A bill seeking to make lobbying of politicians more transparent could have a chilling effect on communication with members of Parliament says Mary Harris, the Clerk of Parliament.
She said the bill would affect daily dealings of MPs and their staff with the public "and potentially could discourage constituents from engaging with members and their offices".
Because it covered communication with MPs and their staff it could have "significant implications" for the House in the performance of its functions.
She had concerns that what she called the broad definition of lobbying activity in the bill could have "a potential chilling effect on open communication" with MPs.
"Many hundreds of individuals and organisations have contact with members and ministers every day, both in relation to matters of public policy and also in respect of personal grievances and concerns," she said in her submission yesterday to the government administration select committee considering the bill.
Ms Harris also believed requiring lobbyists to register under law could give them a status or pre-eminent standing in policymaking processes.
"Such standing might be desirable in larger democracies, where the size of the body politic means not all who wish to participate in parliamentary processes can do so," she said. "This is not the case in New Zealand."
The Lobbying Disclosure Bill sponsored by Green MP Holly Walker won the unanimous support of the House to get past its first reading and to a committee.
And while most submitters endorsed the principle of greater transparency in decision-making, most also pointed to major flaws.
The Lobbying Disclosure Bill is indeed flawed, and its future now must be somewhat uncertain. Over at Kiwiblog DPF suggests some options for its future progress:
I’ll come to the various criticism in a few lines, including from the Clerk of the House and the Auditor-General, but will note for now it is obvious it can not pass in its current form. There seems to be four options open to the select committee:
- Radically rewrite the bill, and then call for further submissions on the amended bill as it will be so different to the current one.
- Ask the Law Commission to write a new bill around lobbying transparency and regulation, as recommended by the NZ Law Society, and vote this bill down.
- Look to implement a non-legislative solution, as I and others have proposed – such as through Standing Orders.
- Just vote the bill down, allowing a more competently drafted one to be resubmitted to the ballot.
New Green MP Holly Walker inherited this Bill from retired Green MP Sue Kedgley, so it would be unfair to direct too much opprobrium at her. But the Select Committee process has revealed a raft of potential unintended consequences, as spelt out by the Clerk of the House, and by organisations as disparate as Tainui, Federated Farmers, the Human Right Commission and the Auditor-General. For such a range of bodies to have rejected the Bill so overwhelmingly suggests that it is hugely flawed.
Holly Walker has the prospect of a long parliamentary career ahead of her. She presents as articulate and intelligent. But she could do a lot worse than follow DPF's helpful advice with regard to any future Member's Bills that she may be involved in drafting:
There’s a lesson here about members’ bills. They are draft pieces of legislation and should be taken seriously. Don’t just submit something your staff give you, or a former MP gives you. Spend a couple of months or more consulting people on it. Show some lawyers a draft. The Office of the Clerk can even help. Talk to major stakeholders who could be impacted before you submit the bill – not afterwards. Even publish an early draft (as Kevin Hague has done) and ask for feedback on it.
Oh yeah also even the Waikato University Law School disses it.
The Member's Bill process is an important part of our democracy, giving individual MP's the opportunity to advance issues of interest or concern. But in advancing those issues, those MP's must have confidence that the legislation that they are advancing will be workable and not create more issues than they solve.