What a new TPPA survey of mostly Labour, Green and NZ First voters tells us

And what the government should do about it

Newly released Roy Morgan polling shows that Jacinda Ardern is inspiring the highest level of confidence in government that voters have had in eight (long) years.

It makes sense. In an age of 24/7 news cycles made up mostly of our favourite Hollywood stars turning out to be terrible, a bit of “relentless positivity” goes a long way.

But it turns out it takes more than a bit of positivity to assuage the very real and valid concerns of the voters who put this government in power when it comes to the TPPA. A deal many of us refuse to call it’s new near-unpronounceable name CPTPP, since the amendments are neither comprehensive nor progressive. This rebrand only came about so Canada’s own relentlessly positive Prime Minister could “sell the deal to his voters”.

A fresh survey of 1,000 mostly Labour, Green and New Zealand First voters conducted by ActionStation shows that the Government’s own supporter base aren’t at all convinced about the new-not-new agreement.

86 percent of survey respondents believe more needs to be done to improve the TPPA. 51 percent ranked Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses (ISDS) as their number one concern, followed by concerns about the trade agreement exacerbating climate change and causing harm to our environment.

When asked to identify their preferred next step for the Government in relation to the TPPA, 38 percent of respondents wanted Labour to commission an independent analysis of the pros and cons of the agreement to inform meaningful public scrutiny before signing up the deal. A further 20 percent believed the government should walk away from the deal completely. 18 percent of people think more work needs to be done to stop ISDS in this agreement, not just future deals. The remaining 25 percent think we need greater public consultation, and that New Zealand First have been awfully quiet on the issue.

And here’s the kicker for this new government:

  • 40 per cent of survey respondents voted for Labour this year
  • 10 percent voted for New Zealand First
  • The rest voted for a mixture of the Green Party, National, TOP and the Māori Party.
Trade Minister David Parker, ActionStation’s Rick Zwaan, It’s Our Future convenor Stephen Parry and MP Louisa Wall outside Parliament with the press

Recently, we presented an 8,000-strong open letter to Trade Minister David Parker calling for robust consultation with the public before the new TPPA is signed. To his credit, the Trade Minister agreed.

But then he followed up with a disappointing statement: “We’re not pretending that this consultation is going to remarkably disclose information to the government [that we haven’t] already got. We think we have… identified what the most important issues [are to New Zealanders].” He goes on to list Pharmac, Treaty rights, the right to regulate and land access. Zero mention of climate change, our environment or ISDS — the highest ranking issues in our survey.

The (now) Trade Minister giving an impassioned speech on Labour’s bottom lines at aTPPA rally in 2016

Here’s the thing. We know that governments everywhere have vested interests and big business lobby groups pushing them hard to ensure their private profits are protected. We’ve seen it already with the government’s backtrack on the Hobbit Law. There was going to be a repeal of the blatant pro-corporate legislation, but then some flash Hollywood execs flew into town and nek minnit Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announces there won’t be a repeal after all, but hey look here’s a working group!

If Labour truly want to honour the people who put them in power, the people who signed their own 90,000-plus petition opposing the TPPA then they must commission independent analysis of the pros and cons of the revised agreement before any ink hits the dotted line. That’s the only way meaningful public consultation can happen. Anything less is just an exercise in creating the illusion of democracy.

Trade law experts like Professor Jane Kelsey have described the current negotiations as “even more secretive” than their predecessors. The previous government’s lack of transparency and utter failure to engage with Māori as Treaty partners before agreeing to the original TPPA must be remedied and not repeated if Labour are to pave the way to a new form of 21st century trade agreement.

Screenshot of Jacinda’s email to the masses

Just hours after we presented our open letter to the Trade Minister, an email from Jacinda Ardern was sent out to the entire Labour Party database, along with an ‘explainer video’ to tell us why the new-not-new TPPA is suddenly great. Despite the bulk of the original text (all 6000 pages of it) remaining completely unchanged.

Garnering support for decisions you’ve already made and robust, participatory consultation are two very different things. It’s vital that the Labour-led government do trade agreement consultation and negotiation differently from the governments that came before them (including their own) if they are to maintain the high levels of public confidence they have right now.

Step one to achieving that is commissioning an independent analysis of the revised agreement and its implications for New Zealand; making that analysis public and accessible in both language and form; and then using that analysis asking New Zealanders to make up their own minds about the deal.

In my view, that would be a much better use of the Labour Party’s email database.

We’d also be more than happy to do what we can to help, for example by sending a few surveys or emails to the 180,000-large ActionStation mailing list as part of that consultation. It doesn’t need to be expensive. It justs need to be honest.

Teamwork Jacinda? Let’s do this.