Brownlee refuses to release papers

19:34, Aug 24 2011

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is "unwilling" to release information relating to Canterbury land decisions – including Cabinet papers – before the general election.

Brownlee said "significant resources" would have to be diverted from land analysis to manage an information release to The Press.

A Kairaki property owner, who wants to stay on his land, has also been denied information about the town's land.

Brownlee said he intended to release all relevant geotechnical information in three to six months – after November's general election – when the process was completed.

Labour has accused Brownlee of playing politics with information to which people were legitimately entitled.

In an official response received by The Press on Monday, Brownlee said the land decision process was ongoing.

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"Until such time as the full picture for the region is available I am unwilling to release information on a piecemeal basis.

"It is my view that significant resources would be diverted from the ongoing investigation and analysis of orange and white-zone land damage to manage the release of information on a piecemeal basis.

"I believe that the property owners still awaiting decisions on their land deserve to have as much resource as can be mustered focused on providing them with the certainty they need to begin moving forward."

Brownlee withheld Cabinet papers because the material "is or soon" will be publicly available.

Public interest considerations did not outweigh the "prejudice" that releasing the information would cause, he said.

Labour's earthquake recovery spokesman, Waimakariri MP Clayton Cosgrove, said people were entitled to all geological and geotechnical information.

"He doesn't want people to scrutinise and question the work that's being done," he said.

"Why on earth, if you've got nothing to hide and no problem, would you not be open and transparent – this is his personal decision and I believe it's simply about politics."

The Press sent its request on June 24 – the day after the Government announced a buyout package for 5100 properties in Christchurch's east, north-east and Waimakariri District beach areas.

Brownlee's office extended the response time last month, partly because of the "substantial collation" required.

Brownlee gave The Press no opportunity to refine its request, which is usual practice for Government departments when a request is difficult to fulfil.

Kairaki property owner Tim Stephenson, who also had an information request denied, said the sections of the act used did not seem particularly relevant and the information "has got to be sitting on the table".

Avonside resident Leanne Curtis, a member of advocacy group CanCERN, said the Government should not waste time on requests that did not come from the community.

"There's going to be people on the hill, in the white zone, who are going to be really annoyed if all the time and energy goes into collating that information when they didn't want to know ... so it could be a timing thing."

Professor Philip Joseph, a constitutional law expert at the University of Canterbury's Law School, said Brownlee was using standard reasons for withholding the information. Section nine of the act gave the holder discretion.

"If he saw good public interest reasons to disclose, he could."

The Press