Abject Surrender: Rather than simply reiterate his party's agreed position on the TPPA, Andrew Little told Radio NZ's Morning Report that the agreement was something Labour “is not in a position to oppose”. New Zealand, he said was “now committed” to the TPP. It simply “doesn’t matter what we say and do” because “we’ve got what we’ve got”. As these defeatist phrases dribbled off Little’s tired tongue, you could almost hear the four-letter expostulations of Labour’s base as it turned and walked away.
WHEN ANDREW LITTLE met with Tim Groser on Monday evening he was not alone. Joining him for the Trade Minister’s two-hour briefing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership were Phil Goff, Annette King, Grant Robertson and David Shearer.
This is not the team a leader of the NZ Labour Party would have taken with him if he was planning to strongly oppose the TPP. Quite the reverse, in fact. Not only would the Labour Left have no difficulty in identifying the caucus members sitting down with Little and Groser as leading representatives of the Labour Right, they’d also finger them as former stalwarts of the infamous ABC (Anybody But Cunliffe) group within Labour’s parliamentary caucus.
Viewed from the outside, then, Little’s entourage looks a great deal more like a pack of right-wing minders than a troop of left-wing comrades. And, if his interview on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report of Tuesday, 13 October, is anything to go by, those two hours with Groser and his officials left him worn-out and dispirited. Would this have been his demeanour if his colleagues had pitched in aggressively and often to challenge and refute the Trade Minister’s assertions? No. Most likely his hang-dog performance was born of the suspicion that he was the only person in that briefing-room who didn’t regard the TPP as the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Nor was it simply a demoralised Opposition leader who responded to Suzie Fergusson’s questioning on Morning Report, Little had also been appallingly advised.
He could have simply reiterated Labour’s current policy of opposing a TPP agreement that failed to meet the party’s five “non-negotiable” conditions. These are:
1) Pharmac must be protected;
2) Corporations cannot successfully sue the Government for regulating in the public interest;
3) New Zealand maintains the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreign buyers;
4) The Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld;
5) Meaningful gains are made for farmers in tariff reductions and market access.
But, rather than leave it at that, Little spoke of the TPP as something Labour “is not in a position to oppose”. New Zealand, he said was “now committed” to the TPP. It simply “doesn’t matter what we say and do” because “we’ve got what we’ve got”. As these defeatist phrases dribbled off Little’s tired tongue, you could almost hear the four-letter expostulations of Labour’s base as it turned and walked away.
And then he made things worse.
Labour’s options vis-à-vis the TPP are clear. It can, either, return to, and reaffirm, Labour’s former bipartisan approach to free trade issues, and offer its full parliamentary support for the Government’s enabling legislation; or, upon being satisfied that one or more of its non-negotiable conditions has not been met, it can declare the party’s opposition to the TPP, announce its intention to vote against its enabling legislation, and then withdraw from the agreement as soon as legally possible.
Both options are clear and principled – all Labour has to do is make a choice. But that, apparently, is much too simple and straightforward a solution. Instead, Little told Morning Report that the Labour Party, not being in a position to oppose the TPP, would accept it as a fait accompli, but, upon becoming the Government, it would “flout” – yes, that was the term he accepted – all those provisions of the agreement with which it disagreed.
Quite what the rest of the world will make of a country that first signs agreements, and then flouts them, is anybody’s guess. Personally speaking, I do not believe the rest of the world would make very much of us. Such a course would, I am certain, rapidly result in New Zealand’s international reputation as a fair-dealing and principled nation being torn to shreds.
The Leader of the Opposition must surely have access to better advice – and advisors - than this? Surely, somewhere in the Labour caucus, or the wider party, there still exists a modicum of political intelligence, moral fortitude and simple common sense?
Exactly how Trade Minister Groser responded to Little’s post-briefing performance we can only guess. But if he said: “Crikey! I didn’t expect it to be that easy. The PM will be over the moon!” We could hardly blame him. But then, the Labour Left would probably add: “Don’t get too cocky, Tim. You had help.”
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 October 2015.