Written By: - Date published: 10:04 am, June 19th, 2013 - 22 comments
Categories: accountability, class war, democracy under attack, internet, Parliament, same old national, telecommunications, Unions - Tags: holly walker, the speaker
The Speaker of Parliament has issued an updated lists of Lobbyists given a swipe pass into Parliament. As Audrey Young reports, this list has doubled in the last year. This elite group of lobbyists gives a clue as to who is engaged with some elite networks of influence over political decision making and activities. The group includes powerful corporate representatives, people with links to political parties (especially the National Party), dominant voices within the MSM and public relations.
For the “left” some trade union representatives get the elite swipe cards, providing a counter to the dominant “neoliberal” lobbyists. This does not fully balance the list, in which “neoliberal” elites hold the balance of power. More importantly, there is no one there on behalf of beneficiaries, the young and those disconnected, disengaged and marginalised from parliamentary politics. And over twice as many men as women (38:15).
Recent blog posts by Chris Trotter and Jane Kelsey point to the underlying networks of capitalist elites. They have long been operating to manage democracy in their own interests, most often deliberately masking the operations of their networks of influence.
Networks are perfectly suited to the digital context of multiple platforms and systems of immediate digital communications. Networks are much more powerful than rigidly managed, well-planned and organised conspiracies. They are lines of communication and connection that include a range of overlapping and intersecting networks. They enable those with power and influence to build relationships that can be drawn on at crucial moments. Their biggest strength is that networks are flexible and adaptable: able to change with the unpredictable developments in the political, economic and social landscape. It makes them very hard to counter.
For those of us wanting a more open democracy where the least powerful can also talk back to power, it is good that this list is now being made public, but as Green MP Holly Walker says,
If our parliament is really as open and accessible as everyone says, there should be no need for particular individuals to have swipe card access.
This list didn’t used to be public – former Speaker Lockwood Smith decided to disclose the list last year at the time that my lobbying disclosure bill passed its first reading in parliament.
It’s great for transparency’s sake that new Speaker David Carter has decided to continue with this disclosure, but it does again raise the question about why some people get privileged access to parliament and decision makers, and why we don’t have broader public disclosure of lobbying activity in New Zealand.
In her recent post on “What went wrong in Iceland”, Jane Kelsey point s to the way such networks of influence participated in the “neoliberal” revolution of the 1980s:
There are many unnerving commonalities for New Zealand in the background to the crisis, but that is a much longer story than can be written here. In particular, stories about how the intimate network of well placed businessmen and politicians reminded me of the 1980s, as well as recent back room deals, the way the executive is bypassing and binding the hands of future of Parliaments, and the scrutiny of parliamentary officials and judicial review is being removed. Iceland shows how easy it is for the conditions for crisis to be created through these networks and be shielded from public view until it is too late.
A recent post by Chris Trotter indicates that such networked elite influence have their roots in developments much earlier in the 20th century. Trotter refers to Walter Lippmann, the US journalist and Presidential adviser, who (as outlined on Wikipedia) thought the masses were incapable of understanding and participating in democracy. He believed that “pictures in their heads”, as part of complex ideas condensed into symbols, prevented the masses from engaging in critical thinking. Thus journalists needed to mediate between the politicians and the public, in order to educate citizens who,
were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues.
Lippmann saw the purpose of journalism as “intelligence work”. Within this role, journalists are a link between policymakers and the public. A journalist seeks facts from policymakers which he then transmits to citizens who form a public opinion. In this model, the information may be used to hold policymakers accountable to citizens.
Trotter refers to Lippmann’s theory and legacy in order to make sense of a small group of right wing Labour MPs accepting SkyCity corporate hospitality at an All Blacks match.
Under the modern democratic system which Lippmann envisaged (and which, through his weekly syndicated newspaper column and his many books, he largely defined and systematised) elected politicians, journalists and “specialists” of every kind constitute a permanent, self-sustaining matrix of governing “elites”, whose purpose is to justify the ways of the democratic capitalist system, both to itself and to the volatile and ill-informed citizens who keep it running.
However, Trotter also argues that digital communications (including social media) provide alternative networks through which a wider public can expose and critique the operations of elite networks. No wonder that powerful, US-dominated agencies have surveillance systems that aim to monitor and restrain these more publicly accessible networks.
Holly Walker’s post at the above link shows the 2012 list, plus the 2013 additions to the list of Parliamentary lobbyists. Audrey Young’s article (linked above) adds:
Several other frequent visitors, such as political party presidents and officials, have also been issued cards, as have pollsters David Farrar, Curia Market Research and David Talbot of UMR Research. Two former members of the Press Gallery are approved, former TVNZ reporter Leigh Pearson and former TV3 reporter Scott Campbell.
The full current list if the Speaker’s Approved Visitor List to Parliament, is available on the parliament website.
[UPDATE] Bunji provides important examples of the ways some lobbyists, with previous connections to John Key and Steven Joyce, seem to be benefiting from the system (citing an NRT post) : relating to lobbyists for Air NZ, Anadarko & Fonterra.