Bryce Edwards: Chris Hipkins hires a lobbyist to run the Beehive

Bryce Edwards: Chris Hipkins hires a lobbyist to run the Beehive

New Zealand is the second least corrupt country on earth according to the latest Corruption Perception Index published yesterday by Transparency International. But how much does this reflect reality?

The problem with being continually feted for world-leading political integrity – which the Beehive and government departments love to boast about – is that it causes complacency about the existence of real corruption and shortcomings in our democracy.

For example, one of the biggest failings in New Zealand’s political system is our entirely unregulated system of corporate-political lobbying. Unlike similar countries, we have virtually no laws and regulations to keep the political power of vested interests and the wealthy in check. This means that the lobbying industry is booming, and corporate lobbyists are able to move back and forwards between senior government positions and private businesses with almost nothing to prevent conflicts of interest.

One of the latest high-profile cases involved former Justice and Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi quitting his Cabinet job and taking on a corporate lobbying job almost immediately. The move was one of the more brazen, but it was hardly an isolated incident, as those who work in the lobbying industry frequently shift in and out of senior government roles. This behaviour is referred to as the “revolving door”, in which lobbyists and political insiders frequently trade places, gaining influence, networks, knowledge, power, and then enriching themselves and the private sector.

The Labour Government has a lobbying problem

Lobbyists running the Beehive have become quite a recurring theme since Labour came to power. When Jacinda Ardern became prime minister in 2017 she immediately got rid of her existing Chief of Staff, Neale Jones, who straight away became a lobbyist. She then employed another well-known lobbyist, GJ Thompson, who helped set the Government up, employed the staff, and then shifted straight back to the private sector to help corporates lobby the Beehive.

Yesterday we learned PM Chris Hipkins has hired another lobbyist to run the Beehive – Andrew Kirton. The new Labour prime minister has therefore followed Ardern’s democratically dangerous precedent of bringing in someone from the world of corporate power and influence, who is likely to eventually go back to lobbying afterwards.

Kirton has been working for the last year for Anacta Consulting – a trans-Tasman “government relations” firm run by David Talbot who, with political commentator Stephen Mills, also provides opinion polling to the Labour Government and corporate clients.

A former student of the University of Oxford and London School of Economics, Kirton has in the past run his own lobbying firm, Kirton Consulting, but is more well known in the lobbying industry for being the head of government relations for Air New Zealand, working for Christopher Luxon when he was CEO. Kirton’s background in the corporate world also includes working for housing property developers and, when living in London, with the London Chamber of Commerce and head of public relations for Heathrow Airport.

Kirton also has a very strong political background in the Labour Party, having worked as the party’s general secretary responsible for corporate fundraising, and as a spindoctor and strategist for Helen Clark’s Labour Government.

He rose through the ranks of the Labour Party in the typically modern way, first as a president of the New Zealand University Students Association, and then working for a union (Finsec). He then became close friends with rising Labour stars including Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson, and Chris Hipkins. In 2017 he ran Labour’s successful election campaign.

He is now married to Labour list MP Camilla Belich, who is the frontrunner to take over from Ardern as the MP for Mt Albert. And Kirton himself has been upfront about wanting to enter Parliament. Wellington insiders say that despite his deliberate low profile, Kirton is one of the most well-connected in the Capital.

Kirton is no stranger to controversy, however, as he was General Secretary of Labour at the time of the 2017 Summer Camp scandal, when allegations of sexual harassment occurred. Kirton was criticised for presiding over an investigation that took a “victim-centred” approach, which was seen by some as a “cover-up”, with Police not called, no outside investigation launched, and families not informed.

The problem with a lobbyist running the Beehive

The conflicts of interest involved in having corporate lobbyists come in and run governments are immense. In other countries, it would be illegal. Here in New Zealand, unusually, there are no rules preventing lobbyists from coming in and out of top political rules.

While lots of media analysis is given to the ministers running the country, especially when there are reshuffles, there is a lack of acknowledgement that it is the unelected officials in the Beehive who often have much more power and influence over what happens.

Therefore, it is disappointing that Kirton’s appointment is not receiving much publicity or scrutiny. So far, the news items about his appointment don’t even mention that he is a lobbyist, and instead there is a vague mention of him being a “PR man”.

Kirton has deleted his social media accounts such as Twitter, and his LinkedIn profile, which gave the details of his past lobbying and corporate employment roles.

It’s time to have some clear rules about ministerial jobs and the lobbying industry. Currently, there is nothing in the Cabinet Manual to prevent the likes of Kris Faafoi or the various lobbyists from moving in and out of the Beehive. And of course, once Kirton finishes his job as Chief of Staff, perhaps in October, he will be free to go straight back into the corporate world lobbying government again.

At the very least, when lobbyists come into positions of political power they should have to manage their conflicts of interest with full transparency. If lobbyists are to be allowed to take on jobs running the Beehive, a condition of employment should be the full public disclosure of the clients of their lobbying firm. But don’t expect to find out who Kirton’s Anacta worked for anytime soon. This isn’t the culture in the Beehive.

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.


Dr Bryce Edwards is Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  


Further reading on Andrew Kirton’s appointment as Chief of Staff

Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Prime Minister Chris Hipkins appoints Andrew Kirton as chief of staff
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Andrew Kirton appointed as Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ chief of staff
Spinoff: Chris Hipkins appoints new chief of staff


Other items of interest and importance today

Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Cost of living: Government takes jabs from Greens, ACT, National over fuel tax cut extension
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Cost of living: Fuel tax cut ‘extremely dumb economic policy’ – Infometrics’ Brad Olsen
Anneke Smith (RNZ): Government’s fuel subsidy extension ‘extremely dumb economic policy’
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Public transport discount continuation a no-brainer
Grady Connell (Today FM): ‘Extending fuel subsidies makes the climate crisis worse’ – Greenpeace spokesperson
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): You can’t yell at society to act on climate change then drink from a subsidised fuel pump
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Fuel excise tax cut and half-price public transport extended, PM Chris Hipkins confirms
RNZ: Chris Hipkins confirms fuel excise cut, public transport support to be extended until June
Bernard Hickey (Interest): Govt extends 25c/litre fuel tax cut for yet another three months, saying it wants to focus first on ‘bread and butter’ ‘cost of living’ issues
Newstalk ZB: Finance Minister defends decision to extend the fuel tax subsidy

1News: Poll reveals price of food is top of mind for New Zealanders
1News: Unemployment rate ticks up ahead of expected recession
Gyles Beckford (RNZ): Unemployment edges up to 3.4%, wages grow at record levels
David Hargreaves (Interest): Shock rise in unemployment to 3.4% – and shock slower wage growth
Rebecca Howard (BusinessDesk): A 50-basis-point rate hike is hardly a respite(paywalled)
Rebecca Howard (BusinessDesk): NZ unemployment rate slightly higher in December(paywalled)
RNZ: 400,000 Kiwis behind in credit repayments with arrears hitting 11.3% in December
Susan St John (Daily Blog): Why have a big fund for a rainy day when the rain is here today
Brigitte Morten (NBR): Chris Hipkins needs to outrun the economy to walk the talk(paywalled)
Simon Bridges (NBR): Let’s not make a Kiwi recession inevitable (paywalled)
Eric Crampton: Cost of living absurdities
Rebecca Stevenson (Interest): Countdown boss says ‘don’t break us up’ while acknowledging Kiwis pay a 10% price premium over Aussies
Paul McBeth (BusinessDesk): Foodstuffs takes softly-softly approach to water down regulation (paywalled)
Ernie Newman (Herald): NZ’s supermarket crisis needs lateral thinking (paywalled)
Paul McBeth (BusinessDesk): Beware politicising petrol prices, MPs warned (paywalled)

Graham Adams (The Platform): Ardern’s resignation a wise career move
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Chris Hipkins moves to stem the bleeding of Labour’s vote in Auckland
Mike Hosking (Herald): New leader, same Labour Party (paywalled)
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): New Auckland Minister Michael Wood to focus on flooding, Auckland Light Rail under review
Anna Whyte (Stuff): ‘We need him to show up’: What community leaders want from new Auckland minister Michael Wood
Brent Edwards (NBR): Government impetus helped by positive polls (paywalled)
John Weekes (Stuff): Retail crime fog cannon scheme coincides with new Police Minister Stuart Nash’s return to job (paywalled)
Matthew Scott (Newsroom): ‘Kiwis are getting quite good at this’: Hipkins tours a water-logged Auckland
Joseph Los’e (Herald): Labour’s Māori caucus asserts mana to bring in a record number of Māori Cabinet ministers
Adam Pearse (Herald): Governor-General delivers climate-change warning to new ministers amid Auckland floods
Bridie Witton (Stuff): New ministers sworn in amid ‘times of difficulty and change’
Giles Dexter (RNZ): New ministers sworn in following Chris Hipkins’ Cabinet shuffle
Paula Bennett (Herald): The changing of the guard – but not the tide (paywalled)
Steven Cowan: What is the point of Chris Hipkins?
Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): Polls show the Govt got the hit it wanted, but issues still remain
Kate Hawkesby (Newstalk ZB): Cabinet reshuffle was confirmation this is the same old govt doing the same old stuff
Kate Hawkesby (Newstalk ZB): Labour is still the same, even with Chris Hipkins in charge
David Robie (Café Pacific): What the resignation of New Zealand’s inspirational prime minister means

Newshub: Christopher Luxon says New Zealanders can trust him, despite Newshub-Reid Research poll results showing many don’t
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Politics’ big question – what does a National-Act government look like? (paywalled)
Richard Harman (Politik): Why Nicola Willis doorknocks
Peter Wilson (RNZ): Chris Hipkins’ first question time as PM: Will he ‘win the House’?
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): A question I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of – Who is Christopher Luxon?

David Fisher (Herald): Auckland floods: Mayor Wayne Brown’s 30min phone call with the Herald (paywalled)
Todd Niall (Stuff): Rain lashes Auckland while the mayor Wayne Brown lashes media
Dita De Boni (NBR): Eyes Wide Shut when business backed Wayne Brown (paywalled)
Todd Niall (Stuff): Leaked emails reveal Auckland mayor Wayne Brown trying to gag councillors amid flood response
Raphael Franks (Herald): Auckland floods and the council leaks: Email reveals Mayor Wayne Brown tells councillors ‘I will take care of the big picture’ in leaked email
1News: ‘Ludicrous’ – Auckland councillor fires back to Wayne Brown email
Peter Dunne: Wellington and Auckland – A Tale of two emergencies
1News: Deputy mayor ‘devastated’ over Wayne Brown ‘problem’ slip-up
Damien Venuto (Herald): The Front Page: Auckland Floods – MP Chloë Swarbrick and Councillor Josephine Bartley on the kind of leadership Auckland needs
Kirsty Wynn (Herald): Community leader Dave Letele extends offer of help to those in need on North Shore
Anna Rawhiti-Connell (Spinoff): Now might be the time to stop talking about empathy as a nice-to-have
Jonathan Milne (Newsroom): Why the sluice-gates didn’t open: ‘We’re petrified it might happen again’
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): When are we going to talk about allowing rapacious Developers building on Aucklands floodplains?
Nathan Morton (Herald): West Auckland’s plea to council as neglected work worsens flood damage
Rebecca Stevenson (Interest): Warning some flood damaged Auckland houses won’t be fully assessed for months, or potentially even years
RNZ: Auckland rents to go up after flooding, property investors body says
Michael Naylor (The Conversation): Climate change is already putting the heat on insurance companies – Auckland’s floods could be a turning point
Cameron Bagrie (BusinessDesk): The price of mother nature’s wrath (paywalled)
Rob Stock (Stuff): Price of new and used cars expected to surge as hundreds are written off in floods
Grady Connell (Today FM): Ministry of Education facing ongoing criticism of mixed communications around school closures
William Hewett (Newshub): Christopher Luxon slams ‘shambolic communication’ over school closure announcement, says some should have been open on Tuesday
David Farrar: The Government’s many stances on Auckland schools and ECEs
Lane Nicholas (Herald): Auckland flooding: Motorists stung with penalty parking charges at Auckland Airport after delayed flights

Kate MacNamara (Herald): How to reform the Three Waters Reform (paywalled)
Audrey Young (Herald): Tariana Turia and Chris Finlayson on partnership, principles and co-governance (paywalled)
Ben Thomas (Stuff): Dump the ‘co-governance’ name, it’s too tainted by confusion
Ngarimu Blair (Stuff): 2023: the year of the backlash against Māori. Again
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): 3 Waters is about drains! How did drains become an existential race threat?

Nikki Mandow (Newsroom): Citizens Advice Bureau faces closure in Auckland Council budget cuts
Neil Holdom (Taranaki Daily News): Approach to funding infrastructure needed to avoid ‘managed retreat’ from climate change damaged assets
Stephen Ward (Waikato Times): ‘Citizens’ assemblies’ to tackle big changes to local government
Steven Walton (Stuff): New ‘raised’ bump will make busy intersection safer, but the mayor isn’t a fan

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Megan Woods brushes off ‘hurry along’ from Environment Commissioner
Olivia Wannan (Stuff): Power companies don’t have green interests at heart – watchdog
Ian Llewellyn (BusinessDesk): Govt says energy timetable is appropriate, welcomes passion for Onslow (paywalled)
Catherine Knight (Newsroom): The future must use less energy and have more of the things that really matter
Ian Llewellyn (BusinessDesk): Govt policy driving peak power shortage: Meridian(paywalled)
John Carnegie (Herald): The need for energy diversity (paywalled)

Charlotte Graham-McLay and Henry Belot (Guardian): New Zealand PM welcomes change to Australia’s ‘corrosive’ deportation policy
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Government officials unconcerned after probing claims of Chinese police station in NZ

Ripu Bhatia (Stuff): The three flags of Waitangi
Katie Doyle (Stuff): Kōtamutamu: New Stuff podcast serves up fresh takeaways from Waitangi

Malcolm McCracken: The tension between housing supply and infrastructure funding
Kelly Makiha (Herald): Kāinga Ora invites residents to hear about 60 new homes for Pukehangi in Rotorua
Greg Ninness (Interest): Buyer’s market continues with the number of homes for sale up 39% year-on-year
Greg Ninness (Interest): Property values continuing their downward slide at the start of 2023, CoreLogic says
Alwyn Poole (Kiwiblog): The Housing Crises walked into my home

Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Half of children in Oranga Tamariki care don’t have a GP
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): This reeks of political damage control and it is deeply deceptive to the NZ public
Lauren Crimp (RNZ): Mammogram targets missed for third year running
Jonathan Milne (Newsroom): Pak’nSave’s 67c beers are ‘simply irresponsible’
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Fund for fixing damage to roads needing top-up after years of storms
David Williams (Newsroom): Fertiliser funding ‘compromises’ university
Ian Llewellyn (BusinessDesk): Court asked if clear felling erosion prone land is legal(paywalled)
Andrew Bevin (Newsroom): Calls to bring 30-year-old company law into the future
Pat Baskett (Newsroom): We must protect what the cats drag in
Guy Trafford (Interest): Rural mobile still second class, despite years of promises
Jade Winterburn (Spinoff): The rebirth of Auckland Pride