Either render it harmless, Jacinda, or cast the TPP Ring of Power into the fires of Mt Doom. Otherwise, it will consume your own - and your government's - political will, and fatally undermine New Zealand's national sovereignty.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN if Prime Minister Ardern and Trade Minister Parker sign-up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without fixing it?
For a small, but powerful, group of New Zealanders it will be taken as a sign that the new, Ardern-led government can be relied upon to ‘do the right thing’. Like proud parents who’ve entrusted the family car to the care of their teenage daughter – and had it returned to them unscathed – the promoters of free trade will praise Ms Ardern for her political responsibility and maturity. That she put the interests of her country ahead of the wishes of her loopy left-wing supporters will be hailed as proof that New Zealand is in safe hands.
The nation’s editorial writers will take up the chorus: praising Ms Ardern’s steely resolve even as they pour scorn upon her critics’ complaints. The TPP’s opponents will be cast as a ridiculous collection of dinosaurs and dingbats; Trump supporters and tin-foil hat wearers. Any hopes they might have entertained of being listened to by the Labour-NZ First-Green Government will be publicly and viciously dismissed as delusional.
The National Party Opposition will delight in heaping their own shovelful of hot coals on the heads of Labour’s coalition partners. They will ferret out every impassioned plea from the Greens to reject the TPP as a corporate thieves’ charter. Likewise, every NZ First condemnation of the agreement as a deadly threat to New Zealand sovereignty. Every argument against the agreement will be rehearsed to a chorus of Tory chortles and guffaws. “Meet the new Labour bosses,” Bill English will perorate to his 56-strong parliamentary team: “same as the old Labour bosses!”
“How’s that hopey-changey thing goin’ for ya?”, Paula Bennett will demand of the Prime Minister in her best Sarah Palin drawl. “Tell us, sweetie, how’s the supply of stardust holding up?”
And the thousands of New Zealanders who marched against the TPP in February of 2016 – how will they react? Those Maori protesters who’d cut their political teeth on the hikoi against the alienation of the foreshore and seabed back in 2004, and had turned out again, twelve years later, in the face of what they perceived to be an even graver threat to the sovereignty of Aotearoa – what will they make of Labour’s decision?
How will Willie Jackson respond to Labour’s voters on the Maori Roll? The ones he’d so successfully persuaded to abandon the Maori and Mana parties for a renewed and reformed “Te Rōpū Reipa”? When they charge Labour with, once again, deceiving and betraying them – what will he say?
“If Labour can’t even say ‘No’ to the TPP’s Investor/State Dispute Settlement clauses, Willie, how can it – with any sort of credibility – say ‘Yes’ to Article Two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi? Our people tried to stop foreigners from purchasing Maori land – and we all know how that ended. It beggars belief that the Pakeha, having acquired virtually the whole of Aotearoa, are now getting ready to sell her all over again!”
And Jacinda, herself? How will she be changed by a decision to sign the TPP without fixing it first? Without paying heed to the Labour Party’s own warning, recorded in the parliamentary select committee report, that the TPP “will have ramifications for generations of New Zealanders. For their sake, we should not so lightly enter into an agreement which may exacerbate long-term challenges for our economy, workforce, and society.”
Because no leader can emerge unscathed from such a base repudiation of solemn promises given and received. If a political party undertakes to protect its compatriots’ homes and farms from foreign speculators; if it vows to prevent multinational corporations from bringing their government before an international tribunal for the ‘crime’ of defending its people’s interests; then that political party’s leader is going to pay a very high price for any failure to follow-through.
It won’t happen immediately, but with every broken promise (and there will be many because, after the first, breaking promises gets easier and easier) that sacred light in the eyes of her supporters will go out. The hope on their faces; the smiles on their lips; their delight in the selfies she helps them take: slowly at first, but then with gathering speed, all these manifestations of her specialness will fade.
“Jacinda” will have become “just another f***ing politician”.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 November 2017.