Written By: - Date published: 11:01 am, October 18th, 2015 - 186 comments
Categories: Andrew Little, Annette King, Economy, labour, trade - Tags: matthew hooton, TPPA, trans pacific partnership agreement
The last fortnight has not been a great time for Labour when it comes to the TPPA. But I wonder if a couple of imprecisely worded comments have had far too much read into them. And if the left and the media have fallen into a trap set by the right.
On October 9 Matthew Hooton had a great deal of fun by claiming that the recent Labour caucus meeting had been heated and that five members of the Labour Caucus were prepared to cross the floor. There was no evidence that the Caucus meeting was heated, in fact this was emphatically denied. And the policy difference is nothing new. But Hooton’s statement neatly created an attack on Labour and instead of attention continuing on emerging deficiencies with the TPPA.
Annette King’s response was emphatic.
King accused Hooton of “absolute spin and downright deceit”, and challenged him to name one Labour MP who had spoken to him about crossing the floor.
“It actually makes me angry that anyone would give any credence to his crap…there isn’t a tissue paper between us on the way we’re handling it.”
King said Labour’s position on its bottom lines for the TPPA had been agreed by the entire caucus, and balanced the party’s support for fair trade with its concerns about secrecy around the deal.
“There is no doubt that we are a party in favour of free and fair trade…we’ve proven that. What we’re getting to is the fair part of the trade: how fair is it on New Zealanders, on our health, on our sovereignty?”
While the last Labour Government had signed a free trade agreement with China, the TPPA was “a deal like no other” and needed to be scrutinised before the party would give its position.
At the same time there was a clearly concerted attack by the right on Jane Kelsey for her principled opposition to the TPPA and her success at getting the Government’s handling of her OIA requests deemed in breach of the law. There was a strong sense of an urgent need by the right to divert attention.
Labour has reserved its position on the treaty until the text was released. This is appropriate. While finalise a position before the actual terms of the treaty are known. And yes there is a difference of opinion within caucus on how to respond to TPPA but clearly they are working towards a final position that can only be determined once the text of the treaty is publicly available.
But some of the language has been clumsyand some have interpreted this as a back down. For instance Grant Robertson’s recent comments suggested that Labour was trying to have a bob each way. My own view is that talk about flouting certain terms of the treaty while staying in the treaty was somewhat clumsy if not what was actually intended let alone said. I get the impression that Robertson was hinting that this may be grounds for pulling out of the TPPA rather than justification for flouting the treaty if and when Labour becomes Government.
Andrea Vance wrote this perceptive post where she points out that debate on an issue is actually a good thing.
For eighteen minutes on Tuesday the Labour leader and the parliamentary press gallery batted back and forward on one issue: Is Labour for or against the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Patiently, Little explained that the deal is done – and whether Labour “supports” it or not, is irrelevant at this point.Other commentators have railed against Little for trying to appease critics and opponents of the deal.He supports reduced tariffs on exports. But he’s prepared to flout provisions that would prevent a ban on foreign buyers.On both these points, the pundits make a fair point. Labour’s position is absurd – if not down-right duplicitous.
But what is odd is criticism that centres on differing opinions within the caucus.
So what if Labour MPs are debating internally about the merits of the Pacific pact?
This is very different from Labour MPs squabbling over the leadership.
Internally debating policy is healthy. It’s normal. Heck, it’s maybe even democracy.
Hegemonic harmony within a caucus and subservient submittal to your leader’s ideas is not realistic. It’s perhaps even a bit creepy.
That Labour is conflicted over TPP does not mean the end of the party or that another leadership spill is in the works.
Labour’s enemies may choose to frame it that way – but that says more about their interests than what it is going on within the party.
I would like to think that talk of Labour flouting the treaty rather than opposing it are premature. We need to see the final form of the Treaty and then see what Labour’s position is before we can pass judgment.