We all have access to our elected representatives (or should have). But some professional lobbyists have much easier access than others, as was confirmed last week when Speaker Lockwood Smith published a select list of people who have access cards that exempt them from the security procedures applied to all others who visit Parliament.
Former diplomat Charles Finny, Sky TV's Tony O'Brien and prominent public relations executives Barrie Saunders and Mark Unsworth were on the list, along with leading trade unionists Helen Kelly and Peter Conway.
The release of the names was timely. It coincided with the first reading of the Lobbying Disclosure Bill, which has been sent to a select committee for consideration. Introduced by Green MP Holly Walker, it aims to bring greater transparency to the lobbying of MPs and their staff and would complement other recent steps to promote open government.
The bill would require paid lobbyists to register and file returns of lobbying activity with the auditor-general. This information would be made public and, along with a code of conduct, should help allay public suspicions about the exercise of undue or improper influence.
Ms Walker is among those who acknowledge the bill's defects. The definition of lobbying and lobbyists needs clarifying and the attorney-general says the draft bill could impede communication between MPs and the wider public. But it would bring this country into line with countries like Australia, the United States and Canada, which demand less secrecy around those who press for political favours.
Labour's Charles Chauvel says the bill can be made more workable by exempting the community and voluntary sector from a major burden. He has the gall to include trade unions in that group. This attempt to confine the bill's scope to commercial organisations, as one commentator observed, would introduce “loopholes you could drive a busload of lobbyists through” while undermining the bill's objectives.
Wanting to flush National's business mates into the open but allow Labour's union mates to continue lobbying covertly is shamefully unprincipled. More perplexing, it would expose a well-intentioned bill to a partisan buffeting that would threaten to sink it.
- © Fairfax NZ News