Analysis by Dr Bryce Edwards.
Political Roundup: Who will drain Wellington’s lobbying swamp?
Wealthy vested interests have an oversized influence on political decisions in New Zealand. Partly that’s due to their use of corporate lobbyists. Fortunately, the influence lobbyists can have on decisions made by politicians is currently under scrutiny in Guyon Espiner’s in-depth series published by RNZ.
Two of Espiner’s research exposés have been published this week, shedding light on the influence that lobbyists have on government. And more revelations are expected.
What can be done about the problem of wealthy vested interests utilising lobbyists to get their way? In New Zealand lobbying is entirely unregulated. A “wild west” approach is taken in which politicians let lobbyists run amok, especially in terms of their use of the “revolving door” in which they freely switch between jobs in the Beehive and lobbying firms.
The Health Coalition Aotearoa has started the ball rolling on reform, with a proposal released yesterday on how to clean up lobbying and other problems of vested interests in Wellington’s decision-making process. Essentially, they want to “drain the swamp” of vested interests in the capital. I’ve contributed to the Coalition’s campaign, helping them draw up some of the ways to clean up politics.
Below are some of the current proposals for cleaning up lobbying.
Reform 1: A cooling off period for political insiders before they become lobbyists
New Zealand has absolutely no rules to stop politicians or senior public servants and political insiders from going straight from public roles to working in the private sector, taking their knowledge and networks and becoming lobbyists. The Health Coalition argues that the “revolving door” needs to be shut, or at least swing a lot more slowly.
Democratic countries don’t normally allow political insiders like Cabinet Ministers to shift straight into jobs with conflicts of interests – such as Kris Faafoi did last year. In every other similar country there is a mandatory “cooling off” period for political insiders after they leave their taxpayer-funded positions. Transparency International recommends a minimum of two-years. Below are some examples of the “cooling off” time periods in other countries:
• Australia: 18 months
• European Union: 18 months
• United States: 2 years
• United Kingdom: 2 years
• Taiwan: 3 years
• Canada: 5 years
Could this be done here? Yesterday Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said he was open to this proposal, saying he had “never shut the door on those conversations”, and “I’m not going to rule them in, but I’m also wouldn’t rule them out either.”
The National Party has been much more willing, with spokesperson Simeon Brown arguing in favour of revolving door restrictions. The Greens, too, are in favour.
Other public voices are also pushing for this. Notably, former prime minister Helen Clark has recently called for “cooling down” periods to be implemented.
The Herald newspaper has also come out in favour, pointing out in an editorial late last year that: “In the private sector, restraint of trade clauses are not unusual for similar reasons. Access to sensitive or advantageous information should come with some obligations over how and when it can be used for other, perhaps competitive, purposes.”
Lobbyists themselves will, of course be lobbying against any change in the rules. Leading lobbyist Neale Jones has previously spoken out against such rules, because “people need to make a living and have jobs and, when you’ve worked in Parliament, there are only so many places you can work afterward.”
Reform 2: A lobbying register – a database of lobbyists and their actions
The Health Coalition is arguing that a public register needs to be established for lobbyists. This would be a publicly searchable database with details of lobbying activities.
This is fairly common in other countries. Guyon Espiner explained yesterday in an interview with Today FM that the rules are much stronger in places like the US: “You talk to people about lobbying, they immediately go to America – they think it’s something that happens in Washington and not in Wellington… Weirdly, America’s lobbying rules are really, really strong in terms of transparency and rigour. You can go to jail for a few years, you can get fined big time. In New Zealand, they don’t even define what lobbying is. There’s no public lobbying register.”
However, there are many complexities in setting up such a register, especially in defining what a lobbyist is. Does it include Greenpeace and the Health Coalition Aotearoa, for example? How do we define the act of lobbying? Does it include when a member of the public or a businessperson runs into their local MP at the supermarket?
These complexities sunk a proposal put forward by the Green Party in 2012. A private member’s bill was progressed, first by Sue Kedgley, and then by Holly Walker, which would have forced lobbying activities involving politicians to have to be declared. But when the bill came to be considered in select committee, the major flaws and overly-simplistic design of the Green legislation became apparent, and the bill was dumped.
Reform 3: A code of conduct for public officials dealing with lobbyists
Much of the onus for regulating lobbying needs to be put on politicians and public officials in their dealing with lobbyists. The Health Coalition is proposing that a code of conduct be established so that those working for government know how to interact with lobbyists. No clear rules currently exist.
The Public Service Commission could establish rules for public servants, and Parliament could write rules for MPs. Even the Cabinet Manual should have more stringent rules and expectations for ministers. Chris Hipkins could easily establish a “Code of conduct” for his ministers, MPs, and staff, that includes an agreement not to go into lobbying in the three years after they depart Parliament.
Therefore, at the very least, when lobbyists deal with officials or take on public jobs, these situations can be more carefully managed. And if lobbyists are to be employed in the Beehive, a condition of employment should be the full public disclosure of the clients of their lobbying firm. Chris Hipkins has given the top job in the Beehive – his Chief of Staff – to lobbyist Andrew Kirton, who only resigned from his lobbying job a day before taking up the position, and yet the public aren’t allowed to know who his corporate clients were.
Reform 4: A code of conduct for lobbyists
The lobbying industry currently has no agreement on ethical standards. This means that lobbyists have no rules about integrity, accountability or transparency.
The establishment of a code of conduct should be a requirement of the industry. As political commentator Liam Hehir points out this week, such a code of conduct could include “Requirements for lobbyists to disclose their activities, including communications with public officials and expenditure on lobbying activities.”
It is not unusual for those in private sector industries like law to have rules and restrictions for their profession – this is part of what having a “social licence” to operate requires.
The most important demand that should be made of lobbyists is for full public disclosure of their clients. The problem is that for lobbyists, this secrecy is a central part of their business model. But it’s one that increasingly looks corrupt.
Reform 5: An independent Integrity Commissioner to monitor and oversee the programme
Given the scale of the problem with lobbying in New Zealand politics the Health Coalition is proposing the establishment of a formal body to be established to oversee the interactions between vested interests and politics.
Such a public body would be able to deal with lobbying issues in general. But it would also deal with the wider issues of integrity relating to government appointments, the government’s use of private sector consultants and contractors, and political donations to politicians. All of these areas require much more oversight and currently undermine public confidence in the political system.
Is there political will for reform on vested interests in politics?
Much of the debate about vested interests is leading to the conclusion that there is a “swamp” of parasitical lobbyists and consultants in Wellington that need to be better regulated. And as Guyon Espiner’s “Mate, Comrade, Brother” RNZ series on the cosiness of the capital continues, the demand to clean up Wellington politics is likely to grow.
But is it in the interests of the politicians to clean up the Wellington swamp? The problem is that all the political parties benefit from the way that the lobbying industry operates, and many of the politicians and their colleagues are the worst offenders. So, why would they want to introduce tighter laws that would impact negatively on themselves?
Don’t expect political parties to fix these problems without pressure being applied. Every party – from National to the Greens – are tied up with lobbyists and vested interests to varying extents.
The media, too, must stop enabling lobbyists by giving them platforms to advance their agendas and reputations. Perhaps the media has a responsibility to stop using lobbyists as commentators or authoritative news sources. In recent times, lobbyists have become a central part of political analysis in New Zealand, as if they are the most authoritative voices due to their links with political parties.
Most importantly, the media need to increase scrutiny of the Government over the involvement of lobbyists in the decision-making process. Journalists often feel pressured to stay on side with all useful sources of information. There might also be a tendency for some journalists to avoid scrutinising lobbying activity – perhaps keeping in mind that it’s also common for journalists to go straight from journalism into PR and lobbying. But those of us in the media need to rise to the occasion on this issue.
Further reading on Lobbying, alcohol industry reforms
Anna Whyte (Stuff): Christopher Luxon wants clarity over lobbyist rules, Chris Hipkins won’t rule out future changes
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub): Chris Hipkins says he has full confidence in chief of staff who resigned from lobbying firm the day before being hired by PM’s office
RNZ: Health groups want urgent changes to lobbying rules
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): Six reasons why the Pharmac lobbyists should be out of the job
Zarina Hewlett (Today FM): Investigative Reporter Guyon Espiner exposes alcohol industry in new book ‘The Drinking Game’
Liam Hehir (The Blue Review): The PMCPMC effect
Newstalk ZB: PM faces fresh questions over how much access lobbyists have to the halls of power
No Right Turn: This smells
TaxPayers’ Union: Government Should Not Be Spending Taxpayer Money To Lobby Itself
Isaac Davison (Herald): Bottle store battle: MPs warned that law changes may stifle community objections (paywalled)
Other items of interest and importance today
Audrey Young (Herald): Election 2023: Labour’s first-term MPs – who’s safe and who’s on the danger list (paywalled)
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): National leader Christopher Luxon falls to new low in poll
Spinoff: Labour now leads National across five polls
Damien Venuto (Herald): The Front Page: Simon Wilson and Heather du Plessis-Allan debate the battle between Luxon and Hipkins
Russell Palmer (RNZ): Hipkins and Luxon hit the road: A taste of campaign 2023
Nicholas Boyack (Stuff): Chris Hipkins tours his electorate, showing his love of a cheese and steak pie
Adam Pearse (Herald): What pie does the PM prefer? Chris Hipkins chows down at childhood haunt
Adam Pearse (Herald): Police Minister’s pie plunder: Ginny Andersen accidentally steals pie from PM Hipkins’ favourite shop
Newshub: Prime Minister Chris Hipkins grilled by children on naughty behaviour, climate change, favourite food
Newshub: Christopher Luxon emerges from COVID isolation, reveals he was ‘bit out of sorts’
Gordon Campbell: On Ginny Anderson’s appointment as Police Minister and pressure from NZ’s traditional allies
John MacDonald (Herald): Chris Hipkins didn’t do new Police Minister any favours
Bernard Hickey: Inside TOP’s Teal Card and political strategy
Emily Henderson (Northern Advocate): Why I’m standing down at the next election
Newshub: Outgoing Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon reveals reaction to Jacinda Ardern’s resignation
BUDGET, POLICY BONFIRE
Luke Malpass (Stuff): ‘Getting the basics right’: Grant Robertson on the Budget, jam, and what keeps him up at night
Brent Edwards (NBR): Finance Minister’s tough Budget balancing act (paywalled)
Giles Dexter (RNZ): Officials suggested government could look at delaying Abuse in Care redress system
Richard Prebble (Herald): The coup that nobody voted for, or saw coming (paywalled)
Toby Manhire (Spinoff): A ‘climate change election’ in 2023? Here’s what the polling tells us
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Decisions on agricultural emissions pricing scheme delayed as UN urges swift climate action
1News: Climate crisis: Hipkins, Shaw respond to grave IPCC report
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Governments face urgent call to cut methane emissions – will NZ listen?
Hamish Cardwell (RNZ): New Zealand urged not to drop the climate ball in wake of latest IPCC report
RNZ: UN report: Countries ‘recognise they have to act’ on climate change
Dan Brunskill (Interest): IPCC report author Bronwyn Hayward says New Zealand cities can tackle transport and construction emissions themselves
David Williams (Newsroom): Veteran scientist kicks up over climate
Kevin Trenberth (Newsroom): Time to plan for the climate change inevitable
Nikki Mandow (Newsroom): Is it time for business to push for green politics?
LOCAL GOVERNMENT, THREE WATERS
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Government may split proposed four water entity model in Three Waters redraw
Erin Johnson (Stuff): Auckland mayor’s spending under spotlight in council cost-cutting debate
Todd Niall (Stuff): Arts groups band together to appeal against proposed council funding cuts
RNZ: Auckland Council budget shortfall: Most feedback from Pākehā over 40
Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): Wayne Brown has the street-level politics right
Todd Niall (Stuff): Watercare’s two-year haul to recover from the weather emergencies
RNZ: Burst pipes take out water supplies for central Wellington, Greytown
Stewart Sowman-Lund (Spinoff): Every single one of Mayor Wayne Brown’s interviews, ranked
Stephen Ward (Waikato Times): Half of Hamilton city savings ideas secret, staff short of $6m target
Laura Smith (Local Democracy Reporting): Rotorua mayor’s transparency request not acted on due to council ‘oversight’
Max Frethey (Local Democracy Reporting): Possible 7.2 percent rates rise for Nelson
RNZ: Auckland faces deadline to cut car travel 20 percent
Tommy de Silva (Spinoff): Why is it so hard to combine biking with public transport in Auckland?
Fiona Connor (1News): Councillor’s frustration at ‘systemic issues’ with Auckland’s ferries
Erin Gourley (Stuff): Feedback on street redesign canned after fake names used for offensive comments
Maia Hart (Local Democracy Reporting): The bus service that’s costing council $23 a passenger
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Health Select Committee to clarify if bill will stop people importing life-extending medicines
1News: Cancer patients, advocates to oppose new bill at Parliament
Joseph Los’e (Herald): Gut cancer is among the biggest killers of Māori – so what are we doing about it?
Stephen Forbes (Local Democracy Reporting): Counties Manukau fails to meet cancer treatment target
Herald: Study: NZ’s shift to living with Covid-19 came with comparably lower deaths
RNZ: Anti-vaccine mandate appeal denied for taking too long
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): More evidence of a health system under extreme pressure that’s failing to cope
Nikki Macdonald (Stuff): ‘Dangerous and inappropriate’ opioid drug access change could fuel addiction and black market supply, doctors warn
Ian McCrae (BusinessDesk): Resuscitating NZ Health – many things to do
Rowan Quinn (RNZ): Baby whooping cough victims ‘tragic start to epidemic’ – paediatrician
Alex Casey (Spinoff): Why isn’t cervical screening free for everyone?
Dominic O’Sullivan (The Conversation): NZ universities are not normal Crown institutions – they shouldn’t be ‘Tiriti-led’
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Unredacted document reveals mega polytechnic Te Pūkenga requested $330m from government
Pattrick Smellie (BusinessDesk): Polytech merger adds nearly $300m for IT upgrade requests (paywalled)
Amy Wiggins (Herald): Making the Grade: New Zealand’s struggling school education system – how we can do better (paywalled)
Herald Editorial: Falling student achievement raises school education questions (paywalled)
Michael Neilson and Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Anti-trans activist Posie Parker’s NZ visit: PM Hipkins says chasing headlines, Luxon says ‘not a good enough reason’ to ban her, cites free speech
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub: Prime Minister Chris Hipkins responds to anti-transgender activist Posie Parker’s threats
William Hewett (Newshub): Anti-transgender activist Posie Parker hits out at PM Chris Hipkins, daring him to cancel her visa
Seni Iasona (Newshub): ACT Party, Free Speech Union oppose calls for UK gender activist to be barred from New Zealand
RNZ: Let anti-transgender activist in, National says, while Greens hold concerns for public safety
Martun Bradbury (Daily Blog): Posie Parker, NZ Free Speech and the Trans Debate Tragedy
Karl du Fresne: Neo-Nazis 1; free speech nil
Steven Cowan: The witch hunt of Posie Parker
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Let the transphobe in, even though she’s not welcome
POLICE, LAW AND ORDER
RNZ: Police Minister Ginny Andersen vows to focus on community safety
1News: ‘I’ve always wanted to do it’ – New Police Minister sets agenda
Felix Desmarais (1News): Minister of Police: Who is Ginny Andersen?
Lauren Hendricksen (Newshub): New Minister of Police Ginny Andersen reveals she put her hand up for the job
Joel Maxwell (Stuff): Cops provide pop-gun justice for some, heavy-handed overkill for others
William Hewett (Newshub): IPCA report finds police officer ‘constructed’ story of colleagues being punched, pushed so he could tase suspect
James Halpin (Stuff): ‘Don’t open doors’: Auckland school went into lockdown over gang funeral
Kirsty Wynn (Herald): Headquarters: Leo Molloy accuses police of being ‘weak as piss’ after alleged attempted break-in at bar causes $50,000 damage
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Value in New Zealand diversifying trade beyond China, Chris Hipkins says, as Nanaia Mahuta flies to Beijing
Ben Moore (BusinessDesk): The TikTok ban and the geopolitical tightrope (paywalled)
Thomas Manch (Stuff): New Zealand officials talk down White House promise on tech, Aukus
Felix Desmarais (1News): Taita calling: Hipkins calls Canadian PM Trudeau from electorate office
RNZ: Chris Hipkins and Justin Trudeau discuss ‘shared priorities’
Herald: Kiwi fighter Kane Te Tai reportedly killed in Ukraine remembered for charity work helping service veterans
Herald: Grave concerns for Kiwi fighter in Ukraine Kane Te Tai after social media silence – final message revealed desire to come home
RNZ: New Zealander fighting in Ukraine understood to have been killed in action
Will Trafford (Whakaata Māori): Prominent Māori lawyer joins NZTE board
Chris Marriner (Herald): New Zealand flag on lamb in UK: ‘Flag-washing’ row erupts
Susan Hornsby-Geluk (Stuff): Government’s ditching of contractor reforms a blow for workers
Susan Edmunds (Stuff): Five jobs that barely pay more than New Zealand minimum wage
Jem Traylen (BusinessDesk): Public service pay restraint causes recruitment difficulties (paywalled)
Rebecca Stevenson (Interest): Bank workers’ union wants 5% levy on the profits of New Zealand’s big four Australian-owned banks
Tamsyn Parker (Herald): Buy now pay later operator Laybuy lays off more workers (paywalled)
Anne Gibson (Herald): Auckland retirement village: 422-unit Riverhead Coatesville complex opposed by Waka Kotahi, Auckland Transport, council (paywalled)
Andrew Bevin (Newsroom): Supermarkets cracking wholesale deals
Giles Dexter (RNZ): MSD reports record number of Kiwis moving off benefits and into work
Heather du Plessis-Allan (Newstalk ZB): Should those on the benefit get the Working for Families tax credit?