Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Lobbying bill comes under fire

Green MP Holly Walker. Photo / APN
Green MP Holly Walker. Photo / APN

A bill seeking to make lobbying of politicians more transparent could have a chilling effect on communication with members of Parliament says Mary Harris, the Clerk of Parliament.

She said the bill would affect daily dealings of MPs and their staff with the public "and potentially could discourage constituents from engaging with members and their offices".

Because it covered communication with MPs and their staff it could have "significant implications" for the House in the performance of its functions.

She had concerns that what she called the broad definition of lobbying activity in the bill could have "a potential chilling effect on open communication" with MPs.

"Many hundreds of individuals and organisations have contact with members and ministers every day, both in relation to matters of public policy and also in respect of personal grievances and concerns," she said in her submission yesterday to the government administration select committee considering the bill.

Ms Harris also believed requiring lobbyists to register under law could give them a status or pre-eminent standing in policymaking processes.

"Such standing might be desirable in larger democracies, where the size of the body politic means not all who wish to participate in parliamentary processes can do so," she said. "This is not the case in New Zealand."

The Lobbying Disclosure Bill sponsored by Green MP Holly Walker won the unanimous support of the House to get past its first reading and to a committee.

And while most submitters endorsed the principle of greater transparency in decision-making, most also pointed to major flaws.

The bill requires disclosure of lobbying activities aimed at MPs and their staff, though staff of Crown agencies are exempted, and it requires the Auditor-General to develop a lobbyists code of conduct and register.

Ms Harris said the bill as worded meant she and her staff were not exempted. She suggested the bill might be better limited to the decision-making processes of ministers rather than all MPs.

She also questioned the Auditor-General developing lobbying codes in light of her "existing constitutional relationships with members, ministers and the House and her role in auditing the public sector".

- NZ Herald

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