13 Oct 2015

TPP request: 'Behaviour change' needed

5:28 pm on 13 October 2015

Government ministers may have to change the way they consider Official Information Act requests after the Trade Minister was found to have acted unlawfully over a TPP request.

John Key (left) and Tim Groser.

John Key (left) and Tim Groser. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

The High Court in Wellington has found Tim Groser acted unlawfully when he rejected requests for information about the trans-Pacific trade negotiations.

He adopted a blanket approach to the request and that did not comply with the law.

Prime Minister John Key said this afternoon the court's decision will be reviewed by Government officials.

"They will determine what the next steps are, whether the government wants to appeal that decision. And if they don't, there will obviously have to be a change in behaviour going forward but the blanket principles that we couldn't release the text because the other countries had agreed not to is actually quite a sound one."

Mr Key said the official text of the TPP will be released in the coming weeks.

Jane Kelsey, a long-time critic of the TPP, had requested documents related to the negotiations, but Mr Groser rejected her request.

Justice Collins found the minister did not properly follow the Official Information Act in reaching his decision to reject Prof Kelsey's request.

"When the minister refused Professor Kelsey's request neither he nor his officials assessed each piece of information requested against the criteria in the Act for withholding official information.

"Instead, the minister adopted a "blanket approach" to the request based upon his knowledge of the categories of documents requested by Professor Kelsey. I have concluded this approach did not comply with the Act."

Justice Collins quashed Mr Groser's decision in relation to six of the categories of documents requested, saying they would have to be reconsidered.

Professor Jane Kelsey at her home

Jane Kelsey says Tim Groser should now release at least some of the documents Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

"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."

Trade ministers from the 12 countries involved in the negotiations reached a deal on the TPP early last week and Prof Kelsey said it was cold comfort the minister would have to revisit the request.

"His unlawful approach in circumventing the Official Information Act appears to have achieved its goal.

"Nevertheless, the minister should now release at least some documents that can help inform the debate on the TPPA."

Read the full decision here:

She said the court's judgement did have a longer term benefit.

"It sends a message to this minister and his colleagues in the executive that their legal obligations under the Act cannot be flouted just because they are politically inconvenient, and that people are prepared to challenge them if they do."

Prof Kelsey said the judgement also raised serious questions about the failure of the Chief Ombudsman to hold the minister to account.

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