Monday, June 13, 2011

Time for transparency on lobbying II

Last weekend, Dominion-Post columnist Tracy Watkins highlighted the lack of transparency around lobbying in this country, and called for change. We're now seeing the first concrete steps towards that, with the Greens' Sue Kedgley putting up a member's bill to require public registration of lobbyists.

The bill is here [PDF]. It is heavily based on the Canadian Lobbying Act 1985 and defines "lobbying activity" as seeking to influence or arrange meetings with MPs, Ministers or ministerial staff, for payment and on behalf of another. It does not cover ordinary citizens seeking to influence their representatives, and it does not cover requests for information or publicly available submissions. Lobbyists must be registered, and will be subjected to a Code of Conduct. Failure to register will attract a $10,000 fine for an individual, or a $20,000 fine for a company.

The interesting issue is the registration authority. The Greens have chosen the Auditor-General, but I'm not sure they're the right choice. They're right I think to choose an Officer of Parliament - someone responsible to the House rather than Ministers - but its a fair stretch from the Auditor-General's normal activities. It probably would have been better to create a new Oficer of Parliament - a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner - and task them not just with lobbyists but also with the register of pecuniary interests. But this is a Member's Bill, so the shortcut is expected.

The question now is what the other parties think of the idea. I predict a deafening silence - unless the media stand up and ask them about it.