Greens bill puts political openness at risk – lobbyist

A back passage storm is brewing between a political lobbyist and a Greenie who wants tighter control around lobbying.

Holly Walker’s Lobbying Disclosure Bill, which is at select committee stage, wants to set out rules and regulations around New Zealanders’ access to politicians.

But in a Dominion Post opinion piece today, Franks & Ogilvie lawyer and one-time anti-MMP campaigner Jordan Williams criticises the bill because he says it moves “closer to the American-style lobbying industry the bill's supporters are hoping to avoid”.

Mr Williams, who has swipe card access to parliament himself, says the bill will make lobbying a criminal offence for everyone but organisations who have pre-registered with the auditor-general.

“It covers even the most modest or ancillary advocacy," he says.

"An accountant emailing an MP about a tax policy on behalf of a client will be committing a criminal offence unless the accountant is a registered lobbyist. A fine of up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for companies can be imposed.

"Even a local farm manager complaining to the local MP at the supermarket about emissions policy would be covered.”

He says even voluntary organisations, such as a local RSA, are included in the bill.

In reply, Ms Walker blogged Mr Williams is hardly “a neutral bystander”.

She refuses to accept the bill will harm the democratic right to access MPs.

But she admits the current draft has a very wide definition, so as to “capture influence whenever and wherever it takes place”.

Ms Walker also acknowledges New Zealand does not have high-profile scandals seen overseas.

“As part of this open and accessible system, we need to be transparent about who has that access – the public has a right to know who is lobbying MPs on which issues, which is the purpose of the bill.

"Lobbying transparency will help to level the playing field in terms on influence on decision making.”

Mr Williams says the Greens’ bill risks New Zealand’s open and accessible political system.

“MPs run constituency clinics. It's not hard to have half an hour of an MP's time. We are a small country with very accessible MPs.

"Why introduce 'big-city' barriers between the people and their representatives?”

Submissions on the bill to the select committee close on October 5.

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