By Bryan Bruce
I spoke at my first parliamentary Select Committee hearing in New Zealand this week.
It was on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and in front of 10 parliamentarians who were all male and (as far as I could determine) all middle-aged and Pakeha. The majority of them, including the chairman, were National Party MPs.
I attended the hearing to speak to my written submission opposing the TPPA knowing that this particular Select Committee process is a waste of money and time because we cannot change a single word in the document our government negotiated in secret and signed in the Auckland Casino building last February.
I attended knowing that the Cabinet can ratify the signed TPPA document without putting it to the vote on the floor of parliament and even if they do , they will have the numbers to pass it.
I attended because I wanted the committee members to hear that if the TPPA was ratified it would not be done in my name.
Three New Zealanders gave their submissions before it was my turn and I have to say I was incredibly impressed by the intelligence and thoughtfulness of their remarks.
The woman who spoke immediately before me introduced herself in Maori. No one on the committee acknowledged her words with as much as a “kia ora”.
Flawed banking system
Naani Abercrombie then spoke eloquently about our flawed banking system and its relationship to the TPPA and how more of the profits they make will go offshore. Surely the committee would ask some questions about her engaging ideas. But no.
Thank you for coming. Next?
In the 10 minutes I was politely allocated I chose to speak about four moral and philosophical issues surrounding the TPPA.
1. I put it to the committee that trade should help to build a more peaceful world not divide it. I pointed out that we know from statements by President Obama and Prime Minister John Key that the underlying geopolitical purpose of the TPPA is (to quote Obama) that “China doesn’t rule in that area – We do!”
I said that deliberately excluding China from an Asian and Pacific trade agreement would not only continue to take us down the road to a divided world, but risk alienating our biggest trading parter.
2. I pointed out that the United Nations Human Rights Office has condemned Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses in free trade agreements as a mechanism that punishes impoverished countries, threatens the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment.
3. I told them that 100 distinguished international jurists and the Chief Justice of Australia had all warned of the perils of Investor State Dispute Settlement Tribunals and there was no reason to risk our country being sued in these dodgy kangaroo courts when we have a robust domestic legal system that overseas investors can rely upon to correct any injustice.
4. And lastly I put it to the committee that it was morally wrong to extend patents on new medicines because to do so would increase the suffering of some of their fellow New Zealanders and they would be surely signing a death warrant for some of us who would die waiting for a cheaper generic to become available.
10 minutes up
Midway through my last sentence I was told by the chairman that my 10 minutes was up.
There were no questions.
On the way home I thought…
Did I just waste half a day of my life today?
And my answer is no.
I had the opportunity to look into the face of shamocracy that day – last Thursday – and, if anything, it has made me even more determined to do my bit to make us a fairer society again – where the economy benefits the many and not the few.
Bryan Bruce is an independent documentary maker and social justice commentator. This was first published on his Facebook page and is published here with permission.