The Labour Party wants transparency over political lobbyists. But it wants transparency on its own terms; the Herald reports:
The Labour Party wants to exempt trade unions from a bill to regulate lobbyists, saying unions are "less sinister" than professional lobbyists and corporates.Labour MP Charles Chauvel has proposed an amendment that will exempt unions from Green MP Holly Walker's Lobbying Disclosure Bill, which passed its first reading almost unanimously last week.The bill would require lobbyists to go on to a register, disclose which politicians they meet and sign up to a code of ethics to be written by the Auditor-General.The bill would cover anybody paid to lobby MPs, whether it was for an organisation such as Greenpeace or a trade union, a company such as SkyCity or as a professional lobbyist.However, Mr Chauvel said it was too broad and the exemption was being sought because Labour believed it should apply only to groups or people who lobbied for a commercial purpose rather than not-for-profit groups.His amendment would exempt unions and labour organisations, as well as groups such as charities, non-governmental organisations, community groups, churches and sports bodies.
This is a most interesting proposal from Mr Chauvel and Labour. The Labour MP reckons that trade unions aren't at all sinister, and need to be cut some slack. And of course, he come up with this proposal completely off his own bat:
Five trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party and donate to it, but Mr Chauvel said he had put in the amendment off his own bat. He said the unions were relaxed about the bill, but he believed they were in a similar position to philanthropic, voluntary organisations which were not-for-profit."When trade unions came up, it seemed to me that they fell on the not- quite-so-sinister-and-behind-the-scenes side of things."He said corporate lobbying had the power to change policy, and was often done on the quiet."There is a big public interest in knowing what corporates are doing because they can afford heft lobbying and hospitality, and research and all the rest," Mr Chauvel said.
We would suggest to Mr Chauvel that there is just as big a public interest in knowing what trade unions are doing, and what they are saying to politicians. And his "unions-are-poor argument cuts no ice whatsoever; not when the Service and Food Workers Union, a Labour affiliate was able to spend $237,364 supporting the Labour Party's 2005 election campaign, but only declare a donation to Labour of $20,000.
Oddly, when Labour pushed through the odious Electoral Finance Act in 2007 (which was the genesis for our entry to the blogosphere), Labour MP's spoke loud and long about "big money" buying influence. It wasn't until some time later that we discovered the extent to which union money helped Labour. Now Mr Chauvel wants us to believe that unions are as pure as driven snow, and should be allowed unfettered access to those who stride through the corridors of power.
And it's not just the Right which is rejecting Mr Chauvel's proposed amendment; read on:
Ms Walker said changes were needed to ensure the bill did not cover everyone who spoke to an MP. However, she believed trade unions should be covered by the bill despite Labour's stance."It is important for transparency that if we are going to have a register of lobbyists that gives us a clear picture of where influence is taking place, then it needs to apply across the board. And that means it does need to capture not-for-profits, NGOs, trade unions ..."