Tuesday, 18 August 2015

TPPA? Walk Away!

More Than "The Usual Suspects", Mr Groser: Once a demonstration swells beyond “the usual left-wing suspects” to include the sort of ordinary Kiwis who turned out in their thousands on Saturday, 15 August 2015, a wise government will begin to ask itself some very serious questions about the wisdom of proceeding with the policy under attack. John Key's best political option, now, is to walk away from the TPPA.
 
ON SATURDAY, upwards of 30,000 New Zealanders protested against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). From the tiny village of Kohukohu in the Hokianga, where 50 people marched, to Auckland, where Queen Street was filled from top to bottom with, at the very least 15,000 protesters, New Zealanders from all walks of life expressed their opposition to the proposed agreement.
 
When confronted with the protest numbers, Trade Minister, Tim Groser, who, only a fortnight ago, branded his opponents “breathless children”, was quick to reach for more insults. Many of those marching, he claimed, had been “misled” by the TPPA’s opponents: people he’d earlier dismissed as “politically irrelevant”.
 
Well, in the light of Saturday’s turnout around the country, that’s a judgement he may wish to reconsider.
 
Sustained protest activity in New Zealand, after peaking during the Springbok Tour demonstrations of 1981, has fallen away steadily over subsequent decades. Occasional spikes, such as the massive protests mounted against the Employment Contracts Bill in April 1991, or the 50,000-strong Auckland march against mining in New Zealand’s national parks on 1 May 2010, have not been able to disguise the seemingly inexorable demise of public protest as an effective political tactic.
 
One of the obvious reasons for abandoning the street as a venue for effective politics is that, over the course of the past 30 years, increasingly derisory turnouts have only tended to alert politicians to the weakness of the organisers’ causes. A memorable article (later turned into a poster) from the anti-Vietnam War era posed the question: “Suppose they gave a war – and nobody came?” The temptation for government politicians to paraphrase that question in relation to protest demonstrations must have been very great!
 
Not that many of the governments of the past 30 years have been at all responsive to political pressures from below. Indeed, making a virtue out of refusing to be swayed by public opinion is a distinguishing characteristic of neoliberal governments the world over. As the newly-elected, left-leaning Greek government was curtly informed by the technocratic masters of the Eurozone earlier this year: “Elections change nothing.” That the 99 Percent must be prevented from voting themselves a better life at the expense of the 1 Percent, is a neoliberal article of faith. Keeping ignorant electorates well away from complex, technical exercises – like the negotiation of free trade agreements – is, similarly, regarded as axiomatic.
 
Dismissing the anti-TPPA protests as “politically irrelevant” is, therefore, the most natural top-of-the-head reaction for a confirmed neoliberal politician like Mr Groser. Unfortunately, for him and his government, however, the anti-TPPA movement is growing, not dwindling. Moreover, thanks to the extraordinary communicative power of the Internet, generally, and of social media, in particular, protesters are not only extremely well-informed, but also supremely well-equipped to increase the circulation of anti-TPPA propaganda exponentially.
 
On 7 March, this year, The Press estimated 1,000 Christchurch protesters had turned out for the “It’s Our Future” coalition’s nationwide, anti-TPPA, day of action. Five months on, and the numbers have increased four-fold, with the Stuff website estimating Saturday’s turnout at 4,000 demonstrators. Since the first of the “It’s Our Future” days of action, held in November 2014, the overall number of people participating has surged from 10,000 to 30,000. Mr Groser and his colleagues need to understand that, for the first time in a long time, they are confronted with a street-based, nationwide, protest movement that is growing larger – not smaller. When 50 people turn out in Kohukohu (Population: 150) “politically irrelevant” is not the right call.
 
Once a demonstration swells beyond “the usual left-wing suspects” to include the sort of ordinary Kiwis who turned out in their thousands on Saturday, a wise government will begin to ask itself some very serious questions about the wisdom of proceeding with the policy under attack. That is exactly what the Prime Minister, John Key, and his Cabinet did following the huge anti-mining demonstration of May-day 2010. On that occasion, and to their credit, Mr Key and his government walked away from what was, clearly, an unacceptable policy. They would be very wise to do the same in relation to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
 
If they refuse to be advised by the electorate on this issue: if, like good neoliberals, they reject the very idea of the people having a say on matters fundamental to their economic well-being; and, without letting New Zealanders to know what is in it, sign the TPPA – then  things will change.
 
Sign the TPPA, and the mood of rising frustration with the National-led Government – so evident on the streets over the weekend – will become one of outright fury. This will only intensify once the content of the TPPA becomes known, and people discover what sort of agreement their leaders have signed.
 
Not just a bad deal, Mr Groser, but your government’s death warrant.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 August 2015.

25 comments:

Helen Savage said...

Thank you Chris Trotter. Keep up the commentary the internet is such a strong advocate for enlightening the public on the TPPA. This government are irresponsible and arrogant in their approach to New Zealanders/Joe Public involvement on this topic.

Anonymous said...

You are plain wrong in your assertions, without trade and markets New Zealands economy would wither away quickly. The TPPA is not essential for our future but not being part of the TPPA offers less success for our future. The protesters against the TPPA were exercising their democratic rights but so were the vast majority non-protesters.

Peta said...

Thank you for this and yes, please keep up the updates and commentary. Groser and Key are freely demonstrating their disrespect and contempt for the people of our country. I am unsurprised yet deeply offended by their arrogant dismissiveness of us. It seems I moved home to NZ just in time, to march with my people on Saturday, having kept informed by independent reporting overseas re TPP.

Charles E said...

Good on the marchers exercising their democratic rights, even if I think they are deluded about trade agreements, including this one, but I do not think it affects the current govs chances in the next election at all. Firstly the TPPA will not get signed unless we get net gain from it overall. The big boys want it much more than we do so they will have to give us something worthwhile. Why do you think the gov would harm the country and itself by signing something bad for us? They are pure pragmatists after all. Whereas your demonstrators are led by ideologues, who certainly have their place and value but most people are not interested in their theories, as most people are pragmatic.
Secondly a few thousand angry people opposing the government do not compare with a million who voted them in. In fact the gov may gain support from the majority if they feel protestors are just those that lost their third election and are fed up.
Unfortunately we will not find out until after it is signed because until then we not only do not know much but it actually is not decided. So the protestors may actually be helping the current government get the best deal it can.

Chris Trotter said...

I recommend that you read this, Charles, http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.co.nz/2014/07/something-in-air-examining-precursors.html written by myself in July 2014.

The very factors which I could not detect in the run-up to 2014 are now making their appearance.

Large numbers of citizens on the streets should be regarded by governments as the canary in the coal mine. They indicate the presence of poisonous electoral gasses.

National won by default in 2014, Charles. The way events are trending, I would not predict a similar outcome in 2017.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Why do you think the gov would harm the country and itself by signing something bad for us?"

Charles – define "us". :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris.

Will we have to wait until 2017 ?

The amount of self promotion that Key gets through various channels makes me think that he may well go to the polls earlier.

The way I see the situation is that the longer he waits the bigger the number of seats National will loose.
And third term decay has certainly started to set in and this will be a hard pill to swallow for J Key.

pat said...

they may be pragmatists (certainly when it comes to holding power) but they have proven their business and negotiating skills are sadly lacking (Sky City, Tiwai, Warners, Solid Energy to name a few) they constantly demonstrate their interests dont coincide with the bulk of the NZ population....they would sign a deal that is of a net cost to NZ without a second thought.

Jill said...

I would say if we had more intelligent scrutiny of current govt policies by diligent journos on the tele and wireless and not the embarrassing pathetic fawning from the likes of Hosking and Henry then it would be the "million" voting NOT for the TPPA or Key and co.

Keys plan was to infiltrate the media and he succeeded with the resultant political bias very obvious. The "million" won't be fooled again.

Simon Cohen said...

Once again Chris you have predicted this governments demise.The last time if my memory serves me correctly was when Kim Dotcom launched the Internet Party.
Even though I am a Green Party supporter and there is a great deal about this government I dislike I think you demean yourself as a political commentator by constantly making these wild assertions.
I believe one can have a political bias as a commentator but over the last few years you have started to sound increasingly like Martin Bradbury.Is it frustration or perhaps a late life crisis.

Philip Todd said...

It is an interesting subject but history tends to always prove those who say "don't worry we are looking after your best interests' wrong.
One of the worlds strongest economies that flies under the radar is Canada. The dairy farmers over there are protected under a quota system and the only downside is people pay a bit mote for their milk. However by keeping the value and returns high for the farmers they can spend a lot more on environmental and sustainable practices. Its an interesting comparison with NZ where we have the narrow focus market knows best thinking. Canada is about growth and wealth for the long term and are happy to use other means rather than the short term thinking that so often leaves us floundering. The dairy industry is the great example of how not to do business for so many. One year a milk flood and the next slaughtering cows to make ends meet. The stress this puts on people is immense and the reason is simply bad planning and advice from those who get paid millions to get it right.
Is it worth having young families losing their jobs and farmers committing suicide so we can all buy out milk for 20 cents a litre less. The free marketers would have you believe so but like so much it is bullshit.
The other interesting point is the Canadian workforce is one of the most unionised in the world. Minimum pay levels are higher than the US, poverty is less, crime is less. They do pay more for some things but is it better to have that choice or should we drive down wages under the constant pretext that costs are less so wages should be as well.
The TPP will be good for some but it is not the golden goose they are trying to sell us.
From what I have read bigger forces will never let it happen for reasons far removed from dairy. Car making giants such as Mexico and Japan have a lot more to lose from free borders and Canada while happily sending us pork as we have no tariffs still wants tariffs of 200% to protect their farmers and good on them

Chris Trotter said...

Citation needed, Simon.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
I have a few questions Mr Mapp or Mr E or Mr Anonymous may be able to answer....
1 / If a Canadian or American dairy co buys farms and factories here, and takes the product back to their domicile country, Are they then subject to the same tariffs as Fontara ? Or can they just sell on their local market,pooled with their own local product at the 297% subsidised price that their local producers receive?
2 / Whatever could we possibly offer them to persuade them to collapse their domestic farmers economy by removing those huge subsidies to be fair to us , and buy our product as on an even playing field , when they can just buy all our farms and factories and sell the stuff themselves ?
If they can sell product from their farms owned here, at prices at home that reflect the 297% subsidy they can probably afford to pay 297% more for a nz farm than a New Zealander can pay. What can the future possibly be?
Cheers David J S

Anonymous said...

Chris the only thing that jarred was the part about Key backing off mining in National Parks in the face of protests - "to their credit". That implies some moral, ethical or self insight kind of step, learning or change. I think on reflection you would accept that it was a purely self interested about turn based on a naked calculation of their own political survival if they didn't kill the policy? While there weren't street marches over the teacher class size issue early in their second term, the same naked political calculation informed the about turn. And it will be indeed interesting to see whether they calculate the same is required with TPP or whether it is worth the chance of signing their own death warrant (no certainty, but definitely entering the realm of gambling with their chances at the next election) over, which mining and class sizes were not. God I just wish Labour had a bit more than Little. Key is good, but when history is written, I think people will come to realise that he had help from his opponents (as well as events) - I don't think he would have had a third term if he'd faced a Lange in his prime.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny Philip, we tend to pay a bit more for our milk too. Without any protections for farmers. In fact the time it takes for cheese to go down in price with a dip in the price of milk is roughly equal to the time it takes for milk to go back up in price again, so of course it never does :-).

Charles E said...

Getting back to the topic, it is what relevance do TPPA protests in the streets have to the next election, not milk exports.
Chris thinks a lot but my take is maybe none, or even positive. But we really have to wait and see what happens with this treaty and I maintain the government will not enter it unless they are able to show a significant benefit to the country overall. Other countries have the same hurdle and so it's probably not going to happen.
However I bet they do size up protests and one way they will be looking at them is as 'positive risk'. If in due course the final TPPA does clearly show us gains, then the protests will actually boost the Key government as it will underline how hysterical they were, or how well the gov has listened. Win/Win.
Similar to how the Dirty Politics and Dotty Con things worked for Key in the last election. Politics is not a linear thing. It's a complex system so unpredictable. Almost an organism.

Bushbaptist said...

@Charles E, Good points but still wrong. You are assuming the our pollies are working for us. They are not - they are working for those who finance them. Yes we pay their fat salaries and perks but we have no say in how policies are drafted.

Example: I give $1000.00 to a political party it's a donation but if I give $50 or $100,000 then I want something. If those such people want something done,it gets done - end of story.

If those financiers want the TPP to go through as is then it will and we will have no say in the process. It matters little whether the deal is good for us or not. Surely even you can see that.

Davo Stevens.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Yes, I always remember a large donor saying on public TV, that at the very least his donation got him instant access to a cabinet minister. More than I've got :-).

Charles E said...

Yes I accept big biz has a big influence but 'at the end of the day' as our dear leader says so often, I believe he cares little for big corporates these days. I bet his view of them is quite cynical. Rather he wants to go down well with his country and win a famous fourth term. It's addictive, being top dog.
But I also accept the current government would see a lot of big biz as more good than bad and that is where the political divide is probably. We will differ there I'm sure. The way I see a lot of big biz is that they stand for election every day since they have to sell their products to us and we vote by buying it. If we don't, they go bust. This makes them more responsive to the people than any government.
Doesn't always work of course but that's true of politicians with the best intentions too.

Robert said...

The advantages of TTP to lamb, beef, mutton, venison importers and likely to be huge the Australia Japan free trade agreement gives a clue. Jane Kelsey wants a controlled Cuban, East German type society to control ordinary people and replicate the Stalanist backwater that pre 1984 New Zealand was. Kelsey wrote a book describing Shipley's New Zealand as ' Somebody Else's Country. I am the same age as Mr Trotter and before about 1982 there wasn't a single sophisticated cafe, bar or club in the whole country, let alone a decent coffee. More than that it was a fairly violent country where a long haired student was always at risk of being, bottled, threatened or chased on any of the main streets of the 4 main centres.
It always amazes me why rapid feminists like Kelsey, Clark, Wilson and all the female doctors protestors are so keen to provide a protective haven and work for the dumber half of ordinary white males. They are surely womens number one problem, and the last thing any sensible feminist should do is encourage them, listen to them or educate them.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Jane Kelsey wants a controlled Cuban, East German type society to control ordinary people and replicate the Stalanist backwater that pre 1984 New Zealand was."

Gosh Robert, you obviously have a direct line to Jane Kelsey. Is this a form of telepathy? (/s) Fuck me – citation needed.:-)

Bushbaptist said...

Gosh Robert, don't hold it back mate, let it all go -- you'll feel better!

Not sure what country you were in but as I recall of those days the cities were pretty safe and I could walk anywhere at any time. Not like now. You can have your "Sophisticated bars and clubs" just give me a good restaurant and there were plenty of those available then.

As far as I can see Jane Kelsey wants a fair society where everyone gets a fair slice of the cake. NZ was never "Stalinist" at all, that's just crap. It was 'Socialist" yes, and everyone had a job and and could live on their wages unlike now. Perhaps a good dose of un-employment would be a wake up call for you?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There should be a 'law' similar to Godwin's - about Stalin maybe :-). Because this BS gets spouted a lot.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

So Key governs for us all? That's why worm farming is classified as high danger but sheep/beef ain't? Am I mistaken? Or am I just living on Arrakis? :-)

Bushbaptist said...

Anyway the TPPA is really Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade (AKA "SHAFT") and that is what we are getting! No smaller country has ever benefited by such an agreement and usually gets it in the neck. NZ is no different, sign up and we will be SHAFTed!