Star Of The Show: Professor Jane Kelsey takes her role as an academic and public intellectual seriously. For her, the universities’ statutory obligation to be the “critic and conscience” of New Zealand society is keenly felt and courageously expressed. For much of her adult life she has criss-crossed the globe, from one set of trade negotiations to the next, making contacts, developing information networks, and struggling ceaselessly to bring the dark and dirty secrets of global capitalism - like the TPPA - kicking and screaming into the sunlight of public scrutiny.
CONGRATULATIONS ARE DUE to the organisers of last night’s (11/8/15) “Table Talk” at Laila Harré’s Ika Seafood Bar & Grill. The fifth such event, “TPPA or Not TPPA?”, was emceed by the irrepressible Wallace Chapman, and featured a panel which, for the first time, was evenly split between protagonists and antagonists.
And, it was a wee ripper!
In support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership were Dr Wayne Mapp (former Cabinet Minister under John Key and currently a member of the Law Commission) and Michael Barnett (CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce). Opposing the TPPA were Professor Jane Kelsey (Professor of Law at the University of Auckland and author of the just published deconstruction of neoliberalism in New Zealand, The Fire Economy) and Dr Joshua Freeman (Clinical Microbiologist at Auckland City Hospital and an honorary academic at the University of Auckland School of Molecular Medicine and Pathology).
The huge benefit of having Wayne and Michael debating with Jane and Josh was that the audience (which, let’s be fair here, was overwhelmingly anti-TPPA) got the chance to compare and contrast, weigh and evaluate, the arguments of both sides of the issue. This is not always possible in those panel discussions where every participant pretty much agrees with every other. These might make people feel better (having one’s preconceptions confirmed is always gratifying) but it does not test them. To do that a genuine debate is required.
There’s no disputing that, over the course of an hour or so of lively discussion, the arguments, both for and against the TPPA, were tested. Equally indisputable, in my opinion, was the identity of the winners. Neither Wayne nor Michael were even close to being a match for Jane and Josh. Indeed, beyond a meagre collection of conventional “free trade” tropes, the TPPA protagonists had virtually nothing to offer.
In this they were, ironically, the victims of their own side’s obsession with secrecy. Operating almost exclusively on the tiny amount of information the Key Government has seen fit to release to the public, and utterly reliant on the solemn undertakings and promises enunciated by Messrs Key and Groser, Wayne and Michael could do little but point to the “success” of the NZ-China Free Trade Agreement and raise fears about what would happen to “poor little New Zealand” if it allowed itself to be “locked out” of an agreement as important as the TPPA.
Jane and Josh demolished these stock “free trade” arguments without breaking a sweat. Though I wouldn’t have said so before the debate, by the time it was over, it was painfully clear that the protagonists were out of their depth. As a clinical microbiologist, and the TPP spokesman for Ora Taiao, the New Zealand Climate and Health Council, Josh was absolutely on top of the likely consequences for Pharmac, and by extension, the future health of New Zealanders, should the transnational pharmaceutical corporations succeed in having the life of their patents extended. On more than one occasion during the hour, the facts and figures at Josh’s fingertips left Wayne and Michael floundering helplessly in their own ignorance.
But it was Professor Jane Kelsey who truly stole the show. Astonished by her encyclopaedic knowledge of just about every item of leaked information concerning the TPPA (as well as the details of all the other FTAs New Zealand has signed) Wallace could not restrain himself from demanding to know “How do you manage to read all this stuff?!” It was an entirely forgivable outburst.
The answer, of course, is that Jane takes her role as an academic and public intellectual seriously. For her, the universities’ statutory obligation to be the “critic and conscience” of New Zealand society is keenly felt and courageously expressed. For much of her adult life she has criss-crossed the globe, from one set of trade negotiations to the next, making contacts, developing information networks, and struggling ceaselessly to bring the dark and dirty secrets of global capitalism kicking and screaming into the sunlight of public scrutiny. It is easy for the Right to dismiss her arguments when she isn’t there to defend them, but put her on the same stage as people like Wayne and Michael, or pit her against Mike Hosking, live, on Seven Sharp, and her critics’ arguments are swept away like so much summer gossamer.
By the end of the hour, it was clear to everyone that the TPPA – like War in the old 60s poster – “is harmful to flowers, children and other living things”, and that only a truly mendacious government would commit its citizens to what is, in effect, an empowering charter for transnational capital.
In conclusion, the answer to the question: “TPPA, or Not TPPA?” is “Not TPPA!”
Be sure to join the Anti-TPPA protest march in your town on Saturday, 15 August.
This review was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 12 August 2015.