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First they came for the tobacco companies...

First they came for the tobacco companies...

Media companies and Anti-Smoking groups are trying to pry confidential documents from government departments as they battle against freedom of information.

Pirate Party Communications Manager Max Coyle says that The Pirate Party is expressing concern that these organizations are trying to bog down tobacco companies in their Official Information Act requests relating to changes in government legislation which will impact their industry.

"To make matters worse, Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia herself is blockading democracy and the freedom of information and publicly acknowledging that she will push ahead with her agenda regardless of the need to disclose information and give the affected parties time to prepare and plan for the upcoming changes, and respond to them where needed."

The companies are requesting information from the Ministry of Health under the Official Information Act 1982 for documentation relating to plans to ban brand marks and logos on cigarette packets. 'Anyone who is in New Zealand, or a New Zealand citizen overseas or corporate body that operates in NZ can request official information. The purpose of the OIA Act is to increase the availability of official information to promote more effective public participation in the making and administration of laws and policies, and to promote the accountability of Ministers of the Crown and government officials.' (Ministry of Justice - 'Official Information: Your Right To Know')

So under the definitions set out by the Ministry of Justice, it makes sense that these companies need this information to to participate in the making and understanding of the laws which will affect them, and more importantly to hold Ministers like Tariana Turia to account for her actions and what has been well documented as her personal crusade against the companies trade.

"The Pirate Party stands for free and open government and the accessibility of information to all is absolutely crucial to that. The importance of transparency and the general participation in govt outweighs any concerns about Tobacco, which can be adressed perfectly adequately through transparent democratic means. Our interest is in the ethical treatment of this matter and making sure the personal views of Government Ministers are not clouding the issue and halting requests for information allowed by law. We are also concerned with the media treatment of this with headlines such as 'Tobacco firms use 'stalling' strategy' when the parties that seem to be stalling this are the media outlet and the Government, this misrepresentation of the events is not what's necessary for an informed citizenry." Max Coyle said.

"The Official Information Act is a crucial part of the functioning of an open and accountable government in NZ. To begin to deny requests or to take an inordinate amount of time to process them is unacceptable. This incident is not a one off with the Ministry of Education stalling and frustrating the OIA requests made by schools and parents regarding school closure plans in Christchurch. We are consistently seeing information being withheld and attempts to access it stalled by this administration, and we are not amused."


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