Calls for Govt to release draft text of TPPA

By Calida Smylie

High-profile Kiwis have backed calls for the Government to release the draft text of an international agreement which they say could curb New Zealanders' internet freedom and intellectual property rights.

A number of prominent New Zealand actors, musicians and media commentators are calling for the Government to release the draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

The artists, including Don McGlashan, Julia Deans and Te Radar, have made a 60-second video which is appearing on electronic and social media and promotes an electronic petition for release of the TPPA's text.

Those involved join other New Zealanders concerned about a lack of transparency in negotiations between the Government and its overseas counterparts, including the United States.

"One of the things I love about democracy is that it is a conversation between us and our government," said comedian Michele A'Court.

"It doesn't work if our government doesn't invite us into the conversation. At that point, it's not democracy. It's that other thing."

The Government has indicated it wants to sign the TPPA by the end of the year, but has said text details will not be released publicly until the agreement is concrete.

At the centre of the debate are intellectual property rights - or possible loss of them.

The agreement, which the Government claims could result in economic benefits worth more than $3 billion, is said to be unusually broad in scope, including provisions that could also affect how consumers access internet content and companies innovate in the digital space.

A draft of the intellectual property chapter of the agreement was leaked in 2011 and included a clause extending copyright to "70 years after the author's death", up from the 50-year period that currently exists.

Among other concerns, opponents believe measures possibly contained in the TTPA which are designed to stop internet piracy could prevent New Zealanders from doing legal things, like getting around geographic zoning restrictions on DVDs.

Prime Minister John Key told TV3's Firstline programme he could not go into what the agreement involved "line by line" until negotiations had been settled.

However, he said the agreement would still have to be ratified by Parliament, with the Government needing to build a majority.

"Like any kind of negotiation things can change quite a bit behind the scenes so there's nothing new or historic about what we're doing."

Once negotiations had been resolved it would become public and further discussions would take place.

"So when a deal is agreed and the Government says 'yup, I think we can live with those conditions' then all of that becomes public and all of those discussions take place."

Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey said Parliament did not get to ratify the agreement.

"This mistruth has been repeated so many times by ministers and National MPs that it has to a deliberate attempt to defuse growing concerns about the secrecy of these negotiations and anti-democratic nature of the agreement.

"The Cabinet Manual says, in unequivocal terms: '7.112: In New Zealand, the power to take treaty action rests with the Executive. In practice, that means the Cabinet. Cabinet decides whether to enter into negotiations, the negotiating mandate and any revisions to it, and what trade-offs are made to conclude a deal."

The video and petition coincide with meetings of the trade ministers and leaders from the twelve TPPA countries over the next week on the margins of the annual APEC summit being held in Bali.

The petition promoting the release of the text will run until November 12 on www.itsnotright.org.nz.

- APNZ

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