Name the lobbyists, Lockwood
Tuesday 17 Apr 2012 10:21 a.m.
Why does Lockwood Smith protect the identity of lobbyists?
By Political Editor Duncan Garner
There are 16 people with swipe card security access to Parliament, but their names and organisations are secret.
The secret 16 are deemed lobbyists by Parliamentary security. Some of them represent big businesses like casinos, liquor, food and tobacco companies - but Speaker Lockwood Smith is refusing to release their names.
Smith says not all are lobbyists – some, he says, are friends of MPs, some are unionists - but he won't release their names for privacy reasons.
He also believes it is not up to him to decide who is a lobbyist.
He says the secret 16 are people who have gained security clearances and their swipe card gets them in the door only. It is enough to get them to the Beehive Cafe and lunch with MPs, or tap an MP on the shoulder.
For a corporate, it is an undeniable perk - access to those who make and shape the law.
They will of course deny it is a perk. They will deny it helps them have any influence. Their denials should be ignored, or at least laughed at.
We know two of them - Sky TV's Tony O'Brien and Wellington consultant Mark Unsworth.
The unionists likely to hold the swipe cards are Helen Kelly and Peter Conway from the CTU.
O'Brien is an immensely likeable bloke - who appears at Parliament more often than some MPs. He is close to many Parliamentarians, ministers and staff, and travels with the Parliamentary rugby team - which Sky TV part-sponsors.
He wines and dines those who matter in the capital and is enormously invaluable to his employer.
Unsworth has similar links. He is close personal friends with the Prime Minister's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, he lobbies for SkyCity Casino - he is reasonably popular, personable and effective, according to MPs I have spoken to.
I got offside with Unsworth in 2006 when I published his ‘black book’ - an expensive guide to your MPs - a tell-all book about MPs, who they are, their weaknesses, their strengths and he puts it all in a book and sells it to his private clients.
Unsworth didn't like the scrutiny and publicity and shut me out for a couple of years. including taking me off his mid-year party invite list.
He re-invited me two years later - but I haven't reappeared at his party. I can get a beer anywhere in Wellington and after a full day with these people at Parliament, why spend the night them with too?
But he's not a bad bloke either and we have put that episode behind us. I have no doubt he works hard and makes a good salary by lobbying MPs on behalf of big business.
So the Greens now want all this out in the open with their lobbying disclosure bill.
It's not a bad idea. John Key now supports some new transparency regime - so finally its time has come.
I think the Greens' bill is only a start and to get cross-party support, there will likely be significant changes.
Why should only paid lobbyists have to register their activities? Unsworth makes a good point - that unpaid activists and lobbyists should also be included and it's fair enough, they still have influence. What about when an MP talks to a parent at a fair about an issue? Is that lobbying? It's a complex area.
So I have no doubt changes are coming.
But back to Lockwood Smith.
In the 16 years I have been at Parliament he is in my mind, without doubt, the best Speaker I have seen. He has pushed openness, he has pushed more transparency. He is fair - he makes National ministers answer questions like no other Speaker has required of their party.
Well done Lockwood.
But he has two more things to do in my view before he heads off to London as our High Commissioner at the end of the year.
He needs to open up Parliamentary Services; spending fully to the requirements of the Official Information Act.
Millions of dollars is spent here at Parliament - it should be subject to the same law as ministerial spending and departmental spending.
And finally - he should immediately release the names of the secret 16 who have swipe card access to Parliament.
Who are they? Who do they represent? And most importantly, why does he protect their identity?
He doesn't need to. Name them Mr Speaker - give us some much needed transparency. Because otherwise it looks like Parliament under your watch, Mr Speaker, has something to hide.