A move by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to remove swipe card access for political lobbyists has been welcomed, but a journalist who has investigated lobbying in New Zealand says the move doesn’t go far enough.
Hipkins announced last week that swipe card access will be removed for anyone in the business, non-government and union sectors, affecting about 80 people who were able to enter Parliament at will.
Other moves also include establishing a voluntary code of conduct and commissioning policy advice around regulating the industry. Hipkins said he is seeking more advice, expected to come back in 2024.
The move followed an investigation by RNZ journalist Guyon Espiner which highlighted the close relationship between lobbyists and politicians. Among the revelations in his series was that Hipkins’ chief of staff, Andrew Kirton, was part of a lobbying firm that pushed back against a proposed container return scheme - a policy dropped in Hipkins’ ‘policy bonfire’.
Speaking to The Front Page podcast, Espiner says that removing the swipe card access is a symbolic move to show the lobbyists can’t access the building, but it still means New Zealand trails behind the rest of the world.
“That’s not a debating point. That’s a fact. I mean, the most basic thing you could do is what Australia does, which is to have a public register of lobbyists. So I can go and look at a big company like Air New Zealand, who have got lobbyists in Australia working for them, and I can check on the Australian register who’s working for Air New Zealand as a lobbyist, yet there’s no such register for me to search for that New Zealand company in our own country.”
“[Hipkins] is talking about asking lobbying firms to sign up to a voluntary code of practice and decide to put their clients on their websites now. That’s all very well and good, but you know, self-regulation, as they say, is a bit like marking your own homework.”
Espiner’s investigation found that around 10 significant lobbying firms are staffed by people who have come from “the very top echelons” of a Government job.
He says that the lack of regulation around lobbyists in Aotearoa inspired his series.
“I mean, even real estate agents have to be registered and regulated, and lawyers, you can look up who’s been struck off and who’s got a practising certificate. Lobbyists have immense power in New Zealand and a big say over the public policy development, and there’s a lot of money surging through these firms, and yet it’s unregulated.”
Listen to the full episode for more from Guyon on his investigation, what moves politicians should make next, and why New Zealanders aren’t as concerned about lobbying and anti-corruption as Australia is.