Trust is the key, says visiting MP

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 25/10/2012

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A discussion in Nelson on declining voter interest left a visiting Green MP feeling light-headed.

Green Party electoral reform, open government and youth spokeswoman Holly Walker was the special guest at a "Spirited Conversation" evening at Yaza Cafe last night.

More than 80 people filled the cafe for a two-hour discussion of the issue of declining participation in politics, and possible solutions to this.

Ms Walker gave a short speech, followed by an open discussion of the issues, but had to take a break at one stage after the high temperature in the room left her feeling faint.

Despite this, the evening went well, with a lot of passionate discussion about voter engagement. Ideas ranged from whether the government should lower the voting age, to whether civics should be taught in schools.

Ms Walker said she believed that greater engagement in the political system, and trust in politicians, could be gained by increasing the level of transparency in government.

Ms Walker's Member's Bill, the Lobbying Disclosure Bill, is in the select committee stage at Parliament. The bill would introduce a register of lobbyists, with failure to register being an offence. 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.

Ms Walker said such moves would increase the public's confidence in politics and politicians.

"If we can increase transparency around that area, that in turn makes people more engaged with politics."

The recent high-profile privacy breaches at the Ministry of Social Development also had an impact on public trust, she said.

"There are very real concerns.

"It's a wider issue of trust in Parliament and government, and people being able to trust that those in positions of responsibility are trustworthy."

Ms Walker said she was impressed with the Spirited Conversations format, as such presentations allowed people to engage with politicians, and politics in general, on a personal level.

"It's a great way to get to know politicians as people. We're just regular members of the public, too."

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