Building an “Active Democracy” through “Constructive Engagement”. Chris Trotter responds to John Minto.

By   /   November 21, 2017  /   14 Comments

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In spite of the fact that barely thirty days have passed since Winston Peters anointed Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand’s first progressive prime minister in nine years, John is ready to call the Left onto the streets in protest at her government’s refusal to walk away from the CPTPP.

“UNBELIEVABLE! WRONG! IDIOTIC!” One of the many admirable qualities about John Minto is that he never leaves anyone in any doubt about where he stands. His rejection of the strategy of “constructive engagement” with the Labour-NZ First-Green Government is unequivocal. For John, only “active democratic opposition” to Labour’s rather tentative embrace of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will suffice. In spite of the fact that barely thirty days have passed since Winston Peters anointed Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand’s first progressive prime minister in nine years, John is ready to call the Left onto the streets in protest at her government’s refusal to walk away from the CPTPP.

John’s argument for actively opposing the coalition government on this issue is driven by his conviction that the CPTPP is, substantially, the same document that the previous National Government signed up to in 2016. If this is true, then his question – “Why would any self-respecting New Zealander oppose the TPPA when National was in government and then excuse Labour for signing up to it?” – is entirely fair. But is the CPTPP substantially the same document as the TPPA? Unfortunately for John’s argument, the answer is an emphatic “No!”

The withdrawal of the United States from the TPP has fundamentally weakened the agreement and prompted its signatories to set in motion a plethora of revisionist initiatives. In the absence of the US, most of the worst clauses of the TPP are in abeyance until the Americans are ready to return to the fold – at which point the remaining signatories are practically certain to demand their renegotiation. True, the hated Investor/State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions stand part of the new CPTPP, but only in an attenuated form, and with a majority of the signatories actively pursuing bi-lateral “side agreements” intended to render them toothless.

These agreements are evidence of the growing global effort to diminish the power and scope of corporate interference in the affairs of nation states which the ISDS processes represent. This resistance to corporate power is not limited to “working people around the world”, as John suggests. On the contrary, it is being spearheaded by the same national governments which were forced to bail-out the delinquent financial institutions responsible for the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09. Donald Trump, himself, is a fierce opponent of the ISDS provisions of multilateral trade agreements – quite rightly perceiving them as a threat to United States’ sovereignty. John is insisting that Jacinda’s government lop-off the ISDS provisions as some sort of grand anti-corporate gesture. She and her advisers, wisely in my view, are content to let them wither on the vine.

The Coalition Government’s circumspection in regard to the CPTPP is admirable in another, very import, respect. It indicates the Labour-led Government’s determination to avoid being drawn into the looming geopolitical stand-off between the United States and China.

Many New Zealanders would have noticed the diplomatic bonding that took place between Jacinda and the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in Danang and Manilla. This relationship is important – especially in the light of Australia’s recent, heavy-handed pushback against Jacinda’s Manus Island initiative. The new government is clearly looking to build diplomatic relationships untainted by America’s and Australia’s aggressive geopolitical ambitions. Wooing Canada is a good start. If followed by a strengthening of New Zealand’s relationships with the peoples of South America, it may allow us to “respectfully decline” to participate in Donald Trump’s, Shinzo Abe’s and Malcolm Turnbull’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy”.

With Australia as its southern pivot, the Indo-Pacific Strategy envisages the United States, Japan and India running a two-ocean-straddling policy of economic and military containment against the People’s Republic.

This is not a strategy New Zealand should have any part of, and yet, as John rightly points out: “The big Australian banks have been [plundering our economy] for decades. In 2015 for example the BNZ, ANZ, ASB and Westpac took over $4.4 billion in profit from this country.” New Zealand needs to prepare – and quickly – for the day when it may need to unequivocally distance itself from the increasingly bellicose policies of the US, Japan, Australia and India. When that day comes, the Australian bullying we have witnessed over the past week will be made to look like child’s play!

New Zealand needs to develop new relationships with the countries of the Pacific Rim. And those new relationships need to be based on progressive ideals, mutual protection and solid economic self-interest – with the latter being underpinned and facilitated through mutually beneficial multilateral trade agreements. Throughout history, trade and peace have marched hand-in-hand. New Zealand diplomacy needs to reflect that fact.

Is the CPTPP perfect, John? Of course, it isn’t. But, it is a substantially different document from the TPP-11, and the original TPPA. Rather than see the as-yet-unsigned agreement as a reason to get out and protest on the streets, it is my contention that we should view it as an opportunity to construct a new, progressive consensus about New Zealand’s place in the world – one which eschews the dangerous ambitions of our larger neighbours. It seems to me that Jacinda has already caught a glimpse this radically different future, and that she is as determined as we are to reposition New Zealand in a way that keeps its people safe, prosperous and independent.

My term for this drive towards a new consensus encompassing New Zealand’s diplomatic, military and economic future is “constructive engagement”. John might prefer to call it “active democracy”. Whatever its name, I do not believe it is in any way unbelievable, idiotic or wrong to call for a united front of progressive activists on the ground, to complement and energise the united front of progressive parties – Labour, NZ First and the Greens – in Parliament.

 

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14 Comments

  1. cleangreen says:

    1/ I am shocked that we are still in the dark as to the wording agreed to after being promised we would have a “transperant” Government?????

    2/ To know this document was authored by a bunch of corporates and their lawyers, makes me very un-easy.

    “Is the CPTPP perfect, John? Of course, it isn’t. But, it is a substantially different document from the TPP-11, and the original TPPA. Rather than see the as-yet-unsigned agreement as a reason to get out and protest on the streets,”

  2. David Stone says:

    It did not occur to me that the decision too support the new TP… thing involved all these far reaching global considerations. I rather doubt that the labour negotiators or Jacinda realised how deep their machinations were either.
    We can hope that they are playing a longer game , and the time to dig their heels in is the last minute when it has had time to be really improved to Jane Kelsey’s satisfaction by everyone else involved, but now, during the period when it is to be reworked, is the right time to voice objections as John has done. Not after it is signed sealed and delivered.
    D J S

    • John W says:

      Agreed DS.

      The protest is about any corporate inspired fish hooks still within the somewhat secret document.

      Protest will strengthen jacindas hand as protest will be about this secretive coding of the 1%’s desired to harness complying Govts to obey the will of corporate control.

      Protest should also be about the still secretive nature of the deal no matter which parties are contemplating a signing away of our need to know BEFORE any nod to the govt to go ahead is given.

      This Govt has not been elected on a mandate to sign.

      Since when have you seen corporate greed “whither on the vine”.

      Any foothold no matter how small, will be exploited at some stage and ISDS in any form that allows foreign of corporate control of what happens in NZ must not be given oxygen.

  3. Richard Christie says:

    She and her advisers, wisely in my view, are content to let them [ISDS] wither on the vine.

    Yeah right. Since whenever did the drivers of laissez faire economics just sit back and allow their ambitions to wither?

    Your argument amounts to “trust Jacinda, her token objections to the toxicity of TPP will frighten its architects and ensure that they will just roll over.”

    Your naivety astounds me.

  4. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    But is the CPTPP substantially the same document as the TPPA? Unfortunately for John’s argument, the answer is an emphatic “No!”

    How do you substantiate that Chris?

    Where is the proof? The evidence?

    Still looking dude…

    Wishful thinking is no substitute for action. You need to stop trying to sell us the Weimar Republic and start dealing with what the great unwashed actually want…

  5. Michal says:

    Oh dear Chris whilst criticising Minto you yourself make statements suggesting you have actually read the document!

  6. simonm says:

    “One of the many admirable qualities about John Minto is that he never leaves anyone in any doubt about where he stands.”

    Loving the backhanded compliment paid to Minto, Chris lol! He does seem to take himself rather seriously at times. That said, he’s never deviated from his principles for almost 40 years which suggests a fair amount of integrity.

    I definitely agree with you though. I’ll take an imperfect ‘leftish’ coalition of Labour/NZ First/Greens over perpetual National governments and a “pure left” rump opposition any day.

  7. Jen says:

    So you think the CPTPP nations are ‘practically certain’ to re-negotiate if the US indicates that they will re-join the agreement?
    And that the CPTPP is ‘evidence of the growing global effort to diminish the power and scope of corporate interference in the affairs of nation states’?
    I wish!

  8. mosa says:

    John Minto should build his profile and speak more publicly about what is happening here.

    There is a gap in the market for a principled , direct , no nonsense spokesperson for the slaves of neo liberalism.

    John has always been a voice for those who cant speak or are victims of this corporate system and its vicious effects.

    He is the NZ Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders and he needs to run on a platform of real Active Democratic Change and build a movement and challenge this so called ” progressive government ”

    If he does that and can get real cut through and challenge the status quo i would vote for that at the next election.

  9. Marc says:

    Trudeau is another hypocrite, he supports the Canadian oil industry, and was happy for that pipeline that Trump allowed to open, to pump Canadian oil down the US states for refining and on-selling.

    So how sincere is this for progressive policy on climate change, I wonder?

    As for the rest that Chris sells us, we had similar promises on other matters the ‘left’ had to deal with, since Tony Blair et al, many years ago, look what has come of it.

  10. Marc says:

    If we would for once have a government involved in ‘constructive engagement’ with the people, yes, first of all allows the people to be informed and educated, so to be informed democrats, rather than dumbed down consumerist convenience beings, then we may make some progress.

    I do not see this to happen, as yet, so why should any ‘constructive engagement’ with the dominant powers with vested business interests work instead?

  11. cs says:

    Let’s learn from the disappointment of 1999-2008 Tory lite labour. Stand up and fight them on policy. No apologism cause their supposedly our team. They need to earn our support not assume it.