TPP and other fights at Labour’s conference

The Herald reports:

’s affiliated unions have a role in the latest battle and are deeply suspicious of the , as are a group in the caucus including former deputy leader Grant Robertson and Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford.

The other group, championed by former Trade Minister Phil Goff, is willing to put greater faith in the upsides of TPP.

Labour’s TPP sceptics were bolstered by the passage of a remit at the Council of Trade Unions conference last month which simply stated: “That this conference opposes the Tran-Pacific Partnership Agreement.”

It was passed unanimously, with no speeches in opposition.

What is sad about this, is they are saying they are opposed to the TPP, regardless of what is in it!!

I have concerns over some of what US is asking for, but to declare outright opposition to the TPP regardless of what is finally agreed is ridiculous. To date the New Zealand negotiators have actually done a very good job in staying firm on issues such as intellectual property laws, with NZ’s position being not to agree to any provisions that would require a change in current NZ laws. I support them in this, and hope that position does not change.

The most intense debate on TPP is likely to occur when delegates talk about the Policy Platform – a new document of principles and values with which specific policy must be compatible.

The proposed wording on trade deals says: “We will only support trade agreements that protect New Zealand’s sovereign right to make law and regulations as we see fit.”

One of the questions is whether that means the party could not support a deal that reduced in any way New Zealand’s sovereign right to make law or whether it leaves wiggle room. It has been suggested that there may be amendments put in to toughen it up.

Mr Goff acknowledges the well-accepted precept that trade deals – along with every other international agreement – always reduce a country’s sovereignty.

“Not just trade negotiations but any international agreement we sign up to, including the International Convention on the Protection of Civil and Political Rights that removes our sovereign right to persecute people [and] the Convention Against Torture, which removes our sovereign right to torture people. There are a whole lot of things that involve the surrender of our sovereignty that every delegate at the party conference would actually approve.” 

Well done Phil Goff for explaining this point so rationally. Every single international agreement we sign up to, involves a reduction of sovereignty. We’ve agreed not to pursue mining in Antarctica, we’ve agreed not to pass a law allowing torture, we’ve agreed to not impose tariffs outside the WTO rules, we’ve agreed to comply with some international labour standards etc.

Anyone who opposes a trade deal on the basis that it may lead to a loss of sovereignty is being duplicitous or stupid. All international agreements are about countries agreeing to limit what they will or will not do. So the draft Labour Party platform would rule out every single trade deal ever negotiated.

You can of course withdraw from an international agreement, so a country still has final sovereignty, but there will be consequences (generally economic) if you do.

He said many people were concerned about the Australian case in which the Philip Morris tobacco company challenged – under the investor-state dispute clause of a free-trade agreement – the Government’s right to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.

He also said the Australian case was the result of poor wording in a trade deal that NZ would never let through.

New Zealand has a good track record of negotiating agreements that have non-discrimination provisions, but still allow Governments to legislate on domestic issues such as plain packaging.

Mr Goff said he had been briefed by New Zealand’s chief TPP negotiator, David Walker, with the approval of Trade Minister Tim Groser, and he felt confident that New Zealand was fighting hard on core issues that, had there been a Labour Government, would have been the same.

“My understanding of what New Zealand’s position will be on this is that we would absolutely die in a ditch to protect our right to regulate or legislate in the public good and that is a bottom line,” Mr Goff said.

Kudos to Goff for saying this.

He will be its chief advocate at the party conference, but is not confident he will win the debate.

“I really don’t know, because delegates will have been exposed to all of the concerns about TPP but not about the advantages of it. That creates a challenge.”

Labour have turned their back on other areas that used to be bi-partisan such as Reserve Bank independence, so I’m expecting they will do the same here and vote against free trade (their draft policy platform would mean they couldn’t even support the China Free Trade Agreement they signed). However I also expect Labour to claim the outcome will mean different things to difference audiences They will tell the unions they are against the TPP and tell farmers they are for it.

Dr Damien Rogers writes on this issue:

A more immediate obstacle is the Labour Party’s Annual Conference in Christchurch this weekend, which presents Cunliffe with his first major set-piece opportunity as leader to communicate directly with the party faithful and, indirectly, to all potential voters. Repeating his recent performance at the Conference of Trade Unions – where a rabble-rousing oration to union “comrades” was hopelessly compromised when he conveyed contrary messages to the media waiting outside – is unlikely to suffice. Cunliffe’s politics of appeasing Labour’s special interest groups by separately telling each what they want to hear, but without engaging directly with the major challenges of the day, will be hard to maintain with his credibility intact.

So my prediction in line with this is the policy platform against free trade will go through with little or no changes, but Labour will try and make it sound like they are both for and against the TPP!

Also on the issue of the conference, Stuff provides this list of burning issues for the delegates:

  • Maori language made compulsory in state schools and teachers required to be competent in te reo
  • Privatised state assets renationalised with compensation based on “proven need”
  • The Government’s roads of national significance project dumped and the funds put into public transport
  • Teaching of civics and democracy mandatory for all school children
  • Laws to discourage excessive alcohol consumption, a review of the purchasing age, alcohol availability and an increase in the price of booze
  • Prisoners again getting the right to vote
  • A national sex and sexuality education programme dealing with sexual diseases, contraception methods, consent, sexual orientation and gender identity
  • New Zealand becoming a republic
  • An apology for the Foreshore and Seabed Act passed in 2004
  • A prohibition on school boards of trustees restricting same-sex partners from attending school balls
  • A Pasifika television station
  • A Maori language newspaper

Someone should move an amendment to the Foreshore and Seabed apology remit, including the details that the apology must be done in person by Helen Clark and Margaret Wilson!

Heh, Chris Finalyson is urging Labour delegates to vote for the remit:

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson has encouraged delegates to support the rank-and-file conference remit that the Labour Party’s leadership apologise for passing the Foreshore and Seabed Act while in government under Helen Clark.

“I am glad that almost a decade after passing this shameful piece of legislation, which denied access to the courts to people based on race, the Labour Party is ready to discuss an apology,” Mr Finlayson said. …

“I would suggest that the Labour leadership also apologise for their the party’s abysmal treatment of Tariana Turia because of her principled stand over the issue,” he said.

“While they are at it, they should apologise for the way Helen Clark called Dr Pita Sharples, a man who has devoted his life to improving Māori educational achievement, a ‘hater and a wrecker’.”

“They should apologise that Ms Clark deliberately snubbed the 35,000 New Zealanders who made a hikoi to Parliament to protest that discriminatory legislation, preferring to pose for a photo opportunity with Shrek the sheep.”

I recall that hikoi. Snubbing it to meet a sheep probably cost Labour tens of thousands of votes.

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