Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: The Greens' condemned lobbying bill

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Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei. Photo / NZ Herald
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei. Photo / NZ Herald

The Green Party is currently being pummeled from all sides for their Lobbying Disclosure Bill. Although Parliament passed the first reading of Holly Walker's private member's bill, it seems that this occurred in a motherhood-and-apple-pie moment of MPs not wanting to appear opposed to greater transparency in the political process. But with proper scrutiny applied to the Greens' proposal, the full awfulness of the bill is becoming more apparent. Not only does it seem that the bill would be unlikely to achieve its stated objective, but it could have all manner of unintended consequences for the political process - some of them very negative for popular participation in politics. For the most damning record of what the critics are saying, see David Farrar's More lethal criticism of Lobbying Transparency Bill. Farrar has usefully waded through the submissions and summarises a selection from a wide variety of organisations that have serious doubts about the bill. Critics of the bill include everyone from the Auditor General through to the CTU. The normally mild Law Society has been particularly condemning, labeling the Green bill, 'little more than legislation by slogan'.

Farrar also has some helpful advice for MPs about private member's bills: 'They are draft pieces of legislation and should be taken seriously. Don't just submit something your staff give you, or a former MP gives you. Spend a couple of months or more consulting people on it'. There is far more blunt advice from Scott Yorke: 'Someone, please, put this bill out of its misery' - see: A Good Argument For Euthanasia. In a second satirical blogpost, Yorke relents and gives some practical advice on how to fix the bill, suggesting that only 'evil' lobbyists need to be registered. He details a process for deciding who is actually evil and even has recommendations on appointments to the 'Evil Lobbyist Consideration Appeal Authority', appeals to which 'will be heard by the former directors of Bridgecorp Holdings. If you want expertise on evil, go to the best' - see: How To Fix The Lobbying Bill.

The most recent authoritative voice to express deep concerns about the Greens' lobbying bill is Mary Harris, the Clerk of Parliament, who fears the bill 'could have a chilling effect on communication with members of Parliament' - see Audrey Young's Lobbying bill comes under fire. Harris points out that many parliamentary staff would actually be classified as 'lobbyists' under the current wording.

As you would expect, the lobbyists themselves have also entered the debate. It would, presumably, be professionally embarrassing if they were unable to influence legislation that threatened their own interests - see John Hartevelt's Lobbyists push back against bill. Apparently the very word 'lobbyist' is somewhat distasteful to... lobbyists. They prefer to be known as 'advocates'. For further insight into their thinking see Chris McIntyre's recent interview with longtime lobbyist Barry Saunders - see: How About A Cheeky Lobby.

The bill's supporters can reasonably argue that, given the main targets are lobbyists, a vociferous reaction could be expected from them. However, the number of submitters opposing the bill who aren't lobbyists points to more than just self-interest at stake. Apart from the flaws and possible unintended consequences, it is unclear that the bill would even achieve much. It's worth noting that despite numerous regulations regarding lobbyist behaviour, the US political system isn't exactly the poster child for limits on the power of paid lobbying.

New Zealand does need to consider introducing further regulation of lobbying, and there shouldn't be any sort of complacency due to the lack of severe corruption in the politics of this country. But the lesson seems to be that you can't simply create - as the Law Society says - legislation by sloganeering.

The Greens - and MP Holly Walker in particular - are discovering that what they thought would be a popular measure of increasing transparency on the 'fat cats' is turning into a major embarrassment for them. This comes at a time when the party is more popular than ever. Of course one of the unwelcome side-effects of political success and profile is greater scrutiny, and so it is beginning to bite for the Greens. Similarly, their advocacy of quantitative easing certainly generated a lot of comment but most of it wouldn't have helped their drive to be taken seriously as economic managers.

Other recent important or interesting political items include:

* The Green Party is currently fundraising to 'reduce child poverty' in New Zealand. But will the financial donations they're seeking actually go to children in poverty? Of course not - it's a political fundraiser for the party itself - see Pete George's Green Party politics of poverty. The Greens have responded to the criticisms and deny 'using child poverty to mislead people into donating to them' according to Kate Chapman's article, Greens say funding ploy is 'Obama-style'.

* Will anyone take responsibility for the Police bungles? Vernon Small is waiting patiently: 'Have been listening very hard this morning, but am still to hear anyone utter the word ''accountability'' in relation to the cases where the courts have thrown out charges because of police errors' - see: Police errors: who carries the can?. The automatic leaping to their defence by some doesn't impress the Dom Post: 'Police Association president Greg O'Connor has sprung to the defence of his members and lambasted the judge for undoing "a lot of hard and extremely creative work". A more unfortunate choice of words is difficult to imagine' Police conduct is unbecoming. With O'Connor's recent dismissal of the report on police culture as 'ritual humiliation' a few commentators are think his time is up. Danyl Mclauchlan asks how we would react if the teacher or nursing unions defended members who had acted illegally in the same way - see: Small thought experiment. See also Martyn Bradbury's It's time for Greg O'Connor to resign and The Standard's Time for Greg O'Connor to resign.

* Should tobacco companies be allowed to lobby publically against further anti-tobacco laws? Some think not, with numerous complaints being made about British American Tobacco New Zealand's "agree/disagree" campaign opposing plain packaging - see Ben Heather's Complaints over tobacco 'public awareness campaign'. A Manawatu Standard editorial stands up for 'the freedom to publicly express views, however unpopular they might be' - see: Debate must not be extinguished.

* Politicians don't like to be seen as wowsers or favouring the 'nanny state', yet some MPs have been proposing some major clampdowns on alcohol - see Claire Trevett's Are politicians 'wowsers' on alcohol?. Apparently, when voting this week on the Alcohol Reform Bill, 'Labour's line-up of purse-lipped amendments includes minimum pricing, warning labels, bans on advertising before 9pm, bans on liquor outlets near schools, a lower drink-driving limit and Goff's own amendment - limiting the alcohol content of alcopops to 5 per cent'. Even more surprising was Andrew Little's proposal to shut all off-licences at 8pm. The New Zealand Drug Foundation might equally incur the labels of wowsers and nanny statists if you read the critiques of them by David Farrar and economist Eric Crampton - see Drug Foundation Alcohol Bingo and You can't kill a bad stat.

* The public service appears to be becoming more politicised according to Jane Clifton. This is her conclusion after the amazing leaks to politicians that have been occurring from government departments under scrutiny - see: The public service's growing malaise. Clifton suggests 'maybe it's time to have an honest debate about a) how politicised the public sector is already and b) how much more politicised we want it to become'.

* How well is the National Government doing in terms of fulfilling its election promises? TV3 has done some opinion polling on this, and Duncan Garner reports the results in National's bright future not here yet - poll.

* There will be plaudits awarded to the Government for the decision to grant visas to 25 Afghani interpreters employed by the New Zealand Defence Force. However, the apparent life-saving offer doesn't extend to 'former' interpreters used by the Government - see Olivia Carville and Vernon Small's Ex-interpreters excluded from NZ deal.

* Who are New Zealand's best journalists? Chris Trotter bemoans that this country's journalists aren't like those in the TV series The Newsroom - see: Why can't journalism be more like TV?. But he name checks those in the industry who he has high regard for: Nicky Hager, Jon Stephenson, John Campbell, Pip Keane, Mark Jennings, and the late Warren Berryman.

* As the Australian Government proposes large spending cuts to defend their surplus Corin Dann thinks that Bill English will take a more pragmatic view - see: Surplus not worth dying in a ditch over.

* There is a long list of words and phrases MPs are not allowed to use to describe each other in the house. In an unusual move Lockwood Smith has put one word back in the parliamentary vocabulary - see: Hypocrisy back in the Beehive. For a list of some more unusual insults that have been banned over the years see Unparliamentary language.

* The inclusion of the Pouakani claim over part of the Waikato River bed in the Maori Council's legal challenge is a clever move says Greg Presland in What the Maori Council may argue in Court.

* The number of people in serious or urgent need of housing has nearly doubled since last year but between 10% and 25% of state houses remain vacant in the areas of greatest need reports Radio New Zealand - see: Thousands of state homes empty as waiting list grows.

* Brian Fallow has an excellent backgrounder on the current problems with our carbon trading system - see: Emissions scheme on a stretcher.

* New Zealand may be forced to take sides between the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership and the new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which includes China, due to be launched in November at the next ASEAN summit - see Gordon Campbell's Asia's rival trade deal to the TPPA . Meanwhile Toby Manhire wonders how the assurances from Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser that the TPPA is not 'anti-China' can be squared with comments in the recent presidential debates - see: TPP secrecy invites suspicion about US.

* Tensions between the government and the Christchurch City council are on the rise again with the Finance Minister saying the council 'did not understand its predicament' and Mayor Bob Parker calling the comments 'frankly outrageous' - see Michael Berry's English slates council finances.

* Finally, two very contrasting views on neglected children are in evidence with economist Brian Easton slamming legislation that will cut benefits for parents who neglect their children: 'Children who are already victims will suffer further. The practice in some countries of punishing rape victims is barbaric; this bill is equally barbaric, as are those who promote it' - see: The poverty trap. The punitive approach is endorsed by Conservative Leader Colin Craig, however: 'The issue is not whether lunchlessness is detrimental to learning. Rather the issue is a parents' duty to provide for their children.' - see: TV3's 'No free lunches' for hungry kids, says Colin Craig.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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