12 Feb 2015

Petition on trade deal finally heard

10:02 pm on 12 February 2015

Four years after a petition was tabled in Parliament calling for more transparency around the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) finally got to appear before a select committee.

About 1000 people marched against the TPPA in Auckland on 8 November 2014.

About 1000 people marched against the TPPA in Auckland on 8 November 2014. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

But they were told by the Foreign Affairs and Trade Select Committee chairperson Mark Mitchell that there had been plenty of public consultation about the trade negotiation.

Helen Kelly.

Helen Kelly. Photo: Supplied

The CTU and other organisations, including Oxfam and the Public Health Association, petitioned Parliament four years ago calling on it to demand the Government's negotiating positions in the TPPA talks be made publicly available.

The Public Health Association's chief executive Warren Lindberg said the association was worried that provisions in the deal would undermine the public health system and New Zealand's sovereignty.

"In the four years since this petition was tabled, our initial concerns have grown and our request for transparency and the opportunity for New Zealanders to scrutinise the texts has become more urgent," Mr Lindberg said.

Under questioning the CTU said it had met just once with Trade Minister Tim Groser to discuss the proposed deal and several times with officials.

That prompted Mr Mitchell to tell the CTU president Helen Kelly there had been plenty of consultation.

"In terms of availability and consultation, wider consultation throughout our communities, business groups in New Zealand, it appears to have been pretty comprehensive," Mr Mitchell said.

"But certainly we've listened very carefully as a committee to your submissions."

Ms Kelly disagreed.

"Not quite as carefully as we might have thought. We just totally disagree with you that there's been public transparency around this agreement," she replied.

CTU economist Bill Rosenberg said in meetings he had with officials he was never given any information about what was being negotiated.

"Meetings without the information that allows you to enter a proper dialogue, where you simply taking on trust. And it is not that I distrust our negotiators.

"But there's always big issues of interpretation and some of that is about political judgements to be frank.

"Without that information those dialogues are really frequently just going through the motions," Dr Rosenberg said.

Speaking after the select committee hearing, Ms Kelly asked why the Government would not make information about the deal more readily available.

"Honestly if it's been so open and transparent then there shouldn't be any objection to them releasing the texts we've asked to be released, the documents that we want to see - so the public can scrutinise them and criticise them if there are things in there that are difficult to except. That's what they don't want."

Ms Kelly said the groups which signed the petition also wanted the select committe to conduct an inquiry into the deal before it was signed.

Follow Brent Edwards on Twitter @rnzgallerybrent

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