Bryce Edwards: Who’s advising the new National Government?

Bryce Edwards: Who’s advising the new National Government?

Who will the new National Government listen to when it decides how to govern? An early indication may be seen in who Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon has brought in to train his new MPs and ministers.

It was reported on Monday by Newstalk ZB that, because Luxon acknowledges his team’s lack of governing experience, the party has brought in some senior figures from the past. Luxon told Mike Hosking that Steven Joyce, Bill English and Wayne Eagleson have been coaching his caucus on how to be MPs and ministers, and how to lead the public service.

Of course, it’s not unusual for new governments to bring in party veterans to help guide the new administration and teach them some tricks. For example, when Jacinda Ardern was setting up the last government, she called on Heather Simpson, who had been Helen Clark’s Chief of Staff, to help train the new MPs and Ministers.

Joyce, English and Eagleson are not only some of the most senior figures from John Key’s former administration, they are also now involved in corporate lobbying and other private sector pursuits.

Wayne Eagleson: Beehive Chief turned lobbyist

Wayne Eagleson was one of the last National Government’s most powerful players, yet he was almost unknown to the public. As Chief of Staff he ran the Beehive on behalf of National prime ministers John Key and Bill English, from 2008 to 2017. When Key was prime minister he described Eagleson as New Zealand’s “most influential unelected official”.

Eagleson was part of the core negotiating team, alongside English and Steven Joyce, who tried to persuade Winston Peters to go into coalition government with National in 2017. They failed, and in fact, Peters went on to take legal action against the three of them, blaming them for being involved in the leaking of his personal superannuation information in the leadup to the 2017 election.

On leaving the Beehive, Eagleson established Wayne Eagleson Consulting Limited, and then joined lobbying firm Thompson Lewis. That firm was led by GJ Thompson, who stepped down as a lobbyist for five months to be Chief of Staff for the new Jacinda Ardern Labour-led Government.

When Eagleson shifted almost straight from the Beehive to being a lobbyist he explained he was “looking forward to using the experience I have gained in the Beehive and prior to that as a senior corporate affairs manager.” GJ Thompson said the deal with Eagleson to bring him on board was done “over a couple of beers”, with Thompson explaining that it was beneficial to have someone from National to balance the lobbying firm’s links to Labour: “In New Zealand, you can’t afford to be too partisan.”

Steven Joyce: Minister of Everything, and now Adviser on Everything?

Steven Joyce has been a major figure in National for the last two decades. He led the restructuring of the party in the Don Brash years, and then ran National’s election campaigns from 2005 to 2017. Coming into Parliament in 2008 he was immediately appointed as a Cabinet Minister, and eventually became Minister of Finance (as well as becoming known as The Minister of Everything and Mr Fixit).

Joyce was a businessman before entering politics, and returned to this in 2018, setting up Joyce Advisory, a company specialising in business strategy, consultancy, brand management and reputation. In addition, Joyce has been appointed to and employed by an array of businesses, from property development to engineering. Some of these clients have developed close relationships with the National Party under leader Christopher Luxon.

The most politically controversial business Joyce has joined is the major property developer Winton, a company that has been locked in a legal battle with the Labour Government. In Opposition National was supportive of Winton, with Housing Spokesperson Chris Bishop even putting out a press release backing them.

Winton is also seen as a prime beneficiary of National’s new policy of partially abolishing the ban on house sales to foreign buyers. If implemented, all properties over $2m could be sold to wealthy foreigners, increasing the market and demand for the houses being sold by property developers like Winton. For this reason, political commentator Matthew Hooton suggested in the Herald that, “incredibly”, the policy had been created “with the help of lobbyists” for “the property-development industries”.

Joyce has also been connected with other National Party policies. RNZ’s Guyon Espiner uncovered how closely the University of Waikato worked with the National Party on its promise to create a new $300m medical training school in Hamilton. Joyce’s consultancy company Joyce Advisory was paid nearly a million dollars for helping with “lobbying advice” on such issues. Waikato University even helped pay for National’s announcement, and vice chancellor Neil Quigley emailed Health Spokesperson Shane Reti to say the policy could be “a present” to a future National government.

As well as giving “lobbying advice” to Waikato University, Joyce is now on the University’s Management School Business Advisory Board. He’s also a company director for a number of businesses – Icehouse Ventures (a venture capital fund manager), Hammerforce (a technology and IP company), and RCP (a property and construction project management consultancy).

Bill English: A post-political career in business

Former Prime Minister Bill English is incredibly well-connected in Wellington politics-business circles. Since leaving Parliament in 2018 after 28 years as one of New Zealand’s most influential politicians, he’s taken on a number of big roles in business.

The most interesting has been as the founder and chair of ImpactLab, which English describes as specialising in “using data to support better decision making by measuring social impact”. Essentially the company works with the private and community sector in work related to big data and social investment modelling. Their website states: “We’re on a mission to connect decision-makers with information they can act on to grow their impact.” The say their clients are “charitable services, primary health entities and social enterprises” and that the business aims to “partner with philanthropic foundations and trusts, private donors, and government agencies.”

New National MP Emma Chatterton has also joined the National caucus from ImpactLab, after working there for the last four years.

This week English warned the incoming government that he thought that the existing public service wasn’t going to be able to deliver all the reforms and programmes that National wanted. He was reported as saying there was an answer to the shortfall outside of the state: “On the plus side, covid funding, in particular, had helped strengthen a wide range of community, iwi and non-governmental organisations’ ability to deliver social services at the grassroots level far more effectively than central government agencies.”

English is also the director or chair of a number of other companies: Todd Corporation, Wesfarmers Ltd, Manawanui, and Mt Cook Alpine Salmon.

The need to keep scrutinising National’s advisers

Luxon’s National Government is fortunate to have the help of Eagleson, Joyce and English – they will be extremely useful in training and advising National’s new MPs and Ministers. But the fact that all three are now deeply involved in the business sector, and to some degree will be helping their business interests lobby government and navigate the political landscape, raises questions about potential conflicts of interest.

And what of other lobbyists who will shift into new jobs in the Beehive? We are starting to see who some of the individuals taking up the top jobs will be. For example, former National staffer Jo de Joux has been running a lobbying company in recent years but has now been appointed National Party General Manager after successfully running National’s election campaign.

The Beehive has also employed a new press secretary, Rebecca Dunlay who has a six-year background working in PR-lobbying company Convergence Communications & Marketing. Matt Young comes into Beehive comms from a career with PR companies like Pead PR and Anthem. And Lesley Hamilton comes straight from being the Communications Manager for Seafood New Zealand.

Any new government is vulnerable to being captured by vested interests as they start restructuring, so it’s important to have public scrutiny of who is coming into the Beehive as advisers, trainers, or spin doctors. When these people come from lobbying and corporate PR backgrounds, it’s wise to ask who might benefit from those connections.


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

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