Te Herenga Waka researchers awarded nearly $1 million to investigate better government and public policy

New fund supports research on lobbying and political influence.

A new fund at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington is investing in research and communication that supports better governance and better social and environmental policies for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

The first three successful applicants of The Gama Foundation Governance and Policy Studies Endowment Fund (the Fund) will receive nearly $1 million over three years to research the political influence of lobbying and donations by vested interests, establish a Political Integrity Index for New Zealand, and support reform of laws governing party funding and vested interests in our democratic system.

The research is supported by an endowment from The Gama Foundation, a charitable trust set up by Christchurch philanthropists Grant and Marilyn Nelson.The endowment is managed through the University’s charitable trust, the Victoria University of Wellington Foundation.

The purpose of the Fund is to support research and communication of its findings that will contribute to improved government decision-making and ensure the interests of the community and future generations are given the priority they deserve.

“We have become increasingly concerned that the most urgent problems facing the country have, over recent decades, been getting steadily worse because business, farmers and the wealthy are able to use their money and influence to get the government decisions they want.

“Over the past two years, there has been a huge transfer of wealth to those who are already well-off so they are now in an even stronger position to influence government decision-making. These vested interests take advantage of lax rules on lobbying, political party donations and a range of other activities. So it is important to carry out research on the stricter rules other countries have and on what reforms are needed,” Mr Nelson said.

Dr Bryce Edwards, a political analyst and lecturer in the Wellington Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Wellington School of Business and Government, receives $487,000 to map how wealthy and powerful interests use lobbying, personal connections and financial contributions to political entities to benefit themselves and perpetuate the power and favoured public policies of elites.

Dr Edwards, who established the Democracy Project, intends to run public campaigns on reforming laws and practices relating to political finance and lobbying and will be publishing his findings in a range of media.

Professor Karin Lasthuizen, who holds the Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership at the Wellington School of Business and Government, and Dr Bryce Edwards receive $333,000 to research allegations of integrity violations by politicians. They will annually release a Political Integrity Index for New Zealand, covering politicians in both national and local government.

The Political Integrity Index will provide a systematic and longitudinal measure to increase transparency of political integrity issues, demonstrate the magnitude of the problem in New Zealand and drive appropriate policy reforms.

The third project to be funded will see Professor Lisa Marriott and Max Rashbrooke from the Wellington School of Business and Government undertake research that supports reform of laws governing political party funding.

Their work, which receives more than $167,000, addresses growing concerns about political party funding, spurred by evidence of disproportionate donor access and multiple court cases. Their work will also inform the planned review of the Electoral Act.

Professor Margaret Hyland, Vice-Provost (Research) at Te Herenga Waka congratulated the successful researchers who she says will be conducting research in areas that are critical to New Zealand’s reputation as a fair, open and transparent society.

“Alongside the important scholarly work this funding supports, it will also allow our researchers to use their research to change our political system for the better, by connecting the research to decision-makers and the general public.”