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Networks of influence: Lobbyists

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: ,

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.


22 comments on “Networks of influence: Lobbyists”

  1. Bunji 1

    Excellent – I’ve been meaning to post on this, glad you have!

    particularly concerning is this:

    Three former ministerial advisers are among those give easy-access cards in the past year: Air New Zealand’s Phil de Joux, who used to be John Key’s deputy chief of staff; Anadarko’s Anita Ferguson, who was Steven Joyce’s press secretary, and Fonterra’s Nicola Willis, who was an adviser and speech-writer for Mr Key.

    As NoRightTurn says “All three of these people are leveraging relationships built in government service for private gain … and raises the question of whether the advice they gave in their previous position was affected by their desire to gain outside employment”

    And if you look at Anadarko’s special no protest at sea bill, or even the strong support for government funded irrigation for dairy farmers, questions have to be raised.

    Other countries have proper registers of lobbyists (and their gifts), and you aren’t allowed to be a lobbyist for a period after being a public servant / politician. It seems right to have that wall in place.

    • karol 1.1

      Thanks, Bunji. Yes, those are important examples of how the Lobbyists operate. I should have linked to those egs, especially NRT’s post in my post. Will link to your commen.

      I was aiming to add a slightly different angle to the issue from the likes of NRT.

  2. felix 2

    Why shouldn’t the neoliberal corporate elites have unfettered access to the government?

    They bought and paid for it after all.

    • tracey 2.1

      Yup, user pays

    • Winston Smith 2.2

      so how about leftie lobbyists or don’t they count?

      • karol 2.2.1

        WS, did you read the post on the overall balance of lobbyists?

        • Winston Smith

          Yes, it was so biased and one-eyed towards right-leaning lobbyists that I wondered why even mention the left-leaning lobbyists

          Lobbyists, whether they’re left or right are a blight on the system but the left don’t like the right-wing lobbyists because the right-wing lobbyists are so much better then the left

          • felix

            “Yes, it was so biased and one-eyed towards right-leaning lobbyists that I wondered why even mention the left-leaning lobbyists”

            As is the reality of the situation.

          • karol

            Because I was focusing on the make up of the list as it is. And because, even though the neoliberals have done their best to undermine them, it shows there is still some power in a union.

  3. Tom Gould 3

    The problem for the left is that their ‘networks’ are really just echo-chambers filled with negative energy and rage. Which is why the are always on the losing end.

  4. Ad 4

    It would be worse to form policy about the economy without input from those who represent actors in the economy. Ministers make far too many ignorant decisions already – we need real access not less.

    Remember Helen Clark had to put much of her caucus through a major business charm exercise in her first term because they managed to get so far offside with them.

    She also formed the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board comprising some of New Zealand’s most powerful CE’s for direct advice on policy matters. They met monthly with substantial agendas, with senior Ministers. One of them was the head of the trade unions.

    Does it make any difference to the argument if the “lobbyists” are private or just in-house corporate affairs? If so why?

    While we don’t have to have as many courtiers as the Sun King, political governance in this country is so centralised, and after the sustained gutting of local government so narrow, that getting your face into Ministers and Deputy Secretaries is critical for doing business in this country.

    These vast networks are only a bad thing if you are either not in them or not able to work them. Otherwise they are utterly necessary.

    • karol 4.1

      Remember Helen Clark had to put much of her caucus through a major business charm exercise in her first term because they managed to get so far offside with them

      Right there you touch on the main problem, Ad. This was the result of the corporates having so much power, the Labour Party courted them at the expense of the traditional Labour Party constituency.

      What part of democracy do you not understand? And why do you have so much faith that the business elites are acting in the interests of all?

      We all operate within networks. Some provide more access to elite power than others.

      • Ad 4.1.1

        What I have seen of democracy is so many sham and cynical efforts at consultation that it is hardly surprising that people seek to circumvent public routes. Consider the cultural of consultation engendered through the original RMA and and 1989 Local Government reforms. Anyone disagree here?

        We were all sold a culture of communitarial decision-making. The sum total of it was that it left anyone trying to oppose anything even more burnt out and damanged than they would have been without the whole reform mess.

        Same in Select Committees. These are now a joke in which groups take the time and expese to fly in from all over the coutnry to try and make changes to stupid legislation, which are almost universally ignored, their public forum grandstanded over by the self-serving politicians, their dignity shredded in front of tv news cameras for all to see.

        So New Zealanders understand the version of democracy operating in New Zealand very well indeed.

        Other than business, the best lobbyists in this last two terms of government have been Maori seeking redress from Treaty of Waitangi violations.

        So cheers Karol your joyous ideals about democracy straight out of the West Wing bear no relation to New Zealand reality.

        If you don’t like the access that Sky City or Fonterra can get, go and knock on the door of Tanui or Ngati Whatua or Tuhoe. Figure it out.

        • karol

          Show me evidence that the RMA is as bad as you say. It is flawed. Does that mean it should be made weaker so that it can serve the elites more adequately?

          Show me evidence that the government’s abuse of consultation works better for all Kiwis than select committee processes as originally intended.

          I am saying we are a long way from a real democracy. But this government is making things far worse.

          So, you’re saying, because we have a flawed democracy we should just give up and let the elites organisie things the way they want?

          • Ad

            The intention of either the Local Government reforms, or RMA reforms, or the Select Committee reforms, is utterly irrelevant. If someone wants to reform them all and turn the entire ship of state to rights, go for it.

            Meantime, we’ve had this situation since 1989. That’s a generation: 24 years. Sunlight is always touted as the best disinfectant, but in fact public exposure is only best for public humiliation by media – with politicians using them as blood-seeking dogs.

            If you want to engage politicians and change their minds, since you seem incapable of taking hints, you will need at least one of these:

            – Have something they want. Either power, or your own network of influence, or a really solid media lead from a tv station, or campaign funding, or rarely, stunning research-based policy ideas that will crush all others.

            – Have a track record of trust with them, preferably personally. Deep and over a long time.

            Failing that;
            – Have a credible threat. Be able to block the roads with trucks, march on parliament in the thousands, pull cheques. Own a barrel of ink.

    • tracey 4.2

      Key cld never be accused of putting his caucus through an employee charm.

  5. fambo 5

    And then there are the simple phone calls – no swipe card needed.

  6. Huginn 6

    Hi Karol

    Sorry about the tangential relationship to the topic, but I thought you might be interested in this, from Turkey:

    In an emergency ruling, an Ankara court issued on Saturday a blanket ban on media reports covering claims that Turkey’s intelligence agency was sanctioned to troll massive amount of Turkish citizens’ personal data, including children’s school report cards.


  7. unicus 7

    If “Information is the currency of democracy” (Thomas Jefferson ) Key’s gang is clearly skint

  8. MC 8

    It is indeed deeply concerning to see this government so blatantly favouring their friends – largely male, white anglo-saxons I could add – rather than opening the door to some very prominent people. I can think of one who regularly has her views sought by major daily newspapers, and who is sought out by Ambassadors and High Commissioners who is not on this list.

  9. Matthew Hooton 9

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think these cards are “swipe cards”. I think they just give you the same access as senior officials – that you show them to the receptionist and get let through to the public areas without having to sign in. And, if you have a client with you, you still have to get the client signed in. When my former boss Lockwood Smith became Speaker, I asked for one and he approved it, but I never got round to picking it up because it never seemed important enough. So I think the main benefit of these cards, and the publicity given to them, is that people get to use them to promote themselves to their clients (if a consultant) or to their employers (if an employee).

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