The Government Administration Committee (Committee) has recommended that the Lobbying Disclosure Bill (the Bill) not be passed.  The intent of the Bill was to enhance trust in the integrity and impartiality of political decision-making by making political lobbying more transparent.  The Committee supported the intent of the Bill but concluded there were better ways to address the issue.  The Committee recommended that transparency be enhanced by developing guidelines for MPs, reporting requirements in bills and encouraging disclosure of policy papers during the policy-making process instead of the proposed legislative response.

The Bill

The Bill would have established a register of lobbyists and required lobbyists to adhere to a code of conduct and file returns.  Failure to comply with the code of conduct or file returns could lead to suspension or removal from the register of lobbyists.  It would have been an offence to engage in lobbying without being registered.  One of the key issues with the bill was the difficulty of defining "lobbyist" and "lobbying activity".  As drafted, the Bill would have applied to all organisations and persons contacting members of Parliament on any issue (including staff), whether or not they were professional lobbyists or regularly involved in lobbying.

The Committee was concerned the Bill could have the unintended consequence of limiting the ability of people to express information and impart information freely and discourage constituents from engaging with members.  The Attorney-General gave weight to this concern by providing a report that the Bill could limit the right to freedom of expression as affirmed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 well beyond what would be required to regulate the activities of lobbyists.

Australia and Canada both have compulsory registration regimes and the bill followed the Canadian approach.  The Committee however considered that the approach was not appropriate in the New Zealand context.

Non-legislative alternatives

The Government Administration Committee made a number of non-legislative recommendations to encourage proactive disclosure and reporting and enhance the transparency of the policy-making process.

  1. Guidelines for MPs: that the House develop guidelines for members of Parliament on handling communications relating to parliamentary business, which could include mechanisms for disclosure and reporting by MPs and lobbyists and definitions of "lobbyist" and "lobbying activity";
  2. Reporting on consultations in the development of legislation: that the regulatory impact statements and explanatory notes of parliamentary bills include the names of any non-departmental organisations consulted during the development of related legislation and policy; and
  3. Proactive disclosure of policy papers: that the proactive release of policy papers be encouraged to make the policymaking process more transparent.

The recommendations are aimed at encouraging disclosure and reporting to make the legislative process more transparent.  These requirements, if implemented, will add to the existing disclosure requirements set by Cabinet.  It seems likely that we'll see more proactive disclosure by government and transparency of lobbying in New Zealand as a result of the recommendations.

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