Expand diary disclosures beyond Ministers

The New Zealand government has taken an important step towards greater transparency with the publication of ministerial diaries, allowing the public to see (to some degree) who ministers are meeting. However, this could usefully be expanded to cover all MPs and senior public servants. This would to some extent mirror the Irish approach, which – although it requires lobbyists to fill out the disclosures rather than those they are lobbying – takes a broad approach towards the kinds of meetings that need to be disclosed.

Why the contribution is important

One of the principal ways through which influence can be exerted in the political system is through meetings with decision-makers. In all political systems access to decision-makers is unequal; some people and organisations are more likely to get meetings with decision-makers than others. This access, bringing with it the opportunity to make one's case in a direct or face-to-face setting, is reasonably thought to lead to greater influence.

If this inequality cannot be directly addressed, it is all the more important that the public can at least see who is meeting decision-makers and therefore has the opportunity of greater influence. This issue has been recognised by the publication of ministerial diaries since 2019. However, although ministers may be the most important decision-makers in the New Zealand political system, they are certainly not the only ones. MPs more generally have significant influence in the political system (for instance through the ability to put up member's bills), as do senior public servants, through the advice they provide to ministers. It is therefore desirable that the disclosure regime be extended to these classes of decision-makers. While the publication of diaries does create extra (and not insignificant) amounts of work, the routine production of such material should minimise that extra work – and the importance of such wider disclosure has been recognised overseas, as in the Irish example cited above.

by maxrash on March 09, 2021 at 05:29PM

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