13 Feb 2024

'There's more that should be done' - Willis keen for mandatory lobbyist code of conduct

8:22 am on 13 February 2024
National MP Nicola Willis

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Finance Minister and National deputy leader Nicola Willis is standing by her view that there should be a mandatory code of conduct for lobbyists in Parliament.

It was revealed by RNZ In Depth that Parliament's Speaker Gerry Brownlee is overturning the blanket ban on lobbyists having swipe card access to Parliament.

When asked about the issue on First Up Willis said : "There's more that should be done in this area."

"This is an issue that Minister Goldsmith, the Minister of Justice, is working away on and he wants the work completed by April."

Swipe card access for lobbyists was removed by the previous Speaker Adrian Rurawhe last year.

But Brownlee said some discretion was needed and he had approved swipe card access for about four new people.

They were not employed by professional lobbying firms and largely had jobs assisting parties in Parliament.

Previous Speakers have published a list naming those with swipe card access, but Brownlee has told RNZ he will not do that, to protect the privacy of those on the list.

'We are going to see better public service targets'

Willis also faced the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee on Monday where she announced this year's Budget Day will be 30 May, and the Budget Policy Statement will be 27 March.

The Budget Policy Statement usually comes out at the same time as the Half-Yearly Fiscal Update, but Willis told First Up that coalition negotiations had pushed out the timeline.

Willis was grilled by MPs in the select committee on the coalition government's planned public spending cuts, and how this would affect frontline services.

In her answers Willis said that there was "a strong case for improving the delivery of frontline public services".

"It means setting clear, measurable targets instead of making lofty political statements," she told First Up.

"We are going to see better public service targets. They're being put together by the Prime Minister, and we'll be announcing them in the near future, and those will set clear, measurable goals for what we want to achieve across some core public services.

"We'll be measuring ourselves against those targets and what we'll be doing is working with the public service to say right, this is the goal, what do we need to do differently? What do we need to change? What do we need to reimagine to hit that goal?"

School building halt not a sign of cuts to come

Willis also mentioned at select committee she expected more funding to go into education. She made it clear to First Up the recent halt on school building projects was not a sign of cuts to come.

"It goes into the things that are really important to all of us. So that's the operating funding for schools, that's making sure we have funding to pay for teacher salaries. It's ensuring that we have some of the support there for children with additional learning needs, ensuring we have funding to provide tertiary classes. So our focus is on those frontline services and ensuring that they can keep up.

"But what we don't want to see is too much cash being caught up in the back office.

"We're going to be absolutely building new classrooms and repairing schools. But first we have to get a tally of the commitments that have already been made to ensure that we can resource them."

The government also on Monday announced its plans for water infrastructure after repealing the Labour government's Three Waters policy.

"We're working quickly to ensure we have a replacement set of proposals in place so that our councils have new options for how they manage that water infrastructure," Willis said.

"We're confident that we'll have a new regime up and running pretty quickly."

She said she did not expect the government's plan will involve private ownership.

"The advice that we have received so far is that it is possible to take these assets off council balance sheets into new entities, which still have a modicum of the public ownership occurring."