Wellington is a wonderful place, a village really, where the inhabitants can walk down Lambton Quay any hour of the day and stop for a word with at least three people they know.
They are all in politics or the public service, or they are lobbying those who are, or they are in the media. On Tuesday when I heard broadcaster Carol Hirschfeld had resigned from Radio NZ, and Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran had faced questions in Parliament for meeting her in a coffee bar, I started to wonder what we are coming to.
New Zealand is often called an "intimate democracy". That is a good thing. On one level it means the great majority of people feel engaged in its government and know their opinions matter. On another level it means people in powerful or influential roles get to know each other and can work with those whose professionalism, skills and judgment they respect.
The intimacy in the capital can engender resentment and suspicion among those outside that maybe their opinions don't matter so much, but they are wrong, I think. We get better government, better information, better politics and better decisions because we are a small, well educated, accessible democracy.
I worry sometimes that this state of affairs could be undermined by those newly in power who insist on "transparency" above all.
For the Green Party, transparency means making their minister's daily diary public every three months. And it goes without saying, any meeting they have with a lobbyist for an industry or interest group will be expected to be in the diary. If that means not a lot of commercial lobbyists will go near a Green minister, the Greens probably think that is a good thing.
They have also announced they will accept no hospitality from corporates or any other interest group at sports events and the like.
The monastic purity of their idea of government appeals to political academics who work in just such a rarefied environment, dealing with written research and theoretical propositions rather than people outside their bubble, and it feeds the crude suspicion that any confidential meeting with a minister must be a conspiracy against the public interest.
The Labour Party takes a more mature attitude to lobbying, as does NZ First despite Winston Peters' rhetoric against corporate influence when he is campaigning. He is not likely to open his diary and he is certainly not going to refuse hospitality. Peters' cosy relationship with the racing industry is one area where intimacy has gone too far, in my view.
But it is hard to see much harm in a Broadcasting Minister arranging to meet a Radio NZ news executive in a coffee bar. They each got into trouble for failing to properly account for it rather than the fact they met, but it's hard to see why they had to account for it at all.
I hope National is just playing opposition politics and does not seriously believe the Minister needs to report every conversation she arranges to have with a broadcaster because she is keen to put more public money into local content.
I doubt even the Greens would go that far. Their sanctimonious view of lobbying sounds fairly selective. Speaking on the party's self-denial earlier this month, James Shaw said, "They [who engage lobbyists] are not usually organisations who advocate for the homeless or for single mums, or groups that are fighting to protect our water or our native bush. They're not organisations that have stopping climate change or ending child poverty as part of their KPIs ..." So I guess those pressure groups can bend the ear of a Green minister as quietly as they like.
Lobbying is usually healthy. Governments and the public service do not know everything. When they make laws and regulations they cannot possibly anticipate all the consequences for those living, working and doing business on the ground. Lobbyists make it their business to know what is gestating in Wellington and ensure their clients hear about anything damaging or impractical in good time to make a case against it.
Politicians are not putty, they are not easily persuaded, and in this country they are not corrupt despite what Peters tell his disciples. He is a throwback to an era when lobbying was intense because governments ran everything that mattered in the economy. They told the national airline where to fly and even what planes to buy. Not even Shane Jones really thinks that is a good idea.
When import licensing ended and entry to most sectors deregulated, Sir Roger Douglas used to boast he had abolished lobbying and largely he had. Today it smooths the rough edges of policy that would otherwise be made in splendid contemplative isolation from the commercial world, splendid for monks, tough for the country.