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The BulletinApril 4, 2023

Measures to regulate lobbyists judged as toothless

An image of a conveyor belt heading into the beehive with dollar signs
Image: Tina Tiller

After the prime minister said lobbyists could ‘go through the front door like every other New Zealander’, experts and media have weighed in on the strength of the proposed measures to regulate lobbyists, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

 

‘Go through the front door like every other New Zealander’

Issues of power and influence within our political sphere came to something of a head yesterday with the announcement of new measures to regulate lobbyists from prime minister Chris Hipkins, and Stuart Nash’s decision to stand down from politics at the next election. Toby Manhire assesses the four measures which include a fresh policy review on regulating lobbying, removal of swipe card access for lobbyists, a voluntary code of conduct with funding support from the government and a revision of the cabinet manual. On the removal of swipe card access for lobbyists Hipkins said “My view is they should go through the front door like every other New Zealander.”

Scarce public resources being spent on creating the code that isn’t mandatory

Manhire spoke to Max Rashbrooke who has been a long-time advocate of measures to improve transparency in politics. His assessment of the measures announced? Fairly weak and largely symbolic. RNZ’s political editor Jane Patterson described the voluntary code of conduct as a wet lettuce leaf. The NZ Herald’s Thomas Coughlan (paywalled) describes the belated crackdown as coming straight from the playbook of Yes, Minister, The Thick of It, or Australia’s Utopia. Coughlan makes more than a couple of salient points writing that if the lobbying industry is scary and influential enough to warrant additional regulation, it probably isn’t appropriate to ask them how they want to be regulated. He also suggests that if scarce public resources are being spent on creating the code, it should be mandatory.

Nash stepping down from politics

Though not directly related to lobbyists, Stuart Nash’s announcement that he will be stepping down from politics is tied to broader issues of perceptions of influence. Nash made his announcement via a Facebook post with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s Citizenship in a Republic speech, delivered by Roosevelt at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910. Nash cited The Man in the Arena passage as his political philosophy. Never one to let an opportunity for some trivia to pass me by, basketballer LeBronJames has #ManInTheArena written on his shoes, Nelson Mandela gave South African captain Francois Pienaar a copy of the verse prior to the Springboks’ victory over the All Blacks at the 1995 Rugby World Cup and Richard Nixon referenced it in both his victory and resignation speeches.

Renewed call for tougher penalties for failing to comply with official information laws

It’s unlikely we’ll see film adaptations of Nash’s story as we have with the Springbok victory and the scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation, but if this were a cinematic universe, the crossover event would be Espiner’s investigation which was the result of lodging more than 70 Official Information Act (OIA) requests. As the Ombudsman investigates whether an email from Nash sharing cabinet discussions with political donors was improperly withheld after an OIA request in 2021, Espiner’s investigation no doubt expedited Hipkins’ plans to try and improve the appearance of transparency in government. This part of the Nash saga concludes with renewed calls to impose tougher penalties for those that fail to comply with official information laws. Lawyer Graeme Edgeler will have more on that on The Spinoff later this morning. Hipkins did not address the OIA yesterday, saying it was “a fundamentally sound piece of legislation”, though “there may be opportunities for improvement”. Hipkins also released terms of reference for the review announced last week into Stuart Nash’s communications with donors.

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