Influentials: Fixers, lobbyists and networkers

by Rebecca Macfie / 22 September, 2013
People who have mastered the art of lobbying, fixing, and bringing others together.

The string pullers

by Rebecca Macfie


Doug Martin.

When the Government has a problem, it likes to turn to former top public servant and all-round Mr Fixit Doug Martin. His firm, Martin Jenkins, has become a ubiquitous presence in recent years, being called in to sort out the failure of Christchurch’s building consent division, to work on the restructuring of New Zealand’s science sector, to provide industrial relations advice to the Crown and to advise on education. Martin was also a member of the Government-appointed review team that led to the sacking of elected members of Environment Canterbury in 2010. Martin Jenkins, of which Martin is one of six owners, has been hoovering up talented senior public servants, local government executives and consultants from rival firms to join its swelling ranks. Martin was chief of staff to former National Party Prime Minister Jenny Shipley in the late 1990s, but he has credibility on both sides of the House – his brief plan to fix Christchurch’s building-consenting woes won rousing endorsement from mayoral hopeful and Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel. A Wellington observer said of him, “He’s the private sector’s public servant.”


Wayne Eagleson.

National Party strategist and chief of staff to Prime Minister John Key for the past five years, Eagleson slipped into the role formerly held by Helen Clark’s minder, Heather Simpson, following the 2008 election. Polite and approachable, Eagleson knows the workings of the National Party inside out, having been a party researcher in his early years and having worked as private secretary and adviser to Jim Bolger when the latter was PM. Eagleson was embroiled in the recent scandal regarding the handing-over of journalist Andrea Vance’s phone records to the Henry inquiry into the leaking of the Kitteridge report on the GCSB, but retains the staunch support of the Prime Minister. As one Wellington observer put it, “Eagleson and Key are joined at the hip.”


Mark Unsworth.

Master lobbyist and founding partner in influential Wellington firm Saunders Unsworth, Unsworth compiles a respected dossier profiling all MPs following every election, based on personal interviews with each of them. He has a detailed understanding of the machinations of Parliament, and – along with his Saunders Unsworth colleagues Barry Saunders, Charles Finny and Roger Sowry – is one of a small number of lobbyists with his own parliamentary swipe card giving him ready access to the building. He’s had it for 15 years, unchallenged by governments of either stripe. The firm’s list of past and current clients covers a fair swathe of the New Zealand economy.


Margaret Bazley.

Doug Martin co-signed the execution warrant for the elected members of Environment Canterbury, and Dame Margaret Bazley was called in to run the show as a Government-appointed commissioner. Her appointment followed her deft handling of a long list of tricky Government assignments, ranging from the review of the legal aid system, the inquiry into police conduct in the wake of the Louise Nicholas rape allegations and serving on the commission on Auckland governance. She gets the hard jobs because she gets results. She is tightly focused on the priorities in front of her and stays away from fruitless diversions (and from the media). She maintains close links with the Government and works on building strong relationships with sectors, regions and iwi. Despite the highly controversial circumstances of her appointment to run Environment Canterbury, her tenure as the benign dictator of the region’s environment has been relatively smooth and free from serious political challenge.


Jane Sweeney.

Managing director of public relations firm Porter Novelli, Sweeney is a go-to person for distressed chief executives in a crisis. Smart and well-connected, she once said in an interview that on occasion she even gets company bosses turning up in a state of panic on her doorstep on a Saturday morning, looking for guidance in the teeth of a media storm. Sweeney is the doyenne of the small cadre of PR women with serious clout, among them Deborah Pead (Pead PR), Tracey Bridges (Senate) and Jane Vesty (Sweeney Vesty).


Fran Wilde.

Wilde has left an enduring mark on New Zealand’s social history as the sponsor of the bill that decriminalised homosexuality in 1985 and as the author of reforms that allowed adoptees to trace their natural parents. As Mayor of Wellington, she left her signature on the city in the form of the Westpac Stadium. Now, as chairwoman of Greater Wellington Regional Council, she continues to have a big influence as the leading advocate for a Wellington “super-city” local government structure.


Traci Houpapa.

Houpapa chairs the Federation of Maori Authorities, which represents 150 Maori landholding groups with assets worth $8 billion. Her consulting firm THS & Associates works with iwi groups as well as private sector clients, and she holds several directorships including a spot on state-owned agricultural giant Landcorp Farming, iwi farming group Te Uranga B2 Incorporation, and Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, the Centre of Research Excellence on Maori development.


Neil Green.

Chief executive of Senate Communications, which has become the consultancy of choice for government relations advice, Green has been active in the political bazaars for more than 20 years. He was heavily involved in the promotion of the Mighty River Power share float this year. The Senate annual shindig for MPs is always well attended.

The networkers

by Ruth Laugesen

Some people are influential not just because of their ideas, energy and powers of persuasion, but because they are masters at bringing others together. Gregarious people with wide interests, they stay in contact with a variety of people and can make the connections between developments in different spheres. Their outward focus means they often unselfishly promote other people’s ideas. Here are three examples.


Rod Drury. Photo/David White

The chief executive of Xero may be a top business leader who is building a global company already valued at $2 billion on the stock exchange, but he is also a master connector. Generous with his ideas and time, Drury uses his Twitter account not just to talk about Xero, but to highlight other people’s ideas, respond to comments and enthuse about new products he has come across. He is an energetic promoter of projects on his home patch in Hawke’s Bay, and he has given a leg-up to Havelock North tech company Mogul by showcasing its social media wall at recent Xerocon events in Auckland, Sydney, San Francisco and London. It is now receiving enquiries from around the world.


Philippa Howden-Chapman.

This professor of public health at the University of Otago makes things happen by bringing together the worlds of academic rigour and social concern. She has been a pioneer in researching the intersection of health and housing, two areas not usually studied together. By doing so she has powerfully demonstrated that poor housing often leads to poor health. Along the way she has brought together diverse people who are experts in both areas. She was a driver in world-leading research that demonstrated for the first time that families in cold and mouldy homes suffered higher hospitalisation rates and higher rates of asthma in children. That led directly to the Government injecting large sums of money into home-insulation subsidies. More recently, she has helped popularise the idea of a warrant of fitness for rental housing, as a member of the Children’s Commissioner’s advisory group on child poverty. Howden-Chapman is now involved in developing the warrant of fitness, which should be available later this year. Housing Minister Nick Smith has said the warrant will first be applied to Housing New Zealand properties before any consideration of whether to extend it further.


David Farrar.

The founder of Kiwiblog, Farrar is an unapologetic National Party backer who is as robust as anyone in sledging the Labour Party, the Greens and others on the left. But Farrar has gained influence because his blog is a meeting ground for a wider set of ideas and information. He speaks up for ideas he agrees with, even if they come from elsewhere in the political spectrum – for example, in backing the marriage equality bill. He circulates widely in political and tech circles. And he publishes raw information that sheds light on politics, from spreadsheets of election results and opinion poll analysis to a detailed breakdown of how Labour MPs were expected to vote in the leadership race.

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