Sunday, March 8, 2015

From a coconet spy tempest to TPPA secrecy

The "TPPA - no way" rally at the weekend in Auckland - one of more than a score of New Zealand cities hosting protests against the controversial proposed free trade agreement. Photo: David Robie
PACIFIC commentator Barbara Dreaver called last week’s spying on the Pacific neighbours controversy a storm in a teacup. Or perhaps it was more like a coconet tempest.

Security affairs specialist Paul Buchanan was more concerned about getting French military backs up in response. We had enough of that three decades ago this year with a certain scandalous maritime bombing.

State terrorism in fact. And Britain, the US and Australia – three of the Five Eyes club members along with New Zealand and Canada – remained so meek over that outrage.

Fairfax Pacific reporter Michael Field pointed out that with a bit more methodical spying, New Zealand would be better informed about the region instead of being caught by surprise with both the Sitiveni Rabuka and George Speight coups in 1987 and 2000 and other events.

Reliable intelligence is critical for New Zealand’s political and military responsibility to the region – “what are they expected to do for useful intelligence, Google it?”

An editorial in The New Zealand Herald, which reported the Snowden Revelations expose by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher along with The Intercept, chimed in a comment about the Pacific spying that “at least we know about it”.

The New Zealand Herald
front page on 5 March 2015.
“Many New Zealanders will not feel scandalised by the Herald’s revelations about their country’s spying in the Pacific. They will be more inclined to applaud the activities of the Government Communications Security Bureau and its involvement in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.

“There is, after all, yet to be conclusive evidence that what has been done, and is being done, is against the law. Spying, even on friends, is far from novel.”

Principled reaction
The Greens had the most principled reaction, calling for a public inquiry and condemning the treatment of New Zealanders from the Cook Islands and Niue as “second-class citizens”.

 If the revelations failed to get many New Zealanders riled, another issue has been gradually raising the anger level, climbing another notch over the weekend.

All over the country, thousands of New Zealanders took to the streets in peaceful protests over the John Key government’s arrogant betrayal of democracy and secrecy over the proposed “sell out” of policy to global corporates in the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA).

At the Auckland rally, it was a creative and innovative stunt to wheel out a Trojan horse representing the TPPA and what it would do to sabotage the New Zealand – and Pacific - way of life. The Trojan horse was dragged along by powerful US-based transnational corporations “pulling the strings” behind the scenes. 

The TPPA aims to create a regional free trade block involving 12 Asia Pacific countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam.

However, as Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey, one of the key speakers at the rally, points out, time is running out for the TPPA in spite of the Key government’s optimism. Unless a fast tracked document and a “blessing” by the International Trade Commission make it before Congress by August, the drive for TPPA is bound to lose momentum.

President Barack Obama is hardly likely to want to push ahead with such a controversial issue if he won’t even take credit it for it as part of his presidential legacy.

Protest placards in Myers Park before the TPPA
rally got under way. Photo: David Robie
As Dr Kelsey says about the current status of negotiations: “One major obstacle to the political endgame is the reassertion of core democratic principles, evidenced by two recent developments”:
  • While the John Key government and Trade Minister Tim Groser still believe they can get away with “signing a deal of this magnitude while keeping it secret”, the European Union Ombudsman has shown how secrecy can be stripped away in Europe over the parallel Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIPP) negotiations.
  • A constitutional challenge to the TPP in Japan in protest over the potential agreement “usurping their Parliament’s supreme law-making authority”.
Perhaps one of the more poignant comments all week was by a Pacific Scoop reader responding to the week of a military “training” commitment to Iraq, the spying drama and TPPA, saying:
“John Key has no right to assume that the general populace of NZers are in support of his actions when he has not followed a democratic process to check this out.

“ I say no to deployment of troops. Violence begets violence. The most striking proof of that is that what we see in the Mid-East is a result of Americas bombing raids in so many countries in the East.

“John Key, stop smoothing up to the Americans and their bombings.”
Storm in a teacup
Thousands protest in NZ cities against Pacific-wide free trade

The Waihopai surveillance matrix. Graphic: New Zealand Herald

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