A New Zealand judge on Tuesday ruled Trade Minister Tim Groser had acted unlawfully in refusing to release documents regarding the controversial 12-nation Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
In a verdict issued by the High Court, Justice David Collins quashed Groser’s decision to withhold official papers requested under the country’s Official Information Act.
The application for a judicial review of Groser’s refusal to release documents was brought by seven special interest groups and Auckland University Law Professor Jane Kelsey who have protested the secrecy of the TPP talks which were concluded with an agreement last week.
Groser and his officials had adopted a “blanket” approach to requests for TPP documents rather than assessing each piece of information requested against the criteria in the Act for withholding official information, Collins said in his judgment.
“I have concluded this approach did not comply with the Act,” he said.
“When the minister reconsiders his decision he will be required to do so in a way that is consistent with his obligations under the Act,” he added.
Kelsey, who officially requested the information in January, said Groser’s approach “epitomizes the contempt for democratic processes and accountability that has pervaded these negotiations. ”
“It’s cold comfort that the minister will have to revisit the request, using a proper process and interpretation of the rules, after the negotiations have already concluded,” Kelsey said in a statement.
“His unlawful approach in circumventing the Official Information Act appears to have achieved its goal.”
She called on Groser to now release at least some documents to help inform the debate on the TPP.
“I have updated the original request to the minister dating to this week. Let’s hope the minister now takes the law seriously and releases the raft of documents — and goes back to the other TPPA parties and asks them to rescind their secrecy memorandum.”
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), which was also party to the application, said the negotiations had shown “a contempt for openness and accountability.”
“Maybe now that the negotiations have been concluded, perhaps we will finally get a chance to see what we’ve been signed up to,” ASMS executive director Ian Powell said in a statement.
Other applicants, including the Greenpeace environmental campaign group, backed the call for the government to immediately release the TPP text.
“The New Zealand government has got to release the full text immediately, so we can all see for ourselves what is in this deal because, right now, all the indications are that the TPP has been concocted solely for the benefit of foreign companies and their sharp-suited billionaires, not for the people of New Zealand,” Greenpeace chief policy advisor Nathan Argent said in a statement. (Xinhua)