PM announces crackdown on lobbying

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has announced a move toward regulation of the lobbying industry and mandated policy options for regulating lobbying activities.

Hipkins announced the move today, saying that when it was last reviewed in 2012, it didn’t work because it was too broad in scope.

“I want Parliament to look at it again and learn lessons from that process.”

“Getting it right will take a lot of work and consultation and I expect the advice to come back in 2024.”

Other steps to take immediate effect included removing card access to Parliament for anyone in business, non-governmental organizations and trade unions. There are currently about 80 passers-by access to parliament – many of them lobbyists, corporate government relations specialists and trade union representatives.

Those allowed to keep the cards include spouses of former MPs and political party associates and representatives.

Hipkins will also offer government assistance — and funding — to lobbyists to create a voluntary code of conduct.

And he said a refresh of the cabinet manual, due this month, also sets clear expectations for ministers regarding behavior and decisions when considering future work – a move to try and address concerns about politicians lobbying directly after they leave parliament.

On the abolition of pass access, he said that some lobbyists, as well as representatives from business and unions, could only enter the building with a pass.

“My view is that they should go through the front door like any other New Zealander.”

“Access to Parliament is controlled by the Speaker, but I wrote to him today to express the government’s view that this access should be removed.”

“I want as much as possible for this to become a bipartisan issue and I call on other political parties to support this move.”

He said he knew NZ was an outlier compared to other countries in this area.

Hipkins said passes created the perception of increased access.

Hipkins said he also wanted outside lobbyists to develop a voluntary code of conduct that would increase transparency by, for example, including the names of the clients they represent on their websites.

“Others involved in lobbying, for example peak bodies, industry associations and other entities, may also want to sign up for this.” The government will provide assistance from the Ministry of Justice to assist in drafting the code and to conduct research on practices abroad and guidance.”

Hipkins said he could not remember his last specific encounter with a lobbyist, but that he had had “interactions”.

A cooling off period would be considered part of the grand review.

The lobbying moves come after a series of articles from RNZ that highlighted the close relationships between lobbyists and politicians, and how they were also used by government departments.

The revelations include how Hipkins’ chief of staff, Andrew Kirton, was previously part of a lobbying firm that worked for alcohol companies opposing a proposed container return scheme.

Hipkins previously said there was a need for “transparency and vigilance” around lobbyists and their relationships with politicians.

He said he would not rule out action being taken on the issues raised in the future.

It is clear that these measures had been on his radar for some time, but were pushed forward after the reporting by RNZ.