BIG tobacco company Philip Morris has been forced to release documents relating to a stoush with the federal government, after taking its fight against the government's plain-packaging legislation to an offshore court.
Despite being defeated in the Australian High Court, the tobacco giant is continuing to pursue the government over what it claims is a breach of intellectual property rights, after the government legislated that no branding can be shown on cigarette packets.
Philip Morris Asia alleges that Australia's Tobacco Plain Packaging Act breaches the 1993 agreement between the Hong Kong government and the Australian government for the Promotion and Protection of Investments. The case is being heard in the international Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The company tried to have court submissions relating to the case suppressed, but the government has succeeded in an application to have all documents released.
In what the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, said was a ''very significant and somewhat unusual step'', the international court ordered that each party be allowed to publish its own documents filed in the proceedings.
As previously revealed by Fairfax Media, the government believed Philip Morris engaging in corporate restructuring as a ''trick''.
When the company launched its compensation claim through Philip Morris Asia, it argued the laws were detrimental to its investment in the company's Australian arm, which was supposed to be protected by the trade treaty. But the government said the challenge was spurious because Philip Morris Asia only acquired a stake in the Australian operation a year after the government’s plain-packaging plans was announced, in "full knowledge" of what was to come.
The government announced its intention to introduce plain packaging in 2010. The legislation, which strips all branding from cigarettes, forces them to be a drab green colour and to display large, unpleasant health warning pictures, was passed in November 2011.
Philip Morris sought a suspension of the laws from the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, and joined with three other tobacco companies to challenge the laws in Australia's High Court.
The High Court challenge was defeated in August last year.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said: "Despite Phillip Morris Asia's attempts to keep these proceedings under wraps, the tribunal's decision to publish these orders, as well as allowing parties to publish their own documents, reflects Australia’s efforts to increase transparency.
"We expect big tobacco to try to hide what they do from the public, but they can’t hide from the fact that smoking kills."