Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

MPs decide law to restrict lobbyists unnecessary in 'village' NZ

Green MP Holly Walker is disappointed that lobbying rules could not be written into legislation. Photo / NZ Herald
Green MP Holly Walker is disappointed that lobbying rules could not be written into legislation. Photo / NZ Herald

A proposed law change to bring lobbying of MPs out of the shadows has been rejected by a parliamentary committee out of concern that it was too broad and would have discouraged constituents from engaging with politicians.

The select committee recommended that Green MP Holly Walker's private member's bill, which would have opened professional lobbyists to greater scrutiny, should not pass into law.

Ms Walker said she was disappointed that lobbying rules could not be written into legislation.

She said the Government's dealings with SkyCity over an international convention centre showed a need for greater transparency about the groups which influenced MPs.

Her bill would have created a public register for lobbyists and required them to follow a code of ethics drawn up by the Auditor-General and file quarterly returns.

It would be a criminal offence for unregistered corporate lobbyists, union members, or workers with non-government organisations to lobby MPs.

The committee's report said the bill would have had unintended consequences for the openness of democracy by capturing members of the public who lobbied their MPs, or small businesses which wanted to discuss government policy.

Committee chairwoman and Labour MP Ruth Dyson said: "If you've got a bunch of family members who aren't being paid to provide care to their family, they should be able to lobby you. You wouldn't want them to go through a registration process for having their views known."

The bill was based on similar Australian and Canadian legislation, but Ms Dyson said the political culture in New Zealand was different.

"New Zealand is a village. We know who the lobbyists are, and what they're going to talk to us about."

Committee members made non-legislative recommendations, including a requirement for all official advice on new laws to include the names of any non-government organisations which had been consulted.

Former Green MP Sue Kedgley was the original author of the Lobbying Disclosure Bill. Ms Walker revised the bill to narrow its focus to lobbying which could influence legislation.

But the committee still felt lobbyists and lobbying activity were not well-defined, and it was unclear who and what the bill would capture.

Ms Dyson said: "The narrower it got, the more it opened it up to 'you won't catch this person or this person'. It just got ridiculous."

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson found that the legislation could limit freedom of expression and went beyond what would be required to regulate the activities of lobbyists.

National supported the bill to select committee because it felt debate was needed about lobbyists' access to MPs and their influence.


The verdict

Rejected

• Register of professional lobbyists and code of conduct
• Offences for non-registered lobbying
• Requirement for lobbyists to file returns with Auditor-General

Proposed

• New Parliament guidelines for lobbying which relates to parliamentary business, including ways for MPs to disclose lobbying
• Official advice on legislation to include names of any NGOs which were consulted
• Policy papers proactively released

- NZ Herald

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