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Draft Voluntary Lobbying Code Of Conduct Lacks Substance | Lobbyists Prove The Need For Regulation

The draft voluntary lobbying code of conduct just released for consultation by the Ministry of Justice is gossamer thin says Transparency International New Zealand.

The Voluntary Lobbying Code of Conduct is now out for a short consultation period (8 April 2024). Transparency International New Zealand says that it is so watered down from an initial reasonable Ministry draft, to now totally lack substance, even though it is voluntary and non-binding.

Initially the Ministry of Justice developed a draft lobbying code of conduct based on those of similar democracies. As you would expect with professional codes the original draft genuinely addressed 'conduct' - the moderation of behaviour and practice. But after consultation with government relations consultants for their feedback we now see the version out for consultation.

The difference between the initial draft based on international best practices and the current version is striking. In moving from 'conduct' to high level intent statements, actual behavioural change based on ethical principles has been struck out or watered down.

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"This is not surprising. Reluctance to engage in discussions around ethical practice or limits on lobbying activity is well documented. This lack of will to genuinely address ethical standards was evident in the notes of the Ministry's earlier meeting with lobbying firms, where the ethical challenges regularly faced were not raised, and with the priority for lobbyists being 'not us' and 'not needed'", says Debbie Gee Deputy Chair of Transparency International New Zealand.

"What we want to see from those who influence on behalf of others is a display of measurable accountability, willingly setting ethical 'no go' areas and being more transparent."

The sad irony is that it displays how effective lobbyists can be at influence/spin, this time in their own interests.

Ministry of Justice officials did their best, with a limited brief, to work with industry players to develop a voluntary code, and those players have sought the lowest bar.

It's a narrow view though. If lobbyists had the foresight to put ethical principles into practice in their occupation, as the original draft envisioned, this would in turn raise their own mana and that of their clients in the eyes of the public. Instead, their aversion to ethical behaviours just makes a stronger case for mandatory lobbying regulation.

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