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Health Dollars Spent Lobbying MPs

Health Dollars Spent Lobbying MPs

ACT New Zealand Finance Spokesman Rodney Hide today revealed in Parliament that the Ministry of Health has been paying anti-smoking groups to lobby MPs and the media to support a law change to ban smoking in bars and RSAs.

"Public servants can't lobby MPs. They can't pay interest groups to do it for them. Paying ASH, the Smokefree Coalition and Aparangi Tautoko Auahi Kore to lobby MPs in support of a law change is a misuse of public funds and a breach of the Public Service Code of Conduct," Mr Hide said.

"The Health Ministry is no longer politically neutral. It has orchestrated a political campaign on MPs and through the media to effect a law change.

"The five contracts total $2,114,500, excluding GST. That is money meant for health care - not lobbying MPs and writing letters to the editor.

Under these contracts, Aparangi Tautoko Auahi Kore is required to "promote a supportive public climate for enhancing smokefree environment protection in legislation", "engage and secure support from the public [and] political networks", "visit key portfolio MPs and Maori MPs", "make formal submissions and presentations to the Select Committee considering legislative change" and "develop and support a media strategy".

"ASH is required to appear on TV, radio or in newspapers at least 50 times a year, publish and distribute "Media and Political Updates at least six times a year" and "liaise with ... members of parliament [and] political parties ... to raise awareness of tobacco related issues and developments".

"The Smokefree Coalition is required to "create a climate of support for amendments to the Smokefree Environments Act", lobby policy-makers, make submissions, issue media releases and write letters to the editor.

"Just as bad, these supposedly independent interest groups aren't allowed to criticise the Government without first discussing it with the Government, and vice versa! Taxpayers' money has been paid in an attempt to silence these lobby groups.

"It was different for Kit Richards. Prime Minister Helen Clark declared it `completely unacceptable within a public sector organisation' for him as a Timberlands' employee to send an email to lobby groups advising them to target certain Ministers. He lost his job.

"We now have Ministry officials paying interest groups to lobby certain MPs. It's a misuse of health funding, a breach of the Public Service Code of Conduct, and more rank hypocrisy from this government," concluded Rodney Hide.

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