Editorial - Bill's broad sweep worries

Last updated 07:22 26/10/2012

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Green Party MP Holly Walker huffily dismissed a critique of her Lobbying Disclosure Bill by Jordan Williams, questioning the Wellington lawyer's view of the importance of transparency in our political system and insisting he was misguided about the bill's effects.

What's more, as a lobbyist with swipe-card access to Parliament, he was not a neutral observer.

She can't challenge the neutrality of Parliament's Clerk of the House, Mary Harris, who is concerned the bill's broad definition of lobbying activity could have "a potential chilling effect on open communication" between the public and MPs.

The well-intentioned bill aims to bring openness and transparency to political lobbying. But its broad sweep, in an attempt to enable the public to know who is lobbying MPs on which issues, has drawn criticisms from both sides of the political divide. The Right-leaning David Farrar has studied the 100 or so submissions and concluded this must come close to being the most incompetently drafted bill in some years. Scott York, a Left-leaning lawyer, says it appears to make lobbyists of people and groups that would probably never consider themselves to be anything of the sort. If the bill were a horse it would have been shot.

The select committee process has certainly exposed a slew of unintended implications. The attorney-general has described the bill's overreach as an "unacceptable and dangerous limit on freedom of expression". The Human Rights Commission and the auditor-general have raised similar concerns. So have submissions from the Waikato.

The impingement of all citizens' freedom of speech is one of four objections raised by Tainui, which has urged the Government Administration Committee to recommend the bill be dumped. Professor Bradford W Morse, Dean of Law at the University of Waikato, agrees the net has been cast far too wide and that freedom of expression would be impaired.

Ms Walker inherited the bill from Green MP Sue Kedgley, who retired at the 2011 general election. She should have done more work before promoting it. It might be smarter to take the Law Society's advice and biff this bill rather than patch it, then ask the Law Commission to write a new one.

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- Waikato Times

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