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Labour and NZ First sign up to TPPA – “is this capitalism with a human face”?

17 March 2018 3 comments

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

 

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“Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong. That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible – its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations.” – Winston Peters, 19 October 2017

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8 March, Wellington, New Zealand:  As Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker flew to Chile to  sign the TPPA in Santiago,  around a hundred people gathered in Parliament’s grounds to oppose the Coalition government’s decision to accept the deal;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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The message from speakers and the assembled people was best summed up with this message;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking

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Grant Brookes, from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation was one of several speakers to address the protest. He was highly critical of the so-called “revised” agreement;

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He said;

“The NZ Nurses organisation objects to this government’s intention to sign the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement in Chile later today. We assert that despite some improvements, the CPTTP is not ready to be signed. Trade Minister David Parker  […]  acknowledges that the deal is not perfect. Speaking on Newshub last week he said he would give it a score of seven out of 10 for New Zealand.

Let’s imagine for one minute that that score is accurate, but what does seven out of ten mean when it comes to your health?

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What if you turned up to the Emergency Department with a serious cut, and you were told you could have stitches to seven tenths of your wound? What does it mean if you were in pain and you were given a treatment that left you 30% sore?”

On 3 March, Minister David Parker was interviewed by Lisa Owen for TV3’s The Nation. He told Ms Owen;

Lisa Owen: Yes, exactly. Scale of 1 to 10 – 10 being out of this galaxy, deal of the century – what grade do you give it?

David Parker: Probably a 7 to good, improved access into Japan, where beef exports have been dropping; they’ve dropped by 38 per cent recently because of Australian competition with lower tariffs. That’ll be fixed. Not an especially good deal for dairy but better than nothing, and relatively more important than it was before the attacks on the World Trade Organization architecture that are happening because of some other countries who seem to want to blow the system up.

Though Parker defended the signing of the agreement, he appeared lukewarm to the deal, adding;

“I don’t think it’s the best trade agreement; that’s why I gave it a seven.”

Parker’s lack of enthusiasm echoed criticisms made by  Grant Brookes at the protest;

“Although there have been improvements, threats to population health and all that sustains it, remain in the text. There are, for example, intellectual property provisions which have been suspended but they are still there, and they could still delay access for new medicines.

The same is true for the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions. They remain [in] the text. And these privileges benefit multinational corporations over our sovereign and indigenous interests.”

He specifically mentioned;

“The Treaty of Waitangi exception, as it’s called in the text, is not robust enough that indigenous rights are protected and is not consistent with the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal. This means that Maori efforts to address health disparities could be undermined.”

Perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of the trade agreement lay in it’s omissions;

“The environment chapter – it doesn’t even mention climate change which the World Health Organisation has called the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.”

He added;

“The defenders of this deal […] point to possible economic gains, although no one is saying today these are going to be huge.”

Some estimates put any economic benefit to this country at around 1% of New Zealand’s economy – over time.

As if to underscore  Grant’s list of flaws with the TPPA, this protestor listed each one;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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Following Grant was Rick Zwann, from Action Stations;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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Rick pointed out the large number of Labour MPs who had attended anti-TPPA protests in previous years, and who were now nowhere to be seen. He also pointed out some fairly basic flaws in  the process by which National, Labour, and NZ First had signed up to the deal;

“When we did polling around this, 75% of New Zealanders wanted independent analysis of this agreement before it was signed. […] This is an issue that New Zealanders right across the board, no matter what political party they voted for, no matter their age, no matter their backgrounds, they want to know actually what this deal would do and mean for us.

They don’t trust the MFAT analysis that has happened which is basically a re-write of the analysis that happened for the initial agreement […] the analysis that many of the parties who now voting for it, heavily critiqued. It just makes sense that we should have some independent analysis so we’re able to really look at what this deal would mean for us.”

He added;

“It makes sense because if you’re buying a house […] you wouldn’t just trust what the real estate agent is saying. You’d go and get a builder to look at that house and give you an independent report on what that house would actually be like to live in. If you’re going to do that for an investment like a house, why wouldn’t you do that for something as massive as this agreement which affects all parts of our society and all parts of our economy?”

While Labour and NZ First were noticeably “missing in action” from the protest, the one party in Parliament to stay true to it’s pre-election commitments was prominent;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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One thing that can be said about the Greens – they rarely back-track on what they say.

Following Rick, Lisa McLaren spoke for Generation Zero;

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy

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Lisa raised concerns how the TPPA would impact on climate-change legislation currently being drafted by the Coalition government. Her speech was brief but straight to the heart of the matter;

“We’re really lucky because the new government has come in and said they’re going to create this new climate law and they’re going to pass it through next year. In fact it’s being drafted across the road as we speak.

But we’re really concerned about what this new TPP deal will do to this new climate law. What policies are not going to be able to be put in place for future generations to reduce emissions. We’re really, really concerned that there hasn’t been any independent analysis […] We’re calling for the government if they do sign on, to go through that independent process before this deal is ratified. They have the opportunity to do that.”

Lisa raised the very real spectre of future generations being bound by a flawed international agreement;

“Personally, I’m worried about when my kids are in Parliament, I want them to aim for the stars and be the leaders. But I’m really really concerned by what they’re going to be bound by if we don’t get this right. So I’m calling on them to get it right, for my future.”

Other citizens had their messages for the Coalition government;

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Exclusions?

On 9 March, Trade Minister David Parker announced that “side letters” had been signed with five participating nations of the TPPA, prohibiting   investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) lawsuits. The five are;

  • Brunei Darussalam,
  • Malaysia
  • Peru
  • Viet Nam
  • Australia

Parker announced through a Beehive press statement;

I’m pleased we have been able to make so much progress in just a few months. We haven’t been able to get every country on board, but signing letters with this many CPTPP partners is a real achievement.

He added;

A further two countries, Canada and Chile, have joined New Zealand in a declaration that they will use investor-state dispute settlement responsibly.

A cynic (or realist) would immediately want to know the definition of what constitutes “using investor-state dispute settlement responsibly” ?

The real problem is that the TPPA has eleven signatories – not just the five listed above. The others are;

  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Singapore

Five countries have not agreed to signing “side letters” prohibiting ISDS lawsuits.

It would be a simple matter for a company to relocate it’s Head Office from a signatory-state to a “side letter” (eg, Peru) to a non-signatory state (eg; Mexico).

As Green Party leader James Shaw said on 21 February;

There is the continued existence of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanisms for some countries and that allows large multi-national companies to what we call ‘jurisdiction shop’ and simply locate where they still have that possibility.”

This is precisely what took place in November 2011, when tobacco corporation Philip Morris sued the Australian government to prevent implementation of plain-packaging laws;

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing the Australian government over a new law making plain packaging mandatory for cigarettes from December 2012.

Australia’s parliament has passed legislation that means all tobacco will need to be sold in plain olive-brown packets with graphic health warnings.

Canberra said the law was “one of the most momentous public health measures in Australia’s history”.

But Philip Morris Asia  said the move breached a bilateral investment treaty.

It said it had served a notice of arbitration under Australia’s Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong.

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Philip Morris Asia said it wanted the legislation to be suspended. It said it would ask for compensation for the billions of dollars it said the new law would cost it.

To carry out it’s law-suit under the 1993 Australia-Hong Kong Bilateral Investment Treaty, Philip Morris first had to move it’s registered office from Australia to Hong Kong.

Once that step was accomplished, Philip Morris had the legal right to sue the Australia government using the ISDS provisions of the Australia-Hong Kong Bilateral Investment Treaty. Which it did so in 2011.

After a protracted four year court battle, Philip Morris lost its case. But not before the Australian government spent an estimated A$50 million in taxpayers’ money to defend it’s sovereign right to pass health-related legislation. Philip Morris is resisting paying legal costs incurred by the Australian government.

Now imagine a New Zealand government having to stand up against a billion-dollar corporation and spend tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars dollars to pass legislation to protect the health of it’s citizens.

If the previous National government’s timidity in the face of it’s own proposed plain-packaging legislation in 2016 was any indication, our own politicians may be extremely “risk averse” when it comes to confronting multi-nationals.

When asked if  National would proceed with plain-packaging legislation in the face of potential billion-dollar lawsuits, then-Dear Leader, John Key responded;

Late last year I asked for advice on that matter, and the advice I got back was that they felt we were on very firm ground and didn’t feel there was really any issues.

“No real issues”? Yet Key was cautious enough to tread carefully on the fear-threat of possible litigation;

It was waiting, and I think the view I initially took was given Australia was in the middle of this court case it probably didn’t make sense for us to embark on that, and then potentially face exactly the same costs for the taxpayer in defending another legal action.

National revealed how risk-averse it was to litigation when it caved in the face of an alleged threat to be sued by Saudi Arabian businessman, Hamood Al Ali Al Khalaf ;

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully told Parliament that Saudi businessman Hmood Alali Alkhalaf had a potential $20m-$30m lawsuit against the New Zealand Government, after he lost money when a ban on live exports for slaughter was continued.

The Government then spent $11.5m setting up a demonstration farm in the Saudi desert, including a $4m facilitation payment to Alkhalaf.

(Side-note: There is now a very real question hanging over Murray McCully’s assertions that the New Zealand government was in fact facing a multi-million dollar  lawsuit from Al Khalaf . It has been suggested that McCully fabricated or exaggerated the whole story.)

New Zealanders have just cause to doubt whether their own government would have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to a multi-national with deep corporate pockets to launch a lawsuit against us.

We caved in the face of French demands to release two agents convicted of sabotage and murder.

We caved to (apparent) threats from Warner Bros to  move production of The Hobbit to another country. (The threat turned out to be baseless – but it nevertheless succeeded in ‘spooking’ the public.)

We (apparently) caved to demands from a lone Saudi businessman.

And then there was this curious event in June 2013, when the Chinese government may have exerted heavy pressure on the National government over a proposed fta with Taiwan – an island-state it considers a “renegade province”;

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The frightening possibility is that we, the public, might never even know if the threat of litigation under ISDS clauses forced a government-of-the-day to comply with demands from a multi-national.

When it comes to political self-interest and corporate “commercial sensitivity”, we have the makings of a toxic brew of secret back-door machinations.

After all, the entire TPPA negotiation was conducted in secrecy. Not exactly an auspicious start for such a supposedly beneficial trade agreement.

And not exactly a good start for Labour and NZ First.

Postscript

At the protest, Bryan Bruce of “Inside Child Poverty” fame, conducting an interview for his latest  documentary-project;

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Based on his past documentaries exposing poverty, homelessness, and growing inequality, an exposé on the TPPA should prove illuminating for middle New Zealanders.

Thank the gods for independent documentary-makers. It will be refreshing to see an investigative doco on the TPPA, even if ‘sandwiched’ between “reality” tv shows such as  My Kitchen Rules, Real Housewives of Eketahuna, The Block, Survivor ‘Wherever’, etc.

Refreshing indeed, to watch some real reality for a change.

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References

Scoop media:  Peters – Post-Election Announcement Speech

Radio NZ:  New TPP deal signed by NZ in Chile

Scoop media:  The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews David Parker

Radio NZ:  New TPP deal signed by NZ in Chile

Action Station

Generation Zero

Beehive:  New Zealand signs side letters curbing investor-state dispute settlement

Radio NZ:  Greens remain opposed to TPP

BBC:  Philip Morris sues Australia over cigarette packaging

NZDRC: 1993 Australia-Hong Kong Bilateral Investment Treaty

Sydney Morning Herald:  Australia versus Philip Morris. How we took on big tobacco and won

The Guardian: Secrecy over costs in Philip Morris plain packaging case stokes TPP fears

Fairfax media:  Tobacco plain packaging likely to be law by end of year – John Key

Fairfax media:  Govt accused of telling Saudi businessman to sue

Radio NZ:  Saudi sheep deal – MFAT didn’t provide legal advice on lawsuit risk

SBS News: NZ at risk of losing the Hobbit

NZ Herald:  Sir Peter – Actors no threat to Hobbit

NZ Herald:  Strong reaction to damning TV child poverty doco

Additional

It’s our Future

Other Blogposts

The Daily Blog: Let’s be clear – when Labour & NZ First sign the TPPA this week – it will be as cheap traitors for less than 30 pieces of silver

The Daily Blog: Open letter to Trade Minister David Parker

The Standard:  TPPA rally at parliament today

The Standard: March 8 2018 – the TPPA and our nuclear free moment

The Standard:  TPP2 – Electric Boogaloo

Previous related blogposts

Key’s TPPA Falsehoods – “We’ve never, ever been sued” ***up-date ***

Citizens march against TPPA in Wellington, send message to National govt: “Yeah, nah!”

Citizens march against TPPA in Wellington: Did Police hide tasers at TPPA march?

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 15: John Key lies to NZ on consultation and ratification of TPPA

What’s the beef, guv?

Taiwan FTA – Confirmation by TVNZ of China pressuring the Beehive?

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.

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 March 2018.

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Public opposition grows against TPPA – Wellington

22 August 2015 7 comments

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NZ, Wellington, 15 August – In an otherwise grey, gloomy sky, much-heralded  rain made only a brief appearance with a few drops of moisture, as Wellingtonians and citizens from further afar congregated at Midland Park in the heart of the city. The first sign was held aloft on the footpath, just outside the park proper – an indication of what lay ahead;

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Some artistry adorning poster roundels;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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A damned good question posed on this placard;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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A wide variety of other placards awaited bearers;

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John Key has said that even if the medicines that Pharmac buys “cost a little bit more“, that government will pay for it and citizens will not have to pay a cent extra;

“If it did pay a little bit more, then the Government would fund that and New Zealanders would pay the same amount.”

Firstly – where does Key think the money comes from that Government would use to top up Pharmac’s drugs-bill in the event that the TPPA pushed up the costs of medication?  From the bloody tax-payer, you Tory Twat!

Secondly, having to pay for increased costs of medicines would mean that other areas of healthcare would inevitably  have their budgets cut.

And thirdly, Key is in no position to promise anything on keeping the cost of medicines down. His government has already  increased the cost of Pharmac medicines in 2012 from $3  to $5.

Who on Earth would trust Key not to do it again?

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The ‘Brass Razoo‘ band entertained the crowd, with “Uncle Scam” danced to the ominous sounding “Star Wars Imperial Theme“;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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New Zealanders voicing their concerns over the secrecy over the TPPA;

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If the deal is so good – why is the National Government keeping it secret from us? Negotiators from all participating counties know exactly what is in the texts. Only the public are not privy to the same information.

From a phrase that TPPA negotiator, Minister  Tim Groser, has been known to use;

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“Obama” being “arrested” by “pirates”, and charged with “treason”;

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The media was well represented, and both TV channels gave good coverage of the protests up and down the country;

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From younger to older generations;

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The Park quickly filled. Numbers swelled well beyond previous anti-TPPA protests;

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Marchers moved through Wellington’s CBD, growing in number along the way;

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Traffic came to a standstill, as the procession wound along the length of Lambton Quay, toward Parliament;

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Past the Cenotaph, where we commemorate fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our sovereignty;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Once again, as with past protest marches,  the main gates to Parliament were firmly locked…

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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… forcing thousands of citizens to squeeze through two narrow side gates. The contempt shown by those in ‘Authority’, to the New Zealand people exercising their lawful right to protest,  is unmistakeable.

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With young citizens leading the way…

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– the grounds rapidly filled with people;

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Numbers ranged from   Radio NZ’s 3,000 to Fairfax’s 5,000 in attendance. The northward view;

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The southward view;

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It was interesting (and refreshing) to  see the large numbers of families and young people present. This was not simply a turn-out of the usual, committed, anti-TPPA activists – these were citizens expressing their disquiet (and outright opposition) over a deal being negotiated in secret, and which would have far-reaching ramifications for our society.

Tangata Whenua showed their concerns at the secret TPPA deal-making that was going on in our name, behind closed doors;

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Secretary of the NZ Council of Trade Unions, Sam Huggard, explained why the TPPA would be bad for workers rights. He gave the example of trans-national corporations suing the Egyptian government for merely trying to implement a minimum wage;

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The big corporations, when they were cooking up this agreement in their high rises in Wall Street and Washington DC, and the politicians like John Key and Tim Groser who do their bidding, were hoping that the agreement would go through without this level of dissent.  We weren’t meant to have a say, that wasn’t in their model.
They weren’t counting on the health sector mobilising over access to medicines.  They didn’t want Maori mobilising to question how Treaty of Waitangi protections were being affected by this secret agreement.  They were hoping the tech sector wouldn’t get organised around the impact on copyright laws.   And they didn’t want to see unions critiquing the anti-worker provisions in the TPPA, like the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, provisions that were recently used against the government of Egypt – sued by French multinational Veolia Group in response to Egypt increasing the minimum wage.
None of this was part of the plan.  They wanted the agreement to go through quietly.  But we wont let that happen.

Gay Keating, from Doctors for Healthy Trade, explaining why the TPPA will harm healthcare in New Zealand;

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Someone did the sums that its going to cost a billion over ten years if they stretch out the costs for the length of patents.

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One of the things that’s pushed so many people in the health sector into being absolutely furious about this agreement is that is the wayit’s going to push people who are healthy, into sickness.

And it’s the processes which make it more difficult for countries to bring in controls on unhealthy products.

You’ve all heard about the $50 million pricetag that Australia’s facing in terms of Stage One of the fightback [by] the tobacco companies.

That’s what we’re signing up to in this agreement.

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The biggest health threat of our century and our children’s century and our moko’s century is climate change.

We need to be able to control greenhouse gases and we need not be handcuffed.

Our government must not be handcuffed for health.

Todd Rippon, from Actors Equity NZ, detailed how a previous “free trade” agreement had reduced the amount of locally produced drama on our television screens. He said the TPPA would be even worse;

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Performer’s lives are directly affected by trade policy. We have been hit hard with the blunt end of a big stick by that World Trade Organisation deal.

We know what it feels like to be cast aside to make way for extremely rich US corporations. I think you know what I’m talking about, yeah?

Signing the TPPA will not only make a bad situation worse for us performers, but it’ll make it worse for virtually every aspect our beautiful country.

Every aspect of our beautiful, tiny, vulnerable country.

Nothing will be untouched.

You name it; health, environment, education, Treaty obligations – no way. They will be wiped out in the name of international profiteering.

Don’t let that happen!

Documentary producer, Bryan Bruce, was well-received by the crowd and spoke well about the nature and problems of the TPPA. He condemned the potential eight to ten year extension of patents for medicines, saying that this would inevitably lead to people dying needlessly for want of treatment;

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What’s on the table is human misery. The poor have as much right to health as the rich.

Bryan  concluded with this warning for National if they went ahead and passed the TPPA;

We will not forget and we will not forgive them.

To  listen to Bryan’s thought-provoking speech, go to  Mick McCrohon’s video on Youtube.

Blues singer, Darren Watson and Delia Shanly on drums entertained the assembly with a rendition of  ‘Planet Key’. The  words were slightly amended to reflect on the issue-of-the-day. He also sang another of his original songs, ‘I Got Your Office Right Here‘, full of satire and good natured poking-fun-at-John Key.

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One lone female protestor managed to evade the barriers and Parliamentary security. She made her way to the top of the steps and sat down, adopting a peaceful meditating-position;

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Other protestors also jumped or skirted the barriers to dance on the Parliamentary forecourt, as Mick McCrohon’s video on Youtube  shows.

It should be pointed out that though protestors “breached the security cordon”, they did not – as the Police and Mainstream Media have reported – try to “storm the steps of Parliament”. That never happened. (In fact, if any mainstream media were present when this occurred, I did not witness their presence.)

A video-recording in my possession clearly shows young people rushing to the steps, and then sitting down on the first half dozen steps  – before police arrived to reinforce the half-dozen Parliamentary security guards standing over the protestors. The handful of protestors made no effort to “storm” the steps, as some have mistakenly claimed. They stopped and sat down before Police arrived (which my video also clearly shows).

See: Citizens face Police armed with tasers at Wellington TPPA protest march

Eventually, the protest ended and the good people of Wellington (and further afield) dispersed;

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As they arrived, they departed; in peace.

Let us hope that this National government has received the message they left.

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References

Parliament: Little, Andrew – Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

Fairfax media: Prescription cost to rise to help pay for Budget

Parliament: 7. Trans-Pacific Partnership—Scope of Negotiations and Release of Information

Huffington Post: Corporate Courts – A Big Red Flag on ‘Trade’ Agreements

Youtube: TPPA PROTEST Wellington 15th.August 2015 Speaker Bryan Bruce

Youtube: TPPA Protest – Dancers Storm The Barricades At NZ Parliament Building

Acknowledgement

Appreciation to Mick McCrohons Youtube video’s, to complete this report.

Main Stream Media

Fairfax media: Thousands march against TPP trade agreement

NZ Herald: Thousands rally against TPP across New Zealand

Otago Daily Times: Thousands turn up to rally against TPP

RadioLive: Thousands urge govt. to ditch TPPA

Radio NZ: Thousands turn out to protest TPP

TV3 News: Thousands march against TPPA deal

TVNZ News: TPP protesters push through barriers at Parliament

Previous related blogposts

Roosting chickens

Citizen A – 29 Nov 2012 – TPPA Special

TPPA: Business launches propaganda campaign

TPPA: Doomsday scenarios, Critics, and flights of fancy

Open message to the Middle Classes about the threat of the TPPA

Nationwide Rally Against the TPPA – Day of Action!

They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part tahi)

They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part rua)

The Mendacities of Mr Key #5: Has Tim Groser shown the P.M. to be a liar on the TPPA?

Nationwide Day of Protest Captures Public Attention on TPPA

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

Citizens face Police armed with tasers at Wellington TPPA protest march

Other blogs

No Right Turn: Help end TPP secrecy

Theocracidal: Thousands Protest TPPA, Cthulhu’s office minions hide under desks

The Standard: Groser – an arrogant git with a tin ear

The Standard: TPPA Protest review

Support groups

Facebook: Oil Free Wellington

Facebook: It’s Our Future – Kiwis concerned about the TPPA

Website:  It’s Our Future

Facebook: Aotearoa is Not for Sale

Action Stations: A Secret Trade Deal So Terrifying That Parliament Isn’t Even Allowed To Know What It Says

Facebook: TPPA Action Group – Wellington

OraTaiao New Zealand Climate and Health Council

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.

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 August 2015.

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As clear as mud

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= That Was Then =

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Enter “John Key transparency” as  parameters in a Search Engine field, and you get about 820,000 results from ‘Google’ and 2,360 from ‘Bing’. (Does the latter seems to know something we don’t?)

Transparency was one of Key’s major “buzz words” for his election campaign in 2008 and last year. He mentions it often, as in a speech he gave Local Government NZ on 26 July 2010, where the word was used six times,

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"It’s worth noting here also that the world has changed in terms of the appetite for transparency around the way we spend money...
... Of course, transparency is as important as ever in election year – be it local body elections or central government elections."

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Indeed, Dear Leader, indeed. Transparency is very important.

We’re glad you’re so supportive of transparency in government. Now, let’s check ‘your score-card’…

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= This is Now =

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Regrettably,  National appears to have abandoned all notions of transparency, and has closed down several issues from public scrutiny.

Two issues, in particular have all but been shut down by National. A veil of secrecy has been draped over the Judith Collins/ACC scandal  and National’s negotiations with Skycity to amend legislation so that the casino can expand by increasing it’s pokie machines by an estimated 350 to 500.

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Full Story

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As Economic Development Minister David Carter revealed, on 20 January, National was in negotiation with SkyCity to extend  its licence beyond its current 2021 expiry, and  to increase the number of gaming tables and pokie machines at SkyCity’s Auckland casino.

The deal would go like this; in return for building a $350 million convention centre, National would relax or amend bits of legislation that would allow Skycity to expand it’s gambling operations. Some estimate an extra 350 to 500 pokie machines would be added to the casino.

Skycity chief executive, Nigel Morrison, was quite clear that without government concessions  to their gaming license, the proposed convention centre would be only a “breakeven proposition for Skycity”.

Marcus Curley, equity analyst for Goldman Sachs was somewhat more candid when he told Interest.co.nz,

More recently, media reports (NZ Herald, February 2, 2012) have pointed to a potential increase in machine numbers at Auckland Casino between 350 and 500. Any proposed changes to gambling legislation would be subject to a full public submission process under the usual select committee process. We believe the incremental revenue from additional machines and tables will be critical in achieving an acceptable financial return on the convention centre project. “

Meanwhile, community groups, anti-gambling organisations, Opposition Parties, and even conservative-moral organisations such as Family First have condemned any suggestion for Skycity to expand it’s gambling operations. The results would be obvious except to (a) the most naive (b) the most blind, that more gambling tables and pokie machines would lead to more problem gambling.

(By coincidence, the small minority  who support Skycity’s plans are National MPs and some vociferous right wing/free market extremists/nutcases. As I said, naive and blind.)

Quite rightly, on 12 June 2011, John Key stated categorically,

Any changes to gambling regulations will be subject to a full public submission process. ” – Source

Unfortunately, as we all know by know, what John Key says – and what he eventually ends up doing – are not always the same thing.

All negotiations between National and Skycity are now being conducted in strictest secrecy. Neither John Key nor Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce are publicly disclosing what concessions National is prepared to make to Skycity.

Outgoing Internal Affairs Minister, Amy Adams, has refused to release any information or reports on government negotiations, citing “commercial sensitivity”. This is a common feature of the gambling industry, as Statistics NZ  reports,

The social and economic costs and benefits of gaming are difficult to measure as official statistical information on the industry is limited. Detailed financial information is often hard to access for reasons of commercial sensitivity…” – Source

In December 1997, as public opposition to casinos grew, a moratorium was passed on new casinos opening in New Zealand.

End of story: no more casinos.  (Oh, yeah, right… )

What Skycity is intending – with National’s secret complicity – is to by-pass that moratorium by expanding their existing  casino. No new casino – just 500 more tables and pokie machines. Because gambling is now a multi-billion dollar industry, as this data from Statics NZ sadly shows,

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This is grossly dishonest. It shows that National is willing to assist a corporation to circumvent the law and public opinion. And John Key is more than willing to allow all this to happen in secrecy, without public scrutiny.

The most absurd aspect of National’s refusal to disclose to the public what is taking place, is their constant buck-passing and referral to “commercial sensitivity”.

What “commercial sensitivity”? Skycity is the only casino in Auckland. It has very little competition as there are no other casinos competing for their clientele.

So why is it “sensitive” for National to disclose it’s negotiations with Skycity?

How can  “any changes to gambling regulations be subject to a full public submission process” if we, the public, don’t know what’s going on?

Why this paranoid need for such secrecy?

What is John Key and National hiding?

In an almost prophetic article written by Gordon Campbell in November 2008, he said,

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The Key government has made it clear that public –private partnerships (PPPs) will be a major part of the country’s planning over the next decade. These projects entail a major commitment of taxpayer funds and public liabilities.

Before we begin down that track, what kind of commitments will the new government provide that ‘commercial sensitivity” will NOT be invoked to conceal from the public the details of these contracts ? Upfront, there needs to be a commitment to utter transparency in the structure and ongoing outcomes of PPP contracts – and the firms bidding for the work need to be told beforehand that their acceptance of such transparency will be a condition of them getting the work. In Canada and in Australia, it has proved extremely difficult for the public to find out just how PPP contracts involving hundreds of millions of dollars of their money are structured, and how the patterns of risk and profit will actually play out, over time.

Why, without a commitment to forego commercial sensitivity on PPPs, we may never know how well or badly the Key government is performing in one of its pet areas. Key has promised “outcomes, results and accountability” from the new Cabinet that is being sworn in today. The media is currently celebrating that kind of talk – without bothering its pretty little head unduly about how, and whether, they will be able to measure the walk. ” – Source

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In a move reminiscent of John Key’s use of the Police as National’s private para-military security force, in the Teapot Tape fiasco, ACC Minister Judith Collins  has laid a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner. She has also, allegedly, issued a defamation lawsuit against Labour MPs Trevor Mallard, Andrew Little, and Radio NZ. It is unclear, at this stage if she has actually carried out her threat of legal action.

It is this blogger’s belief that Collins has little interest in any actual investigation by the Privacy Commissioner, nor lawsuit against the two MPs and Radio NZ.

What we are witnessing is a cunning plan by the Minister. It is a plan so cunning that… she has all but succeeded in closing down one aspect of the ACC/Pullar/Collins/Smith/Boag/Slater/??? scandal.  She has successfully extricated herself from the issue by claiming some sort of “sub judice” principle,

Order Paper and questions

Questions for oral answer

3. Accident Compensation Corporation—Release of Personal Information

[Advance Copy – Subject to minor change before inclusion in Bound Volume.]

3. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Minister for ACC: When was the email she received between 12 March 2012 and 18 March 2012 from Michelle Boag concerning Bronwyn Pullar and the involvement of both in a meeting over a mass privacy breach first printed by her or a staff member in her office?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister for ACC) : Since this matter is before the Privacy Commissioner, it is not in the public interest for me to answer that.

Andrew Little: Does she stand by her statement in an interview on Radio Live this morning, commencing at 8.22 a.m., that “I know exactly what has happened in terms of my office and myself.”?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I stand by all my statements.

Andrew Little: In whose custody and control was the copy or copies of the email that was made in her office placed?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: That matter is before the Privacy Commissioner, and it is not in the public interest for me to answer that.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear Andrew Little’s question.

Andrew Little: What instructions did she give to any staff in her office, or any ACC staff member, in relation to the Michelle Boag email or any copy of it?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Since that matter is before the Privacy Commissioner, it is not in the public interest for me to answer that. ” – Source

Collins has been repeating, by rote, “that matter is before the Privacy Commissioner, it is not in the public interest for me to answer that“.

It means every time the media, an Opposition MP,  or anyone else asks Collins to respond to an embarressing question regarding her involvement in the ACC/Pullar/[Collins]/Smith/Boag/Slater/??? scandal – she has a convenient excuse to avoid answering.

In which case, one can only wonder what it is that Collins does not wish to  comment on?

Ignoring an inconvenient question by responding with “No Comment” used to be the stock response of politicians caught in the public spotlight and media glare. It often signified that they were keeping their mouth firmly shut to avoid further implicating themselves in whatever scandal was the order of the day.

But “no comment” became synonymous with “I’m guilty as sin”.

Hence why the spin doctors, media advisors, political strategists, and other sundry Party apparatchiks now have a new means to protect their wage-paying  Parliamentary masters: sub judice.

The process is  ridiculously simple;

  1. Lay a complaint with Police/Courts/Commissioners – or alternatively initiate  an Inquiry
  2. Deflect any questions thereafter by saying “That matter is before the – – – – “
  3. Then shut up.

Easy-peasy.

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So much for Key’s committment to “tranparency”. His government is as transparent as a muddy river.

When a government resorts to this sort of subterfuge, it’s fairly obvious that transparency has given way to furtiveness and secrecy. It indicates a government that is badly on the back-foot; vulnerable to criticism; and in a defensive mode.

It took Labour three terms to achieve such a state of hyper-sensitivity to criticism.

National has achieved it after only one term. Not exactly a position of strength and confidence in which to begin their second term.

It is the first subtle indication of a government on it’s way out.  God knows how they will end this term, if this is how they are starting out.

Not very well, I suspect. In fact, prepare for an early election or change of government.

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Previous Blogposts

Drugs & Gambling – NZ’s 21st Century Growth Industries?

John Key has another un-named source???

Other Blog’s posts

Citizen A online NOW – ACC fratricide, Ports of Auckland legal failure and convention center bribes

Fearfactsexposed: Government’s control of media sends a shiver down democracy’s spine

Additional

Listen to more on Radio NZ’s  Morning Report

Gordon Campbell: 90s Cabinet Gets Key Coat of Varnish

Statistics NZ: Gaming: an economically significant industry

Casinos safer than pubs, Key says

SkyCity would need at least 350 extra gambling machines for NZ$350 mln convention centre investment to be worth it, Goldman Sachs analyst says

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