Monday, March 20, 2023

This sounds familiar...

RNZ this morning has the first story another investigative series by Guyon Espiner, this time into political lobbying. The first story focuses on lobbying by government agencies, specifically transpower, Pharmac, and assorted universities, and how they use lobbyists to manipulate public opinion and gather intelligence on the Ministers who oversee them - which seems pretty dubious and anti-democratic. Nothing is as bad as the behaviour revealed in Hager's expose of Timberlands 24 years ago... yet. But then, none of these agencies seems to be in a life-or-death struggle for its social licence. I'm sure the information from, say, NZPAM, or MPI, or NZDF would be far more interesting.

To the extent that this is just basic PR functions, that's something that can and should be done in-house, by public servants subject to public service standards of conduct. But then, avoiding those standards is probably the point, and no-one gets to grift off that.

Still, what's revealed is disquieting enough. And I was particularly disturbed to learn that lobbyists are routinely manipulating OIA responses, telling Transpower when to release material, demanding input into what gets released and what gets withheld, or even censoring them entirely as "commercially sensitive". All of which seems contrary to the law, and hopefully the Ombudsman will be looking into it.