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Cafca claims win in OIO info war

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 14/04/2016

Lobby group Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa is claiming a victory in its decades-long battle over secrecy with the Overseas Investment Office.

Cafca says that it has learned, via the ombudsman, that any confidential information withheld in OIO decision summaries may become public a year after its release.

It will be up to the applicant to write to the office to argue for continued confidentiality under the Official Information Act.

"This is a definite improvement on the OIO's position up until now, i.e. throwing an indefinite cloak of secrecy over all or part of its monthly decisions," Cafca secretary Murray Horton said on Friday.

Cafca's battle with the OIO dated back to the 1980s when it waged five-year campaign to get any information at all, Mr Horton said.

Most decisions had information withheld and Cafca had been routinely appealing that issue to the OIO and then the ombudsman.

"Those had been piling up and we had received no verdicts from the ombudsman on any of our appeals for several years," Mr Horton said.

However, things changed following a meeting with Ombudsman Ron Paterson last year, when he agreed to urge the OIO to release the backlog.

A "great wodge" of 88 previously withheld decisions, spanning 2012-14, had since been released to Cafca.

Cafca commended Professor Paterson for his efforts, Mr Horton said.

"And we pat ourselves on the back for continuing to hold to account this very publicity-shy, rubber stamping part of the state's foreign investment oversight regime."

Cafca was "fundamentally opposed to the whole come on in and help yourselves message to foreign investors from governments led by both major parties", he said.

"But, at least, its rubber stamping won't be hidden behind closed doors quite so often."

The OIO was not immediately able to confirm the change in stance.

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