TPPA Local Government Campaign
Policy Solution Mandate Grows
- Greg Rzesniowiecki
The March 7 National Day of Action Against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) was a resounding success everywhere. Especially in the face of inclement weather in Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson and Wellington. Again, we were banking on a large public presence. 10,000 in total turned out at the 23 locations and the diversity of the crowds again demonstrated the concern that a large segment of the population feel in regard to the TPPA. We are both growing and cementing our mandate for a sceptical or precautionary approach to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) agenda. At the time of writing things have reached a critical stage and we don’t as yet know when the TPPA end game will be. The US has passed its “fast track” legislation, the Trade Promotion Authority Bill, which President Obama signed into law on June 29th, 2015. We must lift our efforts.
March On March 7 – 10,000 Did
I attended the Wanganui TPPA Action Rally on the morning of March 7, commencing at the Steel Ball Sculpture on the Wanganui River's edge. We marched with more than 200 people to the town square. As with most of their events, the Wanganui TPPA Action crew deployed a team of volunteers handing out information, and encouraging people to sign letters to their Ministers and local Member of Parliament, demanding transparency and that the sovereignty and the interests of the public majority is maintained. Wanganui has mailed 2,104 letters from constituents to the Government on the TPPA. They will now focus on getting MPs to support the Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill, a Private Member’s Bill put up by a New Zealand First MP. It specifically targets the investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions.
From Wanganui I drove across the Manawatu to Palmerston North for their afternoon Rally. I arrived as the 700 assembled commenced their march around the Palmerston North City Square, arriving a few minutes after the commencement, and joined the march. The subsequent rally was addressed by political parties and had the honour of the local Catholic Bishop, Charles Drennan, explain(1) why he joined the protestors, encouraging people to make their voices heard. In addition New Zealand First MP, Darroch Ball, made a strong call to people to support the campaign against the TPPA. There were several others. My contribution(2) was to provide a brief history of the TPPA policy solution and its adoption by local authorities. Again I reinforced that people must engage in their democracy for it to be effective. This time Christchurch's rally was the stand-out in sheer numbers, drawing 3-4,000 people. The Palmerston North, Dunedin and Wellington rallies all provided indications that our message and issue now touched more in their hearts.
Press Coverage Of The March 7 Rallies
The news media provided improved coverage relative to their dismal reportage of the November 2014 rallies. Most of the regional rallies were covered by local newspapers including those in the APN and Fairfax stables. On this occasion Dunedin’s Otago Daily Times wrote a story after ignoring the multitudes participating in November. We also received coverage on both TVNZ and TV3 news. Neither Auckland‘s New Zealand Herald nor Wellington’s Dominion Post gave the rallies, locally or nationally, any coverage. The cover of the Dominion Post on the following Monday gave full front page prominence to two youngsters skylarking, hitching a ride on the back of a train in the Hutt near Melling(3). Corporate news media priorities are evidently in sensationalising poor behaviour and ignore the reasonable concerns of the many with national and international political economy policy settings and New Zealanders acting to protect their nation's interests.
TPPA Policy Solution: Local Government Provides A Significant Mandate
I offered the Dominion Post cover to the Hutt City Council that same Monday afternoon at their Policy Committee where we presented our request that Council adopt our TPPA policy. I was prompted to display the DomPost front page, in response to a question from a Councillor, who asked: “Do you think that the New Zealand public are being kept well informed about the TPPA?” Hutt City Policy Committee recommended that its Council adopt the TPPA policy, which it did at their March 24th Full Council meeting. On that day we filled the public gallery and had several speakers in the public forum prior to the formal Council meeting. Councillors had a vigorous discussion and debate with Mayor Ray Wallace moving the motion for the TPPA policy solution's adoption, stating his belief that our policy is consistent with democratic principles and a reasonable stance. The decision was overwhelming, despite considered opposition from several key Councillors. The Hutt City Council campaign commenced ten months earlier with my address to Hutt City's 2014 Annual Plan hearing in May 2014. I had a bit of a smile on when supping a beer with our support team after the Council's favourable decision. Well done Antony Maddock and the wider Wellington TPPA Action team for their brilliant support for the entire campaign.
We now had two of the Wellington Councils supporting our policy. We had been working with both Upper Hutt City and Kapiti Coast District Councils seeking entry and consideration. We presented to a few Councillors at Upper Hutt in a workshop in March 2015. Following this, Council placed the TPPA on the agenda for its April 9th Full Council meeting. We made representations in the public forum, with three speakers: Antony Maddock, Mary Beth Taylor and myself. The Council had a strong debate, in which a couple of amendments were added to the policy. When the decision came it was most in favour and only two voting against, namely Mayor Wayne Guppy and one other. Interestingly Mayor Guppy is the only Mayor to vote against the policy thus far. Most Mayors have supported with only two that have abstained(4).
The next Councils to consider the TPPA were to meet on April 16th. In the Wellington region it was Kapiti Coast District Council, which addressed the TPPA arising from a recommendation from the Paekakariki Community Board. The TPPA Action folk, from a few groups spread along the Kapiti Coast, made representation to the Council's public forum in support of the Community Board’s remit. There were four or five presenters. The Council discussed the TPPA later in the agenda and broke the policy's 12 points into two parts for decision making. Ultimately each was carried in a close decision. Kapiti became the ninth Council, to support. Well done Paekakariki and Kapiti Council. Who would be number ten?
I elected to attend the Gisborne District Council on April 16th. Council had made provision in its public forum that same day, to allow Gisborne TPPA Action to place its TPPA policy solution petition before the Council. Gisborne activists had collected over 1,000 signatures to the petition calling on the Council to adopt our TPPA policy. Present were Councillors who were strongly opposed to the policy being considered by the Council. Nevertheless it was agreed that Councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown produce a TPPA report for the next Council meeting, due on May 21st. I take up the story below.
We made a decision to revisit the Palmerston North City Council with the TPPA policy solution. Palmerston North City Council, Horizons Regional Council in February 2014 and later, Horowhenua District Council in April 2014, each decided to write to the Government expressing concern about the TPPA negotiations, seeking transparency and that the New Zealand public interest be protected. These letters gained responses; however the Councils hadn't themselves adopted a position. With the agreement and support of the Palmerston North TPPA activists we decided to attempt our TPPA policy on this Council, gaining support for it to be addressed at the April 28th Full Council meeting.
I, along with local Phil Stevens, presented to the Council in the public forum and answered a few questions. Arising from this, Councillors moved and seconded our TPPA policy, which brought on a vigorous debate. Three Councillors and the Mayor, Grant Smith, indicated that they felt that it is premature to adopt the policy, that there was insufficient information and, as such, they felt they couldn't make an informed decision(5). The decision taken by Palmerston North City Council was ten for, nil against and four abstentions. A significant endorsement. Reading between the lines it indicates that, increasingly, Councillors are finding it difficult to oppose the reasonableness of our proposal.
Gisborne A Setback – First To See The Sun, Last To See The Light(6)
Gisborne District Council received three reports on TPPA on May 21st; Councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown’s report with the favourable staff recommendation was joined by reports from Mayor Foon and Councillor Thompson, a significant orchardist in the District. Both of their reports generally supported the TPPA negotiations and were opposed to the Council's adoption of the recommended policy. After a lengthy debate the Council took a decision to not support the TPPA policy solution seven votes to four. We lost the vote, however the local TPPA Action Group has learned a lot in the process. Its members remain staunch in their opposition and are looking at a variety of methods to redress the situation. In all of this, as people become engaged in democratic processes, they learn how decisions are made and by whom. I imagine there will be a lot more interest in the 2016 Gisborne Council election.
Tauranga – The Power Of Reasonableness And Persistence
I recall discussing the prospect of lobbying the TPPA policy to Tauranga City Council with Marty Stewart back in May 2014. I met Marty and a few of the locals when I passed through on the tail of Murray Horton's lecture tour, “Who's Running The Show? And In Whose Interests?” (http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/murray-horton-speaking-tour-2014.html). Tauranga TPPA Action went to work and individuals placed submissions into the Council Long Term Plan (LTP) process. Local actor Tracy Livingston also placed submissions into the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and the Western Bay of Plenty District Council. Which we aim to leverage in the near future.
I also placed submissions and, along with Zana Wellington, presented to Tauranga Council's LTP on May 8th. As well as presenting as to why the TPPA needed to be considered in relation to the LTP's integrity, we suggested that Council consider adopting the policy in Full Council. We accordingly wrote to the Council seeking to present to their May 19th Council meeting public forum. Along with a bunch of 30 supporters Tracy delivered the TPPA petition seeking Council's support for the TPPA policy solution. I spoke for about ten minutes from a prepared script and answered a couple of questions. The Council then considered our request and after a bit of discussion the Mayor, Stuart Crosby, moved that staff report on the TPPA issue to the next Council meeting. In doing so, Mayor Crosby stated he “saw nothing unreasonable in the policy”.
On June 23rd we again assembled at Tauranga Council's Chambers. We had accessed the staff report on June 19th. Council meeting agendas are posted on their Websites usually a few days prior to the meeting. The staff had proposed(7) three amendments (clauses iii, vii, and xii) to our draft policy. The first two were possible improvements, however the adjustment they sought to our point 12 (xii), is problematic to our purpose in encouraging international treaty negotiations to be conducted in a transparent process allowing full civil society participation. In the public forum we made the case for altered wording of clause iii and that the Council consider replacing the staff suggestion with our original formula for clause xii. Council complied after a strong discussion, voting seven for, two against and one abstention. This is a substantial mandate from a Council representing a place many saw as conservative in its demographic.
The Mandate For Our TPPA Policy
The size of the mandate for our TPPA policy is significant when one considers the population in the territories of the Councils that have adopted our TPPA policy solution. Tauranga City Council is the 11th to adopt the TPP policy and, together, Auckland, Nelson, Tasman, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, Hutt, Upper Hutt, Kapiti, Palmerston North and Tauranga represent 60% of the Aotearoa/New Zealand population. We are looking for enthusiastic and energetic folk to host a TPPA Action local government lobby on local government authorities who haven't adopted the TPPA policy solution as yet. Contact me at: email@example.com
The Road Ahead – More Councils And To What End?
In between the above milestones TPPA Action has presented to Hastings, Rotorua and Wairarapa Councils during their LTP hearings. Local groups in other regions have presented to Councils mostly to the LTPs. These all help to raise the TPPA issue on Councillors’ radar. I feel we have succeeded making local government aware of the implication as an institution. TPPA Action is encouraging activity in the Waikato and Taranaki regions so hopefully these will bear fruit worthy of report in Watchdog 140. The question is now, how do we forge the local government lobby effort and result into effective political pressure which impacts on the central Government's stance on the TPPA?
Any political action is about gaining an outcome. We direct our efforts at the international economic policy settings being negotiated in the TPPA (and TiSA [Trade in Services Agreement] etc.) arrangements. How do we leverage our results to ensure our desired policy is upheld and central to the outcome for Aotearoa/New Zealand? This is the key question that has been exercising my mind for a while. I found statements attributed to Trade and Climate Change Negotiation Minister Tim Groser when addressing the NZ/US Forum(8) fascinating and a purposeful pointed projection of his worse or arrogant values.
However, look at what he is saying. He offers that the way forward still has a few rocks. Nothing new there, and remember how many deadlines have passed to-date. He suggested a final agreement by July's end, and then months till it is forged into formal legally agreed terms and then translated into half a dozen languages. There is plenty of room for disagreement between the parties. Our dairy and pastoral interests have stated opposition to any deal that does not provide increased access for their wares(9). Whereas, US farmers are opposed to increased Fonterra access to their domestic markets, stating that NZ entry will destroy their jobs.
US Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) Or Fast Track
The US Congressional circus has been preoccupied with the passage of the TPA Bill, which allows US Trade Representatives to negotiate a deal which is consistent with the USA TPA. This mechanism allows the President to use pre-authorised Executive Power to enter a Free Trade and Investment Agreement (FTA), bypassing the need for Congressional review, apart from either an Up (yes), or Down (no) vote on the final agreement. Congress would then need to authorise any enabling legislation to ensure that domestic legislation is compliant with that agreed in the international treaty. Similarly in New Zealand and many TPPA nations, the Crown or Sovereign Executive retains the power to enter or assent to international treaties. For New Zealand this is exercised by the Executive Council, which in effect, is all the Crown Ministers.
Regional Policy Statements – Elements In The Democratic Toolkit
New Zealand Regional Councils are required to issue Regional Policy Statements (RPS)(10). The Northland Regional Council's Policy Statement(11) has a provision which discourages genetically modified organisms (GMO). Federated Farmers sought to eliminate the ban on GMOs, through the use of court action. Most recently the Environment Court turned down Federated Farmers' application(12). Its National President, William Rolleston, is pursing an appeal. Interestingly he was also a keynote speaker at the Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) Annual Conference in Rotorua in July(13). LGNZ hasn't placed TPPA on the agenda of its conference, whose theme is “Leading The Charge For Our Communities”. I wonder what our communities might grapple with a bad case of TPPA? Do they intend leading the charge on the TPPA, or is that outside of the lists(14)? The additional point of interest in this is the move by the Ministry for the Environment to release a discussion document on plantation forestry(15) which advocates for the release of GMO plantation forests(16) and the diminution of the use of Regional Policy Statements which rely on the Resource Management Act (RMA).
Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill (FFCC)
This Bill was selected from the Private Members’ ballot in March 2015; however it is yet to make it to Parliament for its First Reading. We need 61 Members of Parliament to vote for it and so far we have 60. NZ First, Greens, Maori Party and Labour have agreed to support the Bill for its First Reading, Labour has only committed to this level. We need an extra vote for it to proceed, which requires United Future's Peter Dunne, Act's David Seymour or one of the National MPs to support this Bill. If passed this Bill would stop New Zealand signing an FTA that had investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions. This would at least protect successive Governments from the legislative chill caused by the threat of being sued by transnational corporations, where they were affected by legislation.
As is the case with Federated Farmers' suit against the Northland Regional Council Policy Statement, it is preferable that lawsuits in respect to NZ law and enactments are handled domestically and in the context of the domestic law. You might be inclined to lobby MPs to support the FFCC Bill. One initiative is through Action Station(17) which recommends a variety of activities including phoning your MP. I encourage folks to undertake delegations to see their MPs, run public meetings, and do spontaneous acts of civil mischief of a light hearted variety to make your view on this well known. Since this was written the FFCC Bill did not get enough votes to proceed to its First Reading and therefore lapsed. Ed.
NZ Korea Free Trade Agreement (NZKFTA)
This international treaty and Free Trade Agreement has been through the initial Select Committee process which received thousands of submissions and evidence from the public, most in opposition to the ISDS provisions contained within it. A number of other problems were identified with the Agreement including the likely limit on the Government's ability to regulate foreign purchases of NZ domestic real estate. This is topical in light of the overheating of the Auckland property market and affordability of housing as a social issue of urgent contemporary concern. Parliament must endorse enabling legislation before the Executive can formally assent to the NZKFTA. The enabling legislation has passed its First Reading and is before the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade (FADT) Select Committee for a review (18) of the proposed legislation. People can input that process restating their opposition to ISDS and other measures inimical to our interests.
Maori Launch TPPA Legal Action At Waitangi Tribunal
In two related claims individuals and organisations have combined to challenge the Crown's legal right to settle a TPPA which limits Maori rights under Te Tiriti o Waitangi'(19). I encourage readers to arrive at their own assessments. I support the initiatives as I feel that Maori cultural tradition based in community and reverence for Papatuanuku will serve all in Aotearoa/New Zealand well. We all bring to the TPPA competition our best offerings to ensure that whatever is agreed is similar to our TPPA policy solution. In our best interests, that is, in the interests of the public majority in each of the 12 nation partners. We attempt to look after the public interest here and folk in Japan and the US do likewise through their TPPA Action activities. Folk opposing the TPPA and FTAs in Canada, US and Australia are utilising variations on the local government campaign (in the case of Canada, it’s also a provincial government campaign) as elements of their TPPA Action strategy.
Australian Senate Inquiry Into FTAs
Australia's Senate has reviewed its Government processes in respect to assent for international treaties. This is similar to New Zealand’s proposed review under the failed 2003 International Treaties Bill. Its final report “Blind Agreement: Reforming Australia's Treaty-Making Process” (20) makes a number of suggestions including making the process more transparent and responsive to stakeholder interest. It goes as far as suggesting the development of a model agreement; however it does not make clear a position on ISDS provisions. The recommendations commence on page xiii of the Report Also before the Australian Senate is a Bill opposing ISDS (21). As with NZ, Australia is entering further bilateral FTAs. Also Australia continues to negotiate FTAs; here the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) is assisting folks to oppose the China Australia FTAs (22).
Europe Still Says No To ISDS In TTIP
The European Parliament considered anti-ISDS Bills in relation to the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Agreement (TTIP) (23). Holding the line and not agreeing to ISDS in the TPPA seems a sensible thing to do from the perspective of international civil society solidarity. Britain has seen locals adopting the approach of lobbying their local authorities seeking anti-TTIP policies, or TTIP free zones. Edinburgh, Lewisham and previously Glasgow Councils have adopted this approach(24).
Canadian & US Local Authorities & Provinces Adopt Anti-FTA Stance
As with opposition to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI, which was defeated) in the 1990s and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), individuals and their communities in Australia, Canada and US TPPA partner nations are seeking the support of their local councils and provinces (Canada) to ensure a positive outcome (25).
Climate Change Consultation By MfE
During early June 2015 I wrote a considerable submission to the Government's consultation in respect to the level of Climate Change mitigation that it will volunteer in the lead up to Paris 2015 (26). This is an important decision and one which all New Zealanders should take an active interest. We might have new taxation and economic arrangements in place if the strongest intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) commitments are agreed. We will have an altered weather system and climate unless we act immediately. The weather bomb damage to regions that I have travelled through recently is dramatic, from slips and flood damage in Wellington, Hutt, Wanganui and Taranaki to the tornado that wreaked havoc, to Tauranga's Baypark motor sports stadium (27). Wind strength was 185 kms per hour – fast even in that stadium.
We need to join the dots and join with the many in the community who want quality outcomes for all. Our friends at Techdirt who have watched the TPPA and the broader FTA agenda with much discernment offer this as the last word (28). They reference this in respect to the Canadian European Free Trade Agreement (CETA), from an article in The Conversation by London University's Sam Fowls (29): “The European Commission has said many times that it aims to build on the corporate sovereignty chapter in CETA when it comes to negotiating TTIP. One feature of ISDS in CETA is the following: In the event that the present Agreement is terminated, the provisions of (Chapter X Investment) shall continue to be effective for a further period of 20 years from that date in respect of investments made before the date of termination of the present Agreement”.Nice for some. Not for us paying for the piper's tune!
Appeal “TPP Roadie”
Donations to this initiative to lobby local government with the TPPA policy can be made to the following bank account: NBS, account number 031354 0295461 016, reference “TPP Roadie”.
Greg Rzesniowiecki aka gregfullmoon resides at large, originally from the Motueka Valley. He has assumed varied roles in the past, both here, and across the ditch in his native Melbourne and Australia. He has come to call Aotearoa/New Zealand home. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org