On the 7th of March Trade Minister Todd McClay spoke to around 300 interested Kiwis at the first in a nationwide series of MFAT run TPPA Roadshows. The Minister made a number of bold and exciting claims about the roadshows;
The Roadshow it seems is an offer too good to refuse. Ever curious about the TPPA I decided to pop along to the Dunedin event on the 14th of March, and see what all the fuss was about.
Now attending a Roadshow is not as simple as popping along. In fact in order to attend you have to first register via the MFAT website.
The good people at MFAT no doubt in the interest of open debate and inclusion have the following requirement upon interested citizens to gain entry.
You will need to bring photo ID (e.g. passport or drivers licence) in order to collect your name badge when you attend the roadshow. You may not be permitted entry to the roadshow unless you present photo ID.Entry to the roadshow on the day is entirely at the discretion of the event organizers. Disruptive, threatening or offensive behavior will not be tolerated and may result in you being required to leave the venue.
You must comply with the instructions and directions of the event organizers. You may be required to leave the roadshow if you do not do so.
Right, have you got that? before you can enter Mr McClay’s ‘open debate, informed discussion’ you first have to agree to doing what you are told.
Being a curious and dutiful citizen I prepared my identification, completed my registration, and printed off my MFAT confirmation including individual Bar Code, and off I went to the show.
On arriving at the Venue in Harrop street, I was greeted by some very friendly people keen to hear my views about the TPPA, and happy to give me information sheets. But enough about the protesters, onto the front door.
The front door itself was guarded by a heavy police presence supported by private security contractors from Amourguard. A young man from Armourguard asked for my photo ID and then told me I wasn’t on the list and asked me to stand to one side while they check if I could enter. Which under a watchful Police eye I did.
I didn’t have long to wait before another slightly older young man from Armourguard came to speak to me and ask if I had my registration form, which of course I did. After a moment of reading my licence, checking my registration , and checking my licence again I was allowed in the door.
Hallelujah I haven’t had so much scrutiny to enter a door ever in my life. Not even as an under age drinker in the last century, nor at Passport control at Heathrow, have I ever faced such close observation and suspicion. Crikey there must be something really really important inside.
Inside the door was more police, and more security, and a desk to register to attend the day. I must say the folks from Orbit (Event Staff) were genuinely friendly and helpful. In a very short time I was given my ID Card and lanyard and direct to the stair well. Apparently the Lift was out of order. This was when yet another Security Officer asked to search my bag. Being a good citizen I handed my bag over. Apparently my pen and paper and Banana for morning tea did not constitute dangerous items and I was allow to begin my long climb up the stairs.
The climb itself was uneventful except for the presence of Security Personnel on every landing carefully watching our every move to ensure we went were we where supposed to.
Upon reaching the top floor I was greeted by even more security staff and a lobby to wait in. The lobby contained some MFAT TPPA Fact Sheets and that is about it.
After about 10 minutes of standing and being watched we were all allowed to enter the conference room itself.
I must admit by now my expectations where very high. After all why have a small army of security guards if there wasn’t something spectacular inside? Sadly I was in for a big disappointment, entering the room all I saw was a scene that thousands of Kiwi’s would see on a Monday morning. empty seats, a table, and a power point presentation ready to go.
The only thing out of place was even more security guards and Sean Plunket. Sean was busy writing notes and looking like he deserved every last one of the tax payer dollars he was earning to be there. The Security guards were busy eyeballing every single person who entered the room in presumably some mind reading exercise to decide who the trouble makers might be. It was frankly bizarre!
At 9:30 Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minster Paul Goldsmith entered the room and joined David Walker (MFAT Head Negotiator) on stage. Where was Todd? Not here! It seems Mr McClay wasn’t that keen to actually meet us after all! Oh well hopefully Paul has the answers to our burning questions.
Sean Plunket kicked off proceedings with a touch of housekeeping and then explained the rules, and how we should all be civil and polite. Kind of like a primary school teacher for grown-ups. Before giving the follow to Minister Goldsmith.
Paul gave us his best John Key imitation and told us all why Trade was important, that the
TPPA was super important, and without it we would be doomed to playing alone forever at the bottom of the Pacific ocean, like some sort of international Nigel no mates.
The speech was uninspiring, and at points condescending. For the first time in my life I was actually happy when Sean Plunket started speaking again.
Sean introduced David Walker from MFAT as the New Zealander who knew more about the TPPA than any other kiwi alive. A Bold Claim indeed, gosh the Q&A afterwards should be great.
Just as David rose to speak the delightful sound of Monty Pythons flying circus theme song filled the room. Finally some light entertainment to alleviate my numbing mind and buttocks. As we all turned around a TPPA activist greeted us with a beaming smile and the declaration that this was a in fact a Circus. It was a skillfully made point, done in the best tradition of non-violence protest. The Security Guards seemed almost deflated as she politely agreed to leave. All those bodies on the ground and still one got through eh? Value for money New Zealand, value for money.
Back now to the ringmaster of TPPA Negotiations David Walker. It must be said David has got a really good power point presentation. It had graph’s, pie charts, maps, and lots of numbers, big big numbers, 8 billion for this, 28 Trillion of that, the long journey from 2008 to now, the scary chance we could literally ‘miss the boat’. Indeed the smallest number of the day were 1% or 2.7 billion gain to GDP for New Zealand – that’s right all this for a 1% gain. Hell a good dairy auction could be worth more!
Now David has a good power point, and speaks well. He does know his stuff. but his stuff is MFAT stuff, and it was silo based. Yep trade, trade, trade, trade is good, because it must be good, because that’s what I do, and I’m doing good. It was dawning on me the David might not be the most objective head in the room, and was quite possibly not the most knowledgeable Kiwi on the TPPA alive today. Now I know it seems unlikely that Sean Plunket may have exaggerated just a little bit, but I was becoming suspicious.
Following David’s Power Point it was time for a few questions before coffee. Sean laid out the rules, clear questions, avoid politics, be civil, play nice, yadda yadda. We did in fact have time for just five questions. Questions which Sean moderated and helped the Politician and Civil Servant to understand. Did you realize just how confusing us ordinary folk can be?
The answers given where far from inspiring! Long answers to simple questions are often not answers at all and so it was today. There was however space for Paul to give us one more John Key style speech, and then it was time for coffee.
Something must have happened during the coffee break because when we got back Paul Goldsmith was gone. That’s right the Government that had come to listen didn’t even last past morning tea! Maybe the Monty Python music has some anti-bollocks magic power that I was previously unaware of? Whatever the reason the Government has left the building.
Instead of a Minister we got two more power point presentations, one from Silver Fern Farms, another from Scott Technology, and then a chat with the guy who organised the party at RWC 2011 and got a plum diplomatic job in LA as a result. These three plus Ringmaster David made up the panel for the final round of questions.
By far the hot topic Q&A style was the ISDS, will we get sued? could we get sued? can we sue? Is there anyone here called sue? oh my mum is, hi mum. As you might be deducing the Q&A was more of a circular dance, which ironically is what the ISDS is likely to become.
What the Q&A wasn’t was an “Open Debate”, it was however “informed discussion” with most of the information appearing to be held by those on the floor asking the questions.
Before we knew it the hour had past and it was time to finish. Sean Plunket thanked the people of Dunedin for asking good questions (as opposed to what Sean?). And then it was Lunchtime and Class was dismissed.
For me that was enough! I had registered to attend an IP workshop later in the afternoon, but frankly I was by then assured I could get better information elsewhere.
So does the TPPA road show achieve anything that Minister McClay said it would? In short No!
Is the Roadshow a circus? Again No, it is neither creative or entertaining.
Lastly is the TPPA a good deal for New Zealand? No, and I say this as a now officially informed New Zealander. The facts are the gains (1% GDP in 2030) are extremely small compared to large and real risks that David Walker and all his MFAT men could not explain adequately or succinctly.
At best the TPPA is a long shot to maybe gain some limited access to the US Market, but given the clock is ticking on Obama, and all the incoming candidates don’t support it, I would be holding your breath for a big pay day New Zealand.
As I left the venue, bidding a good day to the most bored looking Police Officers I have seen in a very long time, I thought to myself perhaps I had better buy that Lotto ticket instead eh.