Has Labour kept its promise on the TPPA?

There’s a question I haven’t seen answered in the most recent coverage of the abysmally-renamed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership: how does it line up with the five principles then-Labour leader Andrew Little announced in July 2015?

– Pharmac must be protected
– Corporations cannot successfully sue the Government for regulating in the public interest
– New Zealand maintains the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreign buyers
– The Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld
– Meaningful gains are made for our farmers in tariff reductions and market access.

(Are we even allowed to know? Wasn’t the TPPA’s secrecy another major sticking point for a lot of people?)

Professor Jane Kelsey suggests that, besides a token attempt to address the issue of investor/state disputes, we’ve achieved none of those points. The best that free trade fanboy Stephen Jacobi can say today is:

“I wouldn’t expect the dairy farmer to be jumping all over the place, but it’s better than it would have been otherwise.”

… which could be interpreted as “meaningful gains are made for our farmers” if one were feeling extremely generous. One is not.

On the Pharmac issue – maybe? Those of us who aren’t Stephen Jacobi are still having to read between the lines here – Stuff reports:

Fully 22 provisions of the original TPP agreement have been suspended, up from 20 frozen in November last year. These provisions include controversial pharmaceutical changes and would only be reactivated after renegotiations and if the United States re-entered the pact.

Does that mean Pharmac is protected … until the US enters the deal? If we sign this and a new President comes along in 2020 and says “Yup, we’re in” do we even get to discuss what happens, or is it gone by lunchtime?

Tens of thousands of people marched against the TPPA, and expected Labour, especially Labour-in-government-with-the-Greens-and-New-Zealand-First, to actually be different to the last lot. But I don’t know if Labour really understood this. If you go back to the July announcement, Labour declared:

Labour will carefully consider the impact of the draft TPP agreement on New Zealand’s interests, and we will not support the TPP unless it protects New Zealand’s sovereignty and is in the best interests of New Zealanders.

… in the last paragraph. The first four words of the announcement, though, are:

Labour supports free trade.

So it has been: at every opportunity, as New Zealanders protested and organised and challenged the very idea that “free trade” is good for all of us, you couldn’t get a statement out of a Labour spokesperson which didn’t begin with, “Well of course Labour has always supported free trade agreements, however.”

Labour has been unable to detach itself from the idea that trade agreements are Good Proper Governance. They’re what you do when you’re in power, and while of course there are some domestic issues to work through like basic human rights and the ongoing legacy of unilaterally self-immolating our manufacturing sector, y’know, Trade Agreements Are Good. They must be, or we wouldn’t keep signing up to them, and those nice men in suits from the big banks and think-tanks wouldn’t keep saying how great they are.

Even when New Zealanders took to the streets saying, this secrecy is undemocratic. This provision for companies to sue our government over lost profits is obscene. Pharmac is too precious to give up for undefined economic gain, Labour dithered, giving Phil Goff leave to cross the floor over it and looking not entirely cohesive when David Shearer wanted to do the same.

I don’t think Labour have ever understood that those specific complaints (which they haven’t actually fixed!) about a specific agreement weren’t the whole of the argument. That people weren’t blockading motorways just because of one particular instance of investor/state dispute resolution clauses.

The world is changing. More and more people are starting to think, maybe “free trade agreements” aren’t the universal good they’ve been sold as. Reconsidering what “free trade” means: who gets to be “free”? Free from what – job security? Affordable housing and healthcare? The power of their own elected governments to pass legislation for the public good? Things that matter more than profit margins?

And maybe, after thirty years of this being the status quo, we’re ready for an alternative. A genuine change in direction. We see a new government formed of parties who (more or less) said that the TPPA was not OK, who promised a new way of doing things. It’s the old organising model of Anger, Hope, Action. People are angry. Jacinda Ardern gave them hope. Action?

Apparently not. And I don’t know how thrilled people are going to be about that – or the government’s message that actually they should be happy because that’s the way the world works.

I could be wrong. It could be as my comrade Giovanni suggested:

Maybe they won’t face a backlash over this. But either way, this will be a massive lost opportunity for Labour. And I worry it won’t be the last.

Applying lessons: the way we talk about the TPP

Anyone who knows me in offline life has heard me raving about the awesomeness of Anat Shenker-Osorio this week. She was on Q&A yesterday (video requires Flash, sorry) and she’s been talking to a lot of union folk about how we communicate our ideas and what we need to change.

One of her messages is that facts aren’t enough. Evidence doesn’t work. Consider how the overwhelming evidence, across the world, is leftwing governments = economic prosperity and rightwing governments = economic bad times. If people voted based on evidence, our job would be done. They don’t. There are more factors in play. (And as the left, we really shouldn’t be surprised that people aren’t pure rational economic automata.)

I’ve been thinking about this and reading reactions to the TPP announcement. We’re worried because we don’t know the detail. We’re concerned because the estimated returns are so damn low. We have plenty of evidence that this is going to be bad for New Zealand. So why is it considered inevitable that it’ll be ratified without much fuss?

It illustrates a wider challenge for the left: re-tooling our thinking away from the surety that we’re the good guys and people are rational and therefore telling them the facts about how good we are will work!

will ferrell science

But facts alone don’t sway people. And even if they did, facts aren’t immutable, objective things. We’re all political nerds around here and gods know we love to have arguments about whether mean household income or median weekly wage is the technically-best way to sell the issue that people are underpaid. Your average voter, who doesn’t have time nor inclination to get knee-deep in gritty statistics, won’t engage with that.

Your average voter – who doesn’t understand GDP (*I* don’t understand GDP and I’m way nerdier than average) who doesn’t have perfect recollection of all our previous trade agreements (*I* barely remember any of them) and who probably operates on the basis that our leaders must at least sorta know what they’re doing – isn’t going to erect barricades in the streets over a disappointing Treasury forecast.

The It’s Our Future campaign has done a great job mobilising and organising opposition to the TPP. They’ve done it by saying this is a secret deal which will hurt New Zealand, our environment and Pharmac (I’m willing to bet most people don’t know how Pharmac works either, beyond “it’s a system that pays for my medicine”.) They’ve appealed to our gut – secrecy sounds sneaky; corporations don’t have our best interests at heart; we’re a special little nation and we have to protect our future.

There’s detail in there as well, but the core statements aren’t about plain, arguable facts. Yet a lot of us are hung up on them. And so people see Tim Groser shrugging, “It’s not perfect but we did our best and we’ll make it better down the line” and the opposition replying “Well the devil’s in the detail.”

Saying “the devil’s in the detail” really only reinforces that overall, it’s a good deal. It emphasises that our objections are nitpicking technical weirdo political nerd objections – not important ones which normal people would care about.

30 rock nerd rage

There are probably reasons for that beyond a simple failure to have read everything Anat Shenker-Osorio has ever written. There may be disagreements within the Labour Party which make it impossible for Andrew Little to just stand up and say “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this free trade agreement!” There may be people who actively want to encourage a little ambiguity, or hope this issue will go away if they don’t make too much fuss about it. I don’t know, and unlike certain rightwing folk who get columns in the NBR, I shan’t pretend to know.

taylor swift wink

But it’s an interesting study in how we talk about issues that we do genuinely want people to be engaged with. People need a reason to be engaged – and a big pile of facts or a long technical argument won’t do the trick.

Women of #nzpol Twitter: on the TPP being signed

The “Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup” is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

wonder woman misandry

Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning, the TPP was finally declared signed. Women had thoughts about this thing which isn’t ~a women’s issue~!

https://twitter.com/Dovil/status/651093236711231488

Tea breaks are creeping communism

A classic National Party campaign poster did the rounds on Twitter following Farrar’s latest round of “Labour is now the extreme left” scaremongering.

1951 national poster communism

What’s funny is how little the right’s tactics have changed in 60 years. Even today, you get employers telling their workers that they’re very concerned that the unions they belong to are greedy leviathans run from shadowy smoke-filled rooms by men with Stalinist moustaches. The rhetoric is still about scary unions forcing innocent businesses to close their doors as the hardworking General Manager Corporate Affairs weeps into his tie.

The fairly simple logic – that it doesn’t really benefit unions if their members go out of work – is usually lost on people like Farrar. Many unions have in fact been key parts of helping businesses to lift productivity and innovate and create even more jobs.

Of course workers, and the unions who represent them, get a little stroppy when employers do things like try to take away guaranteed tea breaks and leak workers’ personal information to hate-bloggers like Cameron Slater, but that’s hardly socialism gone mad. That’s recognising basic concepts like fairness, safety, and integrity.

And those things are pretty scary, if you think the only important thing in the world is short-term profit.