Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Even lobbyists support lobbyist controls

Parliament's continued failure to regulate lobbyists has created an ongoing sore in our political system, raising suspicions of privileged access to power and the wealthy buying policy. Writing in the Herald, lobbyist Neale Jones defends his industry - and its a welcome surprise to see that even he supports basic controls such as a lobbyist register:

The first is a lobbyist register. These are common around the world and provide greater transparency about who is advocating to politicians and when. Nearly a decade ago, then Green MP Holly Walker put forward a Bill that would do exactly that, but it was abandoned when MPs feared it could create a "chilling effect" on public debate by capturing cases such as a food bank making a complaint to an MP about a constituent who needed a benefit.

Instead, Parliament could simply adopt the Australian model, which only captures lobbying by third party organisations such as public affairs firms and lawyers.

The Australian model has problems - it does not regulate contact between lobbyists and public servants, and there is no real oversight. Canada's Lobbying Act is a better model. But the important thing here is that the principle of transparency has been accepted; the only question is where exactly we draw the line on it. Jones also supports a ban on "revolving door" appointments, to prevent politicians from using their inside knowledge and connections to subvert the political process, and greater transparency around political donations.

Jones says explicitly that none of this would harm his business, which is true for anyone engaged in open, honest representation on behalf of others. But it would help give us confidence that our political system was functioning properly, and that policy wasn't for sale. A decade ago Labour supported Holly Walker's Lobbying Disclosure Bill. There are plenty of Labour backbenchers without a bill in the ballot, and they could do a lot worse than reintroducing it so it can finally be passed.