26 August 2013

New Zealand may be seen as taunting the OECD with a disregard for a Recommendation of the Council  to regulate lobbying and lobbyists  The OECD considers that controls are vital “… to make the world economy stronger, cleaner and fairer…”  They are necessary in the “…drive to foster open governance and restore public trust in markets and democracy…”

But that is not the conclusion reached by the Government Administration Select Committee. In reporting on the Lobbying Disclosure Bill today after more than 12 months’ consideration, it has decided that regulating the activities of lobbyists would have unintended consequences for democracy going well beyond what is required.

The Attorney General’s view is that the ability of citizens to freely express views and opinions should not be silenced by the state.

In what may well be an ironical observation on Parliament’s history of self regulation, the Select Committee suggested that the best way to improve transparency of lobbying and decision-making is not to legislate but for the House to set guidelines on proactive disclosure.

The report mentions statutory controls in Canada and Australia (although another 10 countries have laws in place, with others like Ireland in the process of enacting provisions) but makes no reference to the OECD Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying.  The Principles, in force since 2010 expect Member states to implement rules and guidelines.  That may well be why the Select Committee suggested that a better solution than the Bill promoted by the Greens, would be for Parliament to establish “guidelines”.

A primary characteristic of the OECD Principles is that there is a clear and unambiguous definition of “lobbyist and lobbying activity”.  The Select Committee proposal for guidelines that provide a definition of lobbyist and lobbying activity reinforces the probability that though rejecting statutory controls, the Select Committee members were cognisant of OECD expectations.  This sideward glance at the OECD is pertinent.  The OECD  Council has directed that the Public Governance Committee report this year on progress made in reviewing and updating frameworks for transparency and integrity in lobbying.