11 August 2011

There is exponential growth in lobbying in Queensland. Australian jurisdictions are legislating to improve the regulation of lobbyists. Some of the very first measures taken by the incoming New South Wales government were to require greater openness in the operations of lobbyists.  At an international level, the OECD is expecting member states to promote transparency in lobbying and to control the extent to which there is a revolving door between government and business.  But New Zealand seems unwilling or uninterested in acting on the probability that vested interests buy influence –  that  government policy is arranged to fit in with those interests.

Over the last year the number of registered lobbyists has doubled in Queensland.  There are now 135 firms employing more than 350 people to lobby the various levels of government in the State. The effect is that there is a lobbyist for every two politicians, with more than 2800 business using their services. As the requirement to register as a lobbyist does not apply to accountants and lawyers who are also active in influencing government, the reality is that the numbers lobbying politicians are even greater.

The Premier claims that Queenslanders have easy access to her Ministers, that her door is always open.  But the growth of professional lobbying implies that effective influence flows from paying for access to decision makers. However she has promised a reconsideration of controls as part of a review of the Integrity Act.

In July, the views of a former lobbyist for New Zealand farming interests were published in the Farmers Weekly. He supported the necessity for statutory controls on lobbying. He championed a publicly accessible register of lobbyists, the interests they serve and the people in government that they meet. He advocated arrangements similar to those in Australia, Canada and the United States where it is simple to find out who works for business (and other) interests.

Inevitably there is some knowledge in the market. “ For example we read in the Dominion Post that the American drug companies have engaged Wellington lobbying company… to try to screw Pharmac in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. Interestingly we read that the principal …  has photo access into Parliament to go and talk to who he wants whenever he likes. I’d love to know what other organisations have employed lobbyists for the same negotiations and if it is likely to affect agriculture in the talks.”

The major political parties show no interest in increasing scrutiny of the inner workings of the political process, despite OECD recommendations. What is good for Europe and North America seems to be too constraining for New Zealand. This is a departure from the usual New Zealand focus on transparency, integrity and good government.