a Cabinet Minister to help private businesses.

Ardern’s response to this was that regulation of ministers becoming lobbyists was unnecessary because: “Every New Zealander knows our intentions and policy from our manifesto”. Espiner was incredulous: “Come on. Are you really making a comparison between a member of the public and a cabinet minister?”

Rightwing political commentator David Farrar responded to Ardern’s argument saying: “Is the Prime Minister really suggesting that a member of her Cabinet knows no more about what the Government will do than a member of the public? It’s ludicrous and insulting to our intelligence. The only way this could not be misinformation is if the Cabinet doesn’t actually discuss policies or legislation when they meet.”

Farrar, who claims to know most lobbyists in New Zealand, says that the information that comes to Ministers from sitting around the Cabinet and ministerial tables is invaluable to corporate clients: “Cabinet debates and decides on every major piece of government legislation. They decide on what options to proceed with, and when to backtrack (as with KiwiSaver Funds GST). They debate pros and cons in great detail. At Cabinet Committees they receive detailed advice from officials. And within their own portfolios Minister receive the most valuable info of all – oral briefings. This is the stuff so sensitive that it is never put in writing so it can’t be discovered under the OIA.”

Farrar uses the example of insider information that Ministers get on an array of commercial decisions: “There is also great commercial impact from decisions. They can decide on share sales, on regulatory regimes, on proposed taxes. The criteria for being a default KiwiSaver fund can be worth a billion dollars to a KiwiSaver fund manager.”

Former Cabinet Minister Peter Dunne has joined the chorus of those demanding reform in this area, labelling it “urgent”. He explains that “the adequacy of the rules regarding conflicts of interest for ministers and former ministers” has arisen out of the tradition in Parliament that politicians should be self-regulating: “When it comes to conflicts of interest, MPs have been largely left to manage them themselves.”

Dunne argues that the “time has surely come to formalise general conflict of interest rules for all MPs, and for the Cabinet Manual to address the specific issues raised by the Faafoi case.” He calls for “the Cabinet Office, the Speaker and the Standing Orders Committee to prioritise over the next few months updating the rules and practices regarding managing conflicts of interests for ministers and MPs.”

Perhaps Jacinda Ardern needs to talk to Labour’s last prime minister about lobbying reform. Helen Clark has now entered the debate, tweeting to Justice Minister Kiri Allan to point out that Transparency International “recommends 2 years” of a “cooling off period for political insiders after leaving taxpayer-funded positions before becoming lobbyists”.

An array of voices from across the political spectrum, including a former Labour prime minister, are now calling for reform on how vested interests can trade on inside information and connections. Will the Labour Government rise to the occasion?

Other items of interest and importance today

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Dave Armstrong (Stuff): Don’t mess with NZ – if that’s OK with everyone
Thomas Manch (Stuff): A day of pomp and pageantry in Vietnam, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shakes communist leaders’ hands
Claire Trevett (Herald): Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s fruitful day talking trade, China and fruit with Vietnam’s highest-ranked leaders
Jo Moir (Newsroom): From elbowing into summits to Hanoi garden tours
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Ardern arrives in Vietnam to sell brand New Zealand
Claire Trevett (Herald): PM Jacinda Ardern arrives in Vietnam for business charm offensive and political meetings
Claire Trevett (Herald): PM Jacinda Ardern at the East Asia Summit: A call to do more in Myanmar, flags concern about China
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Jacinda Ardern, world leaders leave Southeast Asia summit without achieving much resolution
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): New Zealand extends Defence Force deployment in UK training Ukrainian soldiers
RNZ: Government extends Ukraine deployments, aid funding

RESOURCE MANAGEMENT ACT
Thomas Couglan (Herald): Resource Management Act replacement coming today
Pattrick Smellie (BusinessDesk): Everybody hates the RMA, but will we be happy now? (paywalled)
Richard Harman (Politik): Parker’s big RMA changes (paywalled)

PARLIAMENT
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): The Facts don’t always tell the truth
Jonah Franke (Stuff): National candidate’s past support for ’50:50′ co-governance at odds with party line
Will Trafford (Te Ao – Māori News): Te Pāti Māori slams government, opposition MPs for not backing voting reform bill
Duncan Garner (NBR): Is it possible to be all ‘Ruby Tui’ when NZ is going belly up? (paywalled)
Martyn Bradbury (Waatea News): Labour and Te Pāti need to work together this election
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Beehive diaries: Which minister is in trouble for unparliamentary language
Matthew Scott (Newsroom): Grappling with Governmental gobbledygook

POWER COMPANY PROFITS
1News: Calls for Govt intervention over excess power dividends
Herald: Big power companies delivering excess dividends in the billions, new study claims
No Right Turn: Privatisation screws the future

ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT
RNZ: Inflation risks behaviour changes that make it harder to contain – economist
Liam Dann (Herald): Golden age for youth employment is being lost in storm of inflation fear (paywalled)
Jenée Tibshraeny (Herald): House price spikes of 2020/21 should’ve come as a warning (paywalled)
David Hargreaves (Interest): ANZ economists: It will take a ‘concerted effort’ to squash wage-price spiral dynamics ‘that are becoming ever more established’ in NZ
Anna Whyte (Stuff): Wave of sectors preparing for fair pay start date as unions gather momentum to launch bids
George Heagney (Stuff): Workers welcome lift in conditions due to Fair Pay Agreement
Susan Edmunds (Stuff): Pay rise winners and losers: The industries where wages are soaring or stalling
Kiwiblog: Number of People On Benefits Over Time
Phil Pennington (RNZ): Hospital technicians fed up with less pay than admin staff
Adam Pearse (Herald): Nurse unions take Te Whatu Ora to court over pay equity settlement
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): House prices expected to drop another 10% by end of 2024, Westpac says
David Hargreaves (Interest): Wholesale interest rate prices may determine size of next RBNZ OCR hike, BNZ economists say
Michael Reddell: Reviewing monetary policy
Will Mace (NBR): Climate coalition or cartel collusion? (paywalled)

HOUSING
Anne Gibson (Herald): Kāinga Ora gets $2.75b extra borrowing capacity for state house building programme
Stephen Ward (Local Democracy Reporting): Housing Minister Megan Woods and Kāinga Ora concerned Hamilton heritage areas could curb intensification
Michael Neilson (Herald): Public housing waitlist drops for only second quarter since June 2015
Greg Ninness (Interest): The number of people on the waiting list for social housing has fallen for two consecutive quarters
Rachel Moore (Stuff): The deflating morning ritual of a school caretaker near emergency housing motels in central Hamilton
Kelly Makiha (Rotorua Daily Post): Fighting for Rotorua: Mayor calls for more police to deal with emergency housing crime
Kelvin McDonald (Te Ao – Māori News): Ngāti Whakaue celebrates new whānau homes

HEALTH
Murray Jones (BusinessDesk): Are we getting what we pay for in the health system?
Cécile Meier and Murray Jones (BusinessDesk): ‘When I got covid, all I got was two text messages’: Little on GPs
Jonty Dine (RNZ): Nearly half of NZers cannot afford dental care – new report
RNZ: Dental care: 40 percent New Zealanders can’t afford it – report
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Hundreds spending 24 hours in busy EDs: ‘Disaster waiting to happen’
Will Trafford (Te Ao – Māori News): Bottle shops harder to open in rich areas – research
Ashleigh McCaull (RNZ): Māori in rural New Zealand further from good healthcare – researcher
Ashleigh McCaull (RNZ): Māori disproportionately impacted by drug overdoses – report
Ashleigh McCaull (RNZ): Health inequities: Rōpū claimants meet on underfunding grievances with Crown
Kelvin McDonald (Te Ao –  Māori News): Wai 2575 claimants move step closer to resolving health underfunding grievances
Herald: ‘They are choosing to go to other places’: Overseas nurses applying for NZ work visas drops by 60 per cent

COVID-19
Herald Editorial: Three years of Covid, new study suggests caution (paywalled)
Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Plan to restore MIQ if needed
Nikki Macdonald (Stuff): Covid-19 NZ: How to control a pandemic without a lockdown
RNZ: Cruise ship Covid-19 ‘no cause for alarm’

TRANSPORT
Simon Wilson (Herald): Why is a new harbour crossing back in the news? (paywalled)
Thomas Coughan (Herald): Bridge or tunnel? Government asks Aucklanders what they want for next crossing
Finn Blackwell (RNZ): New Auckland harbour crossing debate rolls on as government asks public for views
David Skipwith (Stuff): Aucklanders to have their say on harbour crossing options, including a tunnel
RNZ: Waka Kotahi’s $8b upgrade programme considers toll charges
1News: NZTA proposes sweeping state highway speed limit decreases
Greg Hurrell (BusinessDesk): MPs and rail activists clash on protest tactics (paywalled)

THREE WATERS
Graham Adams (The Platform): Hey presto… Three Waters becomes Five Waters!
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Explainer: MPs propose fixes to Government’s controversial water reforms (paywalled)
Andrew Dickens (Newstalk ZB): Co-governance should be the least of your worries

LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Craig Ashworth (Local Democracy Reporting): Māori wards did not inspire voters: What next to boost democracy?
The Facts: Alpha-bias- surnames in the top 3 won >50% of elections*
Felix Desmarais (Local Democracy Reporting): Rotorua cycleway to be removed for car parks

EDUCATION
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Covid-19: Students embrace ‘bare minimum’ approach to learning after disrupted years
Alex Penk: Will today’s students still have the opportunity to learn critical thinking?
RNZ: Checkpoint: Nursing students call for paid placements – Shane Reti responds
Ella Henry (Spinoff): Busting the myths about mātauranga Māori

SPY AGENCIES, NATIONAL SECURITY
Chris Trotter: The “Us versus Them” worldview
Tom Peters: New Zealand national security briefing promotes war and censorship
RNZ: Spy agency uses ‘computer network exploitation’ to take digital information

ENVIRONMENT
Thomas Cranmer: ‘We made a National Park disappear’
Jeremy Wilkinson (Open Justice Reporting): Kiribati refugee claims climate change crisis prevents him from returning home
Mildred Armah (Stuff): Climate change a ‘fundamental’ threat to livelihood of Pacific people – report
Will Trafford (Te Ao – Māori News): Māori get climate say after Shaw gaffes
Tom Powell (Stuff): Did the Government get agricultural emissions levy plan right?
Rod Oram (Newsroom): Climate summit clogged by indecision
Rod Oram (Newsroom): NZ absent on COP27 agriculture day
Gillian Blythe (Newsroom): Climate change threatens drinking water, crops, infrastructure – Water NZ
Will Harvie (Stuff): Cabinet to consider proposed refund scheme for bottles, cans before end of year
Will Trafford (Te Ao – Māori News): Protestors pay $400 for bypass whenua; government says not for sale

MEDIA
Duncan Greive (Spinoff): The end of a golden era at TVNZ – and the mystery of what comes next
Gavin Ellis: Back to the future to train the next generation of journalists
Damien Venuto and Isaac Davison (Stuff): Strike action possible as Stuff and union grapple over pay (paywalled)

SPORT
Imogen Wells (Newshub): Newshub-Reid Research poll: Where New Zealanders stand on banning alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport
Stuff: Acting PM says Black Ferns may not get a parade but ‘an event’ after World Cup win
James Perry (Te Ao – Māori News): Government mulls Black Ferns celebration
Martin Devlin (NBR): Can women’s rugby be financially sustainable? (paywalled)
Damien Venuto (Herald): The Front Page: Has Fifa learned anything from its Qatar fiasco?

OTHER
Gareth Vaughan (Interest): Productivity Commission Chairman Ganesh Nana argues that New Zealand needs a major reset of immigration policy
Sasha Borissenko (Herald): Legal aid pay rise a drop in the ocean (paywalled)
Waatea News: Judges challenged to fix bias in system
Jem Traylen (BusinessDesk): Camera rollout an opportunity lost, says fishing industry (paywalled)
Matthew Scott (Newsroom): Police investigate assaults on Auckland prisoners
Samuel Wat (RNZ): Cost of living troubles stretch animal shelters

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