Lobbying plans unclear

Those wanting meaningful change to the lobbying free-for-all at Parliament will have to wait a bit longer to hear what the new government might do.

This week RNZ reported on a new draft code of conduct for lobbyists, produced by the Ministry of Justice, which would be voluntary.

This is not surprising, since the previous Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, in April last year, called on third-party lobbyists to develop a voluntary code, offering assistance from the Ministry of Justice to help draft it.

Officials have drawn up the draft after reviewing codes from more than 40 countries.

Mr Hipkins also successfully suggested the then Speaker Adrian Rurawhe remove swipe card access to parliamentary buildings for about 80 lobbyists.

It was a move supported by then deputy National leader Nicola Willis, although she had been a swipe card holder herself when working for Fonterra before she became a Member of Parliament.

Now there is confusion over whether new Speaker Gerry Brownlee wants to broaden swipe card access and give privacy to holders.

He needs to sort out his conflicting reported statements on this.

The draft, as reported, says it is good practice for lobbyists to publicly disclose their lobbying activities but does not go as far as Australia, where lobbyists must disclose their clients on a publicly searchable website.

The draft also sounds weak on the controversial issue of the revolving door which means political insiders, whether they be MPs, ministers, or senior public servants, face no stand-down period when they move on from their taxpayer-funded roles to become lobbyists.

In the last few years it has been hard to keep up with the number of ministers and former MPs from a variety of parties who have gone straight from Parliament to lobbying roles.

The code recommends cool-off periods but ludicrously leaves it to the industry to decide how to implement them.

Photo: file
We are not sure if those compiling the code did any serious research into the number of turkeys which vote for Christmas. It might have helped.

Ms Willis, now finance minister, stands by her statements made in Opposition, that there should be a stand-down period of 12 months for ministers leaving the government before they could be hired by a lobbying firm.

She would also like to see a transparent, publicly accountable register of lobbyists and who they were lobbying for.

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith is expected to report back on the lobbying issue in April.

With concerns already swirling around the coalition government regarding the influence of Big Tobacco on its policies, Mr Goldsmith will need to take a bold stand.

A mandatory code of conduct for lobbyists, a public register of lobbyists and their clients, and a stand-down period for ministers, MPs and senior public servants, would be a good start.

And another thing

A proposal to extend the range of vaccinations available in pharmacies from next month to include those which would usually be administered to children at general practices is proving controversial in the health sector.

The idea is that by allowing pharmacists to do this work, it would be easier for whānau to access these vaccinations and our woeful childhood immunisation rates would be boosted.

Some general practitioners have warned this will fragment care and pitch providers against each other to compete for "an ever-shrinking health dollar".

They point out that receiving vaccinations within general practice is part of a much broader holistic relationship with families, which starts for infants at the comprehensive six-week check.

Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand agreed general practice was the preferred place for childhood vaccinations because of the continuity of care, but the pharmacy proposal was intended to be a back-up option for the many families not enrolled with a GP.

If the plan goes ahead, close attention will need to be paid to see if it boosts vaccinations as hoped and whether it adversely affects engagement of families with GPs.