Securities industry body tips lobbying boom

ROB O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 11/11/2012
Holly Walker
DISCLOSURE: Green Party MP Holly Walker's Lobbying Disclosure Bill aims to bring transparency to MPs dealings with lobbyists.

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MP Holly Walker's Lobbying Disclosure Bill could set off a lobbying boom, the Securities Industry Association (SIA) warns.

The SIA, which represents stock brokers, said it supported Walker's objective - increased transparency around lobbying activity and increased trust in political decision-making - but the approach taken in the bill would have the unintended consequence of forcing companies and interest groups to engage the services of professional lobbyists.

The bill was incorrectly focused on the entities that should be captured or exempted, rather than on information to be disclosed and the most efficient and effective way to ensure that the information was disclosed, the SIA said.

"While the bill will likely deliver to that objective, it is likely that it will also have the unintended and rather perverse impact of enhancing the role of the paid professional lobbyist," the SIA warned in a submission to Parliament.

"This will arise as a result of the significant barriers being placed in the way of paid employees, contractors and service providers of other entities approaching members of Parliament or their staff to discuss matters of interest to such entities, particularly where lobbying is incidental to a role or is infrequent.

"In our view, it will also impose significant barriers on MPs and their staff seeking to consult with organisations, potentially even in those circumstances where there is a statutory provision requiring consultation."

The barriers consist of a requirement to be registered as a lobbyist before a person can approach or communicate with MPs or their staff on behalf of an entity or organisation; compliance with a lobbyists' code of conduct; quarterly disclosure of all lobbying and communication activity; and increased costs as the auditor-general has the right to recover costs of the regime from registered lobbyists.

"This means that entities and organisations may well find it easier to pay a professional lobbyist to promote an issue, particularly if such lobbying activity is infrequent," the SIA said.

"This is an aspect of the bill on which there has not been any substantive public commentary, yet this likely outcome appears to be in direct contrast to what historically has been the circumstance in New Zealand, where access to MPs and their staff is readily available to any entity or individual.

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"If the result of the proposed legislation is an enhancement of the use of paid professional lobbyists, rather than entities and organisations lobbying and presenting on issues themselves, this appears to be the opposite of what one would expect in a country with an objective of open democratic government."

Walker, a Green list MP, said people shouldn't be too concerned about the way the bill was drafted at the moment as it would probably look very different after the select committee process.

She said she was not too concerned about the details as long as the bill met its objective of ensuring that lobbying was understood to be a legitimate activity and that parliamentary transparency was improved through disclosure of who was lobbying whom about what.

The bill also had to be workable, she said.

"I'm open to it looking very different as long as it achieves those objectives," she said.

Walker said the SIA submission was a very good one.

Getting definitions in the bill right would remove a lot of the uncertainties the SIA highlighted, she said.

Walker said the core of the bill was the creation of a code of conduct and a register for lobbyists.

While the bill is said to be based on Canadian legislation, the SIA said it was "frustrating" that it does not include "obvious common-sense provisions" included in Canadian law, such as a clear differentiation between a paid professional lobbyist and an in-house lobbyist.

The question that should be addressed, the SIA said, was whether the disclosure should be made by those being lobbied - MPs and their staff - rather than by those lobbying, especially as most of the information needed already exists and can currently be obtained under the Official Information Act.

"Disclosure by those being lobbied would be in line with existing requirements for the disclosure of political donations and completion of registers of interests, where required, by the relevant political parties or politicians, hence our subsequent recommendation to assess information for disclosure against the provisions of the Official Information Act and for disclosure to be automatically completed by MPs and their staff."

LOBBYING OVER LOBBYING

Tourism Industry Association

"TIA believes that a bill of this nature is unnecessary in New Zealand where access to politicians and decision-makers is a key characteristic of this country's small and open democracy. This bill appears to be trying to fix something which is not broken."

Tainui Group Holdings

"Kanohi ki te kanohi, or speaking face to face, is an integral element to tikanga Maori. Maori accord significant importance to personal one-on-one engagement, not just as a means of communication, but as a means of establishing relationships based on mutual respect and trust . . . We cannot support legislation that would constrain our right to practice our tikanga Maori in such a manner."

Senate SHJ (a PR and lobbying firm)

"Senate SHJ recommends that the bill not proceed. This recommendation is primarily based on the fact that there is no articulation or description of the problem the bill seeks to address through its proposed level of control, disclosure and penalties regime."

Service and Food Workers Union

"If this bill proceeds there should be differential reporting requirements and obligations on professional lobbyists and there should also be differentiation in the code of practice for NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and trade unions as compared to professional lobbyists . . . It is more appropriate for MPs to report on lobbying, not the lobbyists."

- Sunday Star Times

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