If governments want to play by secret squirrel rules they can hardly accuse those who raise alarms based on best available information of scaremongering.
The post-Atlanta response by the government and cheerleaders for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) shows they still don't understand why people have opposed the deal and will continue to do so.
First, the secrecy of negotiations and the handcuffs the Agreement will place on future elected governments is a direct assault on democracy and sovereignty. People don't want 'trust me' democracy where the Executive makes the law in secret and presents a fait accompli.
The High Court's decision today that Trade Minister Groser acted unlawfully in refusing to release any information to me under the Official Information Act should act as a wake up call for him and the government.
In his determination to keep everything secret, Minister Groser treated his legal obligations with contempt. He did not look at a single document before deeming every piece of information too sensitive, or too anodyne, to release. During the case the Minister's standard line, parroted by many politicians and media commentators, that 'negotiations are always done this way' was abandoned in the face of evidence they are not.
The judge's statement that 'the Act plays a significant role in New Zealand's constitutional and democratic arrangements' and its meaning and purpose must be fully honoured by those to whom it applies, is a clear rebuke to the Minister. It also sends a clear message to the government more generally that the growing unaccountability of Executive power is not acceptable in a democracy.
The opposition to the TPPA is also about substance. It became a mass movement because people understand this is not about 'free trade', but that corporate interests are seeking to remake global rules in their interests. Suggestions by pro-TPPA politicians and commentators that doctors, parliamentarians, lawyers, and local communities, here and around the world, are dupes of myself and a couple of fellow-travellers beggars belief. As Minister Groser discovered, such insults backfire when the targets have more credibility than politicians.
I take my role as a public intellectual seriously. Always have. For more than six years, at considerable personal expense, I closely monitored the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations. With a handful of others, I continued to attend negotiating meetings when they went underground two years ago, as the already inadequate 'stakeholder' process stopped without any explanation.
Two books, many academic articles and conference papers, keynote addresses, briefings to politicians and professional bodies, commentaries on leaked texts, opinion pieces, speeches and press releases, sought to give people some insights into what was happening behind closed doors. Most of the technical papers written to assist negotiators will never see the light of day.
I stand by everything I have said about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) over the past six years (especially if it is quoted accurately). Once the text becomes public, it will become clear that some of the excesses were beaten back (and opposition to the deal can take considerable credit for that), but many of the dangers that I and others pointed to are still there.
We always knew the government and its allies would have a two-pronged strategy if they finalised the deal - to spin like crazy before people could see the facts, and to launch a counter-offensive to discredit opponents. I guess it's flattering that the government apparently pre-scripted counters to every point they thought I would raise.
Personal attacks and character assassination, epitomised by Rodney Hide's vitriol in the Herald on Sunday, are the resort of people who lack convincing arguments.
It's time for the post-Atlanta debate to focus on the substance, which requires release of the text and the background documents, and for the parties to revoke their secrecy pact to keep negotiating documents secret for four years after the agreement comes into force.
Work has already begun, with support from the Law Foundation, on a series of expert analyses that will enable New Zealanders to judge for themselves what they think of the final deal.
That is what democracy requires. New Zealanders deserve nothing less.
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Jane Kelsey is a law professor at Auckland University.
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