Lobbyists push back against bill

Lobbyists are fighting back against a bill designed to expose their work at Parliament, with a mining group complaining that an "emotionally-charged approach" has led to "a number of inappropriate, discriminatory, and unworkable provisions in the bill".

Straterra, an advocacy body for the minerals sector with 49 members, is among several groups to have made a submission on the proposed Lobbying Disclosure Bill.

The bill has also been criticised by the Clerk of the House.

The bill, led by Green MP Holly Walker, would introduce a register of lobbyists. Failure to register would be an offence and all lobbying activity would have to be filed with the Auditor-General and made public on a website.

A Lobbyists' Code of Conduct would also be introduced with the Auditor-General empowered to investigate alleged breaches of the code.

In its submission on the bill, Straterra says it is "unfortunate that lobbying has been painted in the Bill in a negative light".

"We speculate that this emotionally-charged approach has led to a number of inappropriate, discriminatory, and unworkable provisions in the bill."

Regulation may be warranted but the bill needed "a number of amendments'' it said.

Lobbyists should be known as "advocates" and include those not paid for their work.

"Advocacy" should be presented "in a positive light" in the bill, the Straterra submission said.

There should be no requirement to register as an "advocate" and it should be up to MPs to disclose who they met with.

Both "advocates" and MPs should have to comply with a new code of conduct.

"Conducted appropriately, advocacy plays an important and useful role in the making of policy and legislation in New Zealand. It is a legitimate component of participatory democracy, even necessary for democracy to be effective," Straterra's submission said.

The Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) also raised concerns over the bill, complaining that it could create "unwieldy processes and unintended negative consequences".

There should be different reporting requirements and obligations on professional lobbyists compared with non-government organisations (NGOs) and trade unions, the SFWU said.

"The consequences on our union and NGOs from this bill, if it were to proceed in its current form, have not been sufficiently considered."

It was more appropriate for MPs to report on lobbying, the union said.

A "close relationship" or membership of a political party should be exempted from the terms of the bill.

Others to have lodged submissions raising concern over the bill include the Securities Industry Association, PR consultants SenateSHJ, Universities NZ and Tainui.

Clerk of House Mary Harris yesterday said the bill could have "a potential chilling effect on open communication" with MPs and might discourage constituents from engaging with Parliament.

Walker's bill says professional lobbyists who seek to influence government policy or legislation are "able to operate in secret".

They operated "under the radar, in the shadows of the democratic process, often undetected and unreported."

The bill would "bring a measure of transparency and public disclosure around the lobbying activity directed at members of Parliament and their staff".

It was passed unanimously at its first reading but has come under intense scrutiny during the select committee stage.