Are you a lobbyist? 


If you lead an industry association, as many of our clients do, you well may be.  And if you are deemed a lobbyist you may well have to adhere to the voluntary code of conduct for third party lobbyists which the Ministry of Justice is considering. 
Because our company is heavily involved in government relations work for clients, I have come to sit on the Public Relations Institute’s working group with which the Ministry is ‘consulting’ as part of its ‘scoping work’. 
At the heart of the Ministry’s consideration is ‘how to strike the right balance between enabling legitimate advocacy that benefits society and protecting the public interest in transparency around these activities’. 
This work grew out of the Prime Minister’s announcement this April that he wanted to see measures ‘to support greater transparency around lobbying at Parliament’. 
As well as the voluntary code, the Ministry will lead ‘a substantive review of the policy options for regulating lobbying activities, including a public consultation process’. 
Full disclosure:  I was involved in the work that eventually over-turned the previous attempt to regulate lobbying through the Lobbying Disclosure Bill in 2012 (and I had my own swipe card which did make life at Parliament much easier!). 
But I am ambivalent about a voluntary code. 
Our company is certainly totally transparent and upfront in all our dealings with politicians and government officials, and I don’t know any of my colleagues who aren’t, whether they are consultants like me, or professional advocates on behalf of their Association members. 
Our goal on behalf of our clients is to ensure all parties to a discussion have all the relevant information so they can make informed decisions around policy.  We spend a lot of our time building relationships, but that’s the nature of the business – building trust and credibility.  
A code certainly won’t hurt, but will it help?  Especially if it’s voluntary, if it’s not well-policed and if the consequences for breaching it aren’t sufficiently eye-watering. 
I said at the last MoJ meeting I attended that this approach is, perhaps, a solution looking for a problem. 
But there is a real problem for our company - and for some of our clients – when engaging with government; actually getting reasonable and timely access to both people (whether they be politicians or officials) and information. 
Both are closely guarded by this administration, and have become increasingly so in my view over the last six years. 
In some cases the email signatures of officials no longer include phone numbers.  They don’t always want to talk to you. 
I made this point, too, at the MoJ meeting, and most of my colleagues on the call agreed.  If people like us are to be asked to adhere to a code around transparency, fair access and balanced participation, so, too, should those on the other side of the fence. 
Think Stuart Nash. Think Chris Hipkins’ recent forced apology.  Also think Kris Faffoi. 
And ask yourselves, too, how often do you struggle to get OIAs answered in a timely and transparent manner?  And do officials respond in a timely fashion to enquiries that affect your constituency?  And are you consulted with regularly and in a meaningful and timely way when government proposes changes to your sector? 
I can think of several of our clients who pull their hair out trying to get decent answers from the Government machine about what’s being proposed in terms of regulation and legislation for their sector. 
If there is to be a Code, it should apply to both sides of the ‘lobbying’ fence.