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Are Cabinet Ministers misleading the House?

"They're selling short the country…"

Are Cabinet Ministers misleading the House?

Claims by three Cabinet Ministers that they never received copies of the recent expose on what the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) means for New Zealand have been questioned by the group that produced the report.

In written questions from the Green Party, the Ministers were asked if they had received a copy of the report, Serving Whose Interests? and if so, what advice they had received about the concerns it raises for their portfolios. Judith Tizard, Rick Barker and Annette King said they had not received it.

"I personally addressed and posted copies to all ministers." Leigh Cookson, Director of the Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA) said. “We even have a letter from the office of Associate Minister of Culture Judith Tizard, that says ‘I have placed your correspondence before the Minister for her information’ and ‘Thank you for keeping the Minister informed’,” Cookson says.

"Either the report hasn’t been passed on to Ministers or they haven’t take a blind bit of notice. This is especially galling for the country's culture community who have been pressing Judith Tizard and the Prime Minister to change the GATS commitments that currently prevent the introduction of compulsory local content quotas in broadcasting.

"One wonders whether mail that Ministers find challenging is simply consigned by staff to the nearest rubbish bin, or whether the Ministers are so frightened by questions about the GATS, that they don't bother checking the accuracy of what they're saying.

"This is not just short-changing Parliament. It is selling short the country," Cookson says. "The ARENA report was no flimsy pamphlet. It was an academically researched, high-quality document that ARENA produced at very considerable expense. Copies were distributed to all Members of Parliament."

Cookson says ARENA wanted to be sure that all MPs, "and especially every Minister", were aware of the implications for New Zealand of the GATS negotiations. Saying they had not received the report relieves them from reading it, as well as answering the questions it raises.

“This is hardly some peripheral issue," Cookson says. "The GATS negotiations will decide who controls New Zealand’s essential services such as education, health and the environment. Will it be New Zealand citizens through our Parliament, or will it be transnational corporations courtesy of the World Trade Organisation?”

“It’s time Cabinet took their responsibility more seriously and began demanding real answers to the real questions about the GATS which ARENA and others are raising," Leigh Cookson says.

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