Jane Kelsey: Legal challenge to TPPA secrecy lodged today

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Source: Professor Jane Kelsey.

Professor Jane Kelsey.
Professor Jane Kelsey.

Papers were filed in the High Court in Wellington today seeking an urgent judicial review of Trade Minister Tim Groser’s blanket refusal to release any documents sought in a comprehensive Official Information Act request made by University of Auckland law Professor Jane Kelsey in January this year.

The request was based on a report from the European Union Ombudsman recommending release of similar documents from the US-EU negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. 

Today’s application was lodged following receipt of the Chief Ombudsman’s report last Wednesday evening upholding the Minister’s decision.

The TPPA will have potentially far reaching consequences for the foreseeable future. The applicants believe there is an important public interest in the requested information being publicly available, so people can better understand the issues under negotiation and the position the government has taken on behalf of the people of New Zealand, before the negotiations are concluded.

The applicants have asked the High Court for a declaration that the Minister’s decision was unlawful in a variety of ways, and are seeking an urgent hearing as soon as practicable.

Those bringing the case are Consumer NZ, Ngati Kahungunu, the Tertiary Education Union, Oxfam, Greenpeace, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), as well as Professor Kelsey. 

Comments from the co-applicants

Ngati Kahungunu are the third largest iwi and are also claimants in the Waitangi Tribunal challenge to the TPPA. The iwi were original claimants on the WAI262 “flora, fauna and intellectual property” claim to the Waitangi Tribunal which, amongst other things, was about providing for involvement of Maori in the development of New Zealand’s positions on international instruments affecting indigenous rights. Ngati Kahungunu continues that work in their continuing advocacy for substantive engagement with Maori in relation to the TPPA.

Consumer NZ has more than 90,000 members and is a recognized consumer advocate on behalf of all New Zealanders. Its principal aim is to collect and disseminate information of benefit to consumers and, in doing so, advance the interests of its members and those of consumers generally. It considers the TPPA is likely to significantly impact on all New Zealand consumers.

Oxfam NZ is an international development non-governmental organization interested in trade negotiations that model transparency and include mechanisms to protect sovereignty for developing nations. It considers that draft clauses of the TPPA that have been leaked cause concern in respect to the possible impact on New Zealanders and for vulnerable populations in developing nations who are party to the agreement.

The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union Te Haut? Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) represents the interests of 10,000 workers employed in the tertiary education sector across New Zealand who are committed to the advancement of tertiary and further education, teaching and research, and academic freedom. The TEU is particularly concerned about the exposure of education as a commodity that can be traded like any other goods or services. This has the potential to undermine New Zealand’s legislative right to academic freedom and, as a result, to undermine and compromise the quality of education that can presently be guaranteed under New Zealand law.

Greenpeace New Zealand is an independent environmental organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. It is concerned that the TPPA will allow foreign corporates to legally challenge New Zealand laws that protect our environment because they affect their profits. It sees approval of the TPPA having a significant and negative impact on New Zealanders being able to protect their natural heritage.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) is the union representing the employment and professional interests of specialists and other salaried senior doctors and dentists, most of whom are employed in the public health service. ASMS is concerned about the lack of transparency over the potential impact of the TPPA on New Zealand’s health system, the failure to allow an independent assessment of its impact on the health system, the risks for the ability of Pharmac to negotiate less expensive pharmaceuticals, reduced sovereignty in the development of public health policies (such as tobacco and alcohol control) including investors through the investor-state disputes process. 

The purpose of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) is to promote and advocate for professional excellence in nursing, to progress the profession of nursing, and to enhance the health and wellbeing of all people of Aotearoa New Zealand. NZNO’s major concern is that TPPA provisions could lead to a significant increase in the costs of medicines, and medical devices, which would adversely affect equitable access to healthcare. It considers that open access to the government’s expert assessment and cost benefit analysis in relation to, for example, data extensions of biologics is essential to inform potential cost effects of the TPPA on public health.

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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