Home > A Little Blue Marble Called Earth, The Body Politic > Opposing the TPPA – the Heavens hold their deluge ’till the People speak

Opposing the TPPA – the Heavens hold their deluge ’till the People speak

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TPPA - No Deal

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NZ, Wellington, 7 March – It had been raining intermittently through the the morning, but as mid-day rolled into 1pm, the skies partially cleared and the sun broke through over a city glistening with rain drops. It was well-timed, as citizens began to assemble in down-town Midland Park. This was to be another expression of public anger against the so-called “Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement”.

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There were a wide variety of signs. Some professionally printed, others hand-made;

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Entertainment was provided by the “Brass Razoo” band;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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This sign was especially clever;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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A panoramic view of the growing crowd;

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The Green Party was very much in evidence;

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As were unions – for whom “free” trade agreements are never free and come at a cost of  lower wages, reduced conditions, job-insecurity, and lost jobs;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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The host and one of the organisors of the event was Dr Sandra Grey, National President of the Tertiary Education Union;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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One of the first speakers was Green Wellington city councillor, Sarah Free;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Ms Free said she was proud that Wellington City Council had joined with Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Palmerston North, and other local bodies around the country in opposing the secrecy of the TPPA. She said,

“We want trade but not at any cost. Not at any cost. We want to keep those freedoms we have at the moment, to look after our public health, to look after our working conditions in the city, to make sure that people and the environment are looked after. We actually value those freedoms.

We are here because we are nervous. Nervous what that government’s proposing to do with our sovereign rights. Nervous about the power they’re going to give to these faceless corporations.

It’s not a trivial nervousness that we have because these corporations under these investor state dispute clauses,  have sued governments. They have sued governments for things like trying to get plain [cigarettes] packaging in Australia. They’ve sued Ecuador for just changing the size; making the size of the health warnings on the cigarette packages a little bit bigger. They’ve sued Peru for trying to shut down the smelter that was causing lead poisoning in it’s communities.

In fact they scared the Peruvian government so much that they actually backed away from shutting down the smelter!”

She said that a mining company had sued the government of Ecuador after the company had been found to be breaking the law.

Ms Free said we had good cause to be scared of the investor state dispute clauses, which the American government had been very keen to implement after it’s North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. She said that disputes were arbitrated in secret dispute-tribunals and had risen exponentially from 69 cases in 1999, to 370 in 2012.

Ms Free told the crowd, to loud cries of “boooo!”, that law suits were being under-taken by powerful corporations with vast sums of money, against democratically elected governments.

She asked those in the crowd to put their hands up if that made people nervous. A sea of hands shot up into the air.

Ms Free pointed out,

“It’s no coincidence that the power of the corporations has also coincided with the increasing inequality of wealth worldwide. I do not think this is a coincidence.

1% of the world’s population now controls 50% of it’s wealth. 85 individuals are wealthier than 3.5 billion people at the bottom end.

We’re talking about the modern day pharoahs, and their slaves.

We want trade, but not at any cost!

Our free trade agreement with China did include some clauses, and also included protection for our environment, our public health, and our Treaty of Waitangi.”

Ms Free wanted a clear message sent to the government, saying,

“Why should we settle for any less with the TPPA?”

Some more light mockery by clever citizens;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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It seems that our Dear Leader is developing something of a reputation for amnesia? Or selective recall?

Ms Grey told the crowd that 600 lobby groups, representing corporations, had looked at the draft TPPA – but the public have not been allowed the same right.

Ms Grey then introduced the next speaker, CTU National Secretary Sam Huggard;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Sam started by referring to the investor state dispute settlement mechanism as one of the nastiest aspects of the proposed agreement;

“It’s a provision which allows… companies and unaccountable offshore tribunals to sue our governments if they have the audacity to make changes which improve the wellbeing or the economic security or improve equality in our country. Why would our government or any government around the world want to sign up to an agreement which allows foreign companies to sue us if we have the audacity to improve our water quality or bring in other other environmental protections? Or if we wanted to improve our health policy settings to improve health and wellbeing? Or improve the economic security of people?”

Sam said that such investor mechanisms were creeping into trade agreements all around the world.

Sam told the crowd that French multi-national corporation, Veola, which managed Auckland’s rail transport network, was currently in the process of suing the Egyptian government. He said that Veola was suing the Egyptian government for increasing the minimum wage, and Veola was complaining that such a move would strip their ability to make profits.

He referred to tobacco giant, Phillip Morris, that was suing the Australian and Uruguan governments for introducing plain packaging for tobacco.

Sam said he wanted nothing to do with an agreement he considered “nasty and dodgy”,

I don’t want it signed in my name,” he told Wellingtonians, and those listening agreed noisily with his sentiments.

Young people, expressing their views;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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And other citizens, expressing their reservations, concerns, and outright opposition to an agreement which is being negotiated in secret, and which very, very few understand the consequences for our country, society, and economy;

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Sandra then welcomed Dr Gaye Keating to the microphone;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Dr Keating announced to the crowd that she was part of a new group that had recently been created,  ‘Doctors for Healthy Trade‘. She said that the group  was a response by doctors around the world, including the President of the World Medical Association, calling for more openness in trade agreements, such as the TPPA, before they were ratified. She said that there was concern amongst the medical profession that international trade agreements were fraught with major health risks, based on past, recent examples.

Dr Keating stated that there were fears, based on leaked draft versions of the TPPA, that plans were afoot to make medicines more expensive, to increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies. She said that this would be a problem not just for wealthy countries like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the US, but others such as Vietnam, who could not afford medical drugs “pushed up for extra American companies profits”.

Dr Keating raised the issue of safe workplace practices and condemned the TPPA for potentially undermining health and safety laws in New Zealand;

“New Zealand knows about the problems of mines which are not managed for the safety of their workers. It kills people. We also know about things like tobacco, which also, if it’s not managed properly, kills people.

From the leaked documents, it is really clear that the TPPA freezes a country’s ability to protect people. It puts in place in place options to protect profits. It does not put in place protections for people’s health.”

Dr Keating added that climate change was also a major health threat, saying;

“We need to be able to put in place protections, for safety in terms of greenhouse gases and safety for reacting to catastrophic climate change.”

She concluded by saying,

“So both for New Zealand and for the Pacific states whose islands are going to be drowned, and for the countries in places which are being mined, we need to take a responsible stance to protect health in New Zealand but also in other countries, we should not allow other countries to be bribed or bullied into laws that are bad for their health.”

After a brief discussion on the merits of marching to Parliament with impending bad weather approaching, the decision was made by the public to proceed with the march.

Well over a thousand people marched through Wellington, toward Parliament’s grounds. I saw no hecklers or anyone on the footpaths showing any antipathy toward the protestors. I did, however, witness people nodding and clapping;

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 TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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This citizen posed a very good question to our esteemed Prime Minister;

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New Zealanders, for the most part, are not stupid. With all the secrecy surrounding the TPPA, they smell a dead rat – not unlike the stench from  old, decaying road-kill at the height of our recent hot summer.

In this shot, you can see how far back the  march filled Lambton Quay, as protesting citizens neared the Cenotaph;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Meanwhile, Police presence during the march was minimal, except for traffic control. This lone constable appeared to be doing a good job, bringing traffic to a stop as  marchers walked safely through the intersection;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Yet again, someone in Parliament (the Speaker’s Office? Parliamentary Services?) had decided to keep the Main Gates closed and padlocked, forcing hundreds of citizens to squeeze through an open, narrow, side gate;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

 

Because, judging by the crowd-barriers erected in front of Parliament’s steps, I think we can safely assume that someone was expecting the protest;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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It took a bit longer, but the marchers – which had swelled in number since departing from Midland Park –  assembled in front of Parliament;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Though determined, it was a good-natured crowd and their was no hint of anything anti-social or potentially violent, arising. The revolution would not be held today.

This woman came forward from the crowd and volunteered to use sign-language to communicate with anyone who might be deaf, translating speakers’ speech into Sign;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Sandra introduced the first speaker to address the crowd, Todd Rippon, vice-President of Equity New Zealand (formerly Actor’s Equity);

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 TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Todd made an impassioned forceful statement which left listeners in no doubt where he stood on the TPPA;

“Performer’s lives are directly affected by trade agreements. In 1994, the National government signed a World Trade Organisation agreement which effectively made it illegal to have New Zealand content quota on our televisions.

So that basically meant that we gave free reign to broadcaster services internationally, to access to our televisions and screens. So the Labour government years later, led by Helen Clark, tried to support the production of film and television in New Zealand. She found she couldn’t. That government could not do a thing.

It was hamstrung by that stupid agreement. Because it was internationally illegal!”

The crowd reacted with anger, expressing their opposition to what they were hearing from Todd.

Cries of “Shame!” echoed around Parliament’s grounds.

“Now this TPPA, this agreement is like that World Trade Organisation [agreement] on steroids. Only this time it’s not going to affect performers, it’s going affect our education, it’s going to affect our healthcare, it’s going to affect agriculture… it will just go on and on and on!”

Todd was clear in what he wanted;

“I want our kids to be to able to decide their own futures. These trade agreements get locked in for decades. But our kids deserve better. I want our kids to  be able to see New Zealand content on their televisions and when they go see films. I think it’s apalling that we allow foreign corporations to decide what we see on our screens! We deserve better than that!”

Todd did not need a microphone and speakers when he forcefully thundered;

“I challenge our government to respect our culture! I challenge them to protect our culture! Signing the TPPA is nothing short of insanity! We must not sign it, Kia kaha!”

The crowd loved it and erupted with exuberant applause and cheering.

Amongst the crowd, another citizen held aloft a placard, with a very simple question  for our esteemed Prime Minister;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Sandra next introduced Jean Kahui, from Taranaki Whanau ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, and researcher on the process of fracking;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Jean told the crowd she has been researching the fracking of Aotearoa for the past. She said that her findings into fracking were alarming, and she could not stand by and allow government and Big Oil to pollute our children’s future. She warned that if the TPPA proceeded then so would fracking, warning that “our future will be dismal”.

“The French decided to ban fracking in 2011 and Big Oil did mount a challenge. But the highest court in France upheld the ban, cancelled the permits, and sent the frackers packing. Without a TPPA, we can do that too.”

There was enthusiastic applause when Jean said that.

Jean said that that the State of New York banned fracking on the strength of over 400 scientific studies. The over-riding concern was that the effects of fracking was not yet fully known.

Last week, she said, Tasmania renewed their ban on fracking for another five years. The Tasmanians were concerned at protecting their premium, safe, locally grown produce from potential contamination.

Jean said,

“The list of communities banning this extreme mining technique continue to grow while back here in ‘clean, green New Zealand’, our motto is clearly, “drill baby drill, and frack the hell out of every well”!”

Jean said that with the TPPA, a frack-free New Zealand is achievable.

Jean cut her speech short as  dark clouds loomed over-head, and drops of rain began to be felt.

Sandra introduced singer, Matt Pike, who belted out a stunning rendition of the ‘Twisted Sister‘ song “We’re not going to take it anymore” (with a few words altered to make it relevant to the day of protest);

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Like the 1960s song, “We shall overcome“,  it seems that “We’re not going to take it anymore” has become the protest anthem of the 21st century. The crowd joined in with gusto.

A protester taking a photo of me, photographing her. (I presented her with one of my business cards, giving her my details – some measure of reassurance that I was not SIS, GCSB, or some other National Party stooge.)

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Following Matt, Sandra introduced speakers from several political parties. She revealed that National had refused to send a representative to speak on behalf of their party. They “lacked the guts”, she said.

United Future had sent their “apologies” – to which the crowd reacted with derision.

As rain began to fall more heavily, Sandra announced that each speaker would be given a one minute maximum time limit to speak. It was now a  “race” to beat the on-coming “weather bomb” that had been predicted for the city.

First up, Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati from the Mana Party and long-time opponant of the TPPA addressed the people;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Ariana also spoke with deep passion, expressing her deeply-held beliefs, that we needed elected representatives who looked after our rights and looked after our  country, and our future. She said,

“We will keep fighting because we are a movement of the people, for the people. Whether we have representation in Parliament or not!”

Ariana described the TPPA;

“This is a kind of agreement that you cannot give an inch, they will take a mile! Let’s keep this pressure on!”

She encouraged people to join the TPPA Action group, referring to the group’s Facebook page as a contact point.

Ariana spoke briefly, but the crowd loved her passion.

Following Ariana, was NZ First’s Fletcher Tabutean, looking very “corporate” in his suit;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Fletcher said the those who promoted the TPPA were compromising the sovereignty, people, and businesses of this country. He further explained;

“I have submitted on behalf of NZ First a Private Members Bill which will fight foreign corporate control.”

The crowd cheered wildly as he railed against Big Corporates, demanding that they not be permitted the right to sue the New Zealand government, nor take away our sovereignty.

“They shouldn’t even begin to think about it! They don’t belong here.”

Fletcher finished by poking fun at the government;

“John Key’s not listening to you, he’s not listening to you today. But I’ll tell you what… maybe his focus groups will hear you. Maybe his focus groups will go back to his office up there and say, ‘You might have something to worry about, John. There were a lot of people here today’.”

Many of the signs, like this one, were imaginative – very much showing the creativity of New Zealanders;

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The next speaker was James Shaw, from the Green Party. Like Ariana, he received a rapturous welcome from the crowd as well;

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James launched straight into a rousing attack on the TPPA;

“It’s because of you that we can defeat the TPPA. We can defeat the TPPA, we have done it on things like this before, and we can do it again. When we’ve got the strength of numbers, and you’re demonstrating that despite the weather. All over the country there are thousands of people marching against the TPPA today.”

“This is a Bill of Rights, not for you, not for our country, but for multi-national corporations. It goes against everything that is the sovereignty of this country. It goes against our environment, it means we can’t look after our healthcare, we can’t pass our own laws. We are ceding our sovereignty to foreign corporations.”

James stated that the Green Party would be supporting Fletcher’s bill through Parliament;

“We’re going to be doing everything we can and today we’re calling on the government to release the text. We’ve been calling on them to release the text for the last couple of years, to release the cost-benefit analysis. Because if it is so good, why is it so secret!”

He re-iterated that point,

“If it is such a good deal, why won’t they tell us what a good deal it is. The only thing that we know about this, is all of the risk.”

As the rain  began to pour more heavily, the last political party representative was Grant Robertson, from the Labour Party;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

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Grant first paid tribute to the Unions who had organised the protest, giving a “big shout-out” for their efforts.

Without any further mucking around, Grant got straight into giving the Prime Minister ‘a serve’;

“I’ve got two messages, the first of those is to John Key. He’s had a lot to say in the last couple of weeks about people’s courage. Well, my message to John Key is get some guts and be upfront with New Zealand about the TPPA.

This is not a normal trade agreement. This is an agreement that goes behind the border to issues about what rights we have in that building [pointing to Parliament behind him] to make laws. John Key needs to understand that and come to New Zealand with the text and with the government’s negotiating position.

Otherwise he’s not acting in our name and he must be stopped from doing that.”

Grant continued;

“The second message I’ve got is this, if this agreement can’t guarantee our right to make laws in our interest; if this agreement can’t guarantee that PHARMAC continues to get cheap medicines for New Zealand; if this agreement can’t guarantee that people who have good ideas here can start businesses and don’t get shut down by the intellectual property law; if this agreement can’t do that, then my message to you from the Labour Party is, ‘No Deal’!”

And lastly, from Karen and her two courageous young daughters, Tracey and Katie. By now, the heavens could no longer hold back, and the weather bomb ‘exploded’ over the city, drenching people as the girls struggled to address the crowd;

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“Kia ora tatou, my name’s Tracey and I am 12 years old. Today I am here like you because I worry about what will happen to my and my friend’s future if the  TPPA is signed.”

Tracey said she understood that the trade deal was a bad idea for her and her future. She referred to the negotiations being held behind closed doors and doubted if they would be signed in our interests.

“I thought the whole idea of communities was to help one another and to work as a part of a team,”  Tracey said in her soft voice, hesitantly.

The crowd cheered and clapped.

“After all,” she continued, “isn’t this what we learn at school?”

Tracey was followed by her sister, Katie;

“Kia ora tatou, my name is Katie. I am 11 years old and like my sister I am very concerned about the TPPA. I have on many occassions handed out flyers and have chalked for people to google TPPA.”

There was loud cheering when Katie said that. She continued, hesitantly;

“Many people have seemed interested in what I have to say while handing out out leaflets. But there were also some people that had no interest or were quite appalled that I would do this. But why wouldn’t you if you knew that this was going to be signed in secrecy by our government?”

Both girls may be young in age, but they certainly knew the issues involved, and were probably more informed than the average New Zealander.

Finally…

Who is Anonymous?

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 TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - sovereignty - 7 march 2015

 

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None of us. All of us.

We are the people, Mr Key. Expect us.

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Contact

Facebook: TPPA Action Group

It’s our Future

Previous related blogposts

Nationwide Day of Protest Captures Public Attention on TPPA

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’ are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

» Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
» Where purpose of use is commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
» At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals or groups.
» Acknowledgement of source is requested.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 9 March 2015.

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