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Hipkins gives another lobbyist top job

In brief

  • Labour’s new Chief of Staff Andrew Kirton is the latest in a line of lobbyists that’s part of a booming industry.
  • Labour, National and the Greens have all given central positions to lobbyists, and oppose boundaries reducing their power.
  • Mainstream media also benefits – at the expense of transparency and public representation.

Labour’s latest in a long line

There are many lobbyist-politicos like Kris Faafoi, the example in our previous article. When Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister in 2017 she immediately replaced her Chief of Staff Neale Jones with lobbyist GJ Thompson – Thompson returned to lobbying a few months later. Jones moved directly to set up the lobbying firm Capital Relations, now a group of former chiefs of staff, press secretaries and a senior communications strategist, under Labour, Greens and National. They help corporations influence government, and in turn help government spin stories to the public. They advertise such on their website:

We work with some of the world’s largest companies as well as local New Zealand firms and non-government organisations. We can help you tell your story in the media and online, navigate the political process, measure and influence public opinion, build strong relationships in Government and put your best case forward to decision-makers.

Now Prime Minister Hipkins has done it again, hiring lobbyist Andrew Kirton as his new Chief of Staff. Aside from working for lobbying firms and banker’s union Finsec, Kirton was also head of Air New Zealand’s government relations team under Christopher Luxon, now Opposition leader.

Ministers are subject to much public scrutiny. Lobbyists are not, and mainstream journalists aren’t interested in looking at them. Quite the opposite, they often become media commentators. Coverage of Kirton’s hiring made no mention of his lobbying background – and he deleted his social media that detailed it. The exception to the media silence was Bryce Edwards’ opinion piece, which ends:

When she was prime minister Jacinda Ardern was frequently lampooned for the promise that her government would be the most transparent government ever. We are yet to see how transparent Chris Hipkins will be, and how much he is willing to allow decision-making to be tied up with vested interests. But he is off to a very poor start by giving his top position to a corporate lobbyist.

National and Greens also love lobbyists

The National Party acted similarly. Prime Minister John Key’s long-time Chief of Staff Wayne Eagleson now works with GJ Thompson. Many National MPs were previously lobbyists, including Chris Bishop who lobbied for tobacco company Philip Morris. His partner was in the Beehive and is now a lobbyist. Simon Bridges retired in March 2022 to become CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, which is essentially a lobbying position.

The Green Party’s Chief of Staff Tory Whanau left in 2021 to work at Capital Relations, and just over a year later was back in politics as Mayor of Wellington.

Labour, Greens and National ignored government research recommending boundaries on lobbying, and in 2013 MPs voted down the Lobbying Disclosure Bill that would have required lobbyists in New Zealand to register and abide by a code of conduct.

The major parties, and mainstream media, benefit from the cosy lobbying situation – at the expense of public transparency and representation.

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