Kennedy Graham: speech on the TPPA in the General Debate

Speech – Green Party

Dr Kennedy Graham’s speech on the TPPA in the General Debate 12.05.16Dr Kennedy Graham’s speech on the TPPA in the General Debate 12.05.16



Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green): I rise to address the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

It is just as well that I am doing so for 5 minutes in the general debate because there is no other chance for any member of Parliament to address the treaty as a treaty.

Yesterday the Green Party proposed that the select committee report on the treaty, tabled 2 days ago, be subject to a parliamentary debate.

The proposal was rejected.

That is extraordinary because the TPP is one of the most important treaties to affect New Zealand in many years, yet the Government, unwavering in the belief that it knows best, feels no obligation to have the treaty examination by the select committee debated in Parliament.

It is required under the Standing Orders to have debates, three readings, and a plenary Committee, in fact, on the implementing legislation but not on the prior policy issue of the merits of the treaty itself.

There is something weird about the way we do things here in New Zealand.

You would think that the policy considerations of negotiating and acceding to an international treaty would be the most important aspect of a nation’s judgment on the issue.

You might think that this matter needs to be settled through robust debate before we proceed to implementing legislation.

And you might be forgiven for supposing that the technicalities of a legislation of 11 bills to make our law compatible with the new treaty requirements would be a matter for legal technicians, perhaps a parliamentary subcommittee of MPs with expert advisers.

That would free up the time of the House to debate the real issue, which is the merits and demerits of the treaty itself.

But no.

We devote about 10 hours to debating 11 bills—and are required by the Speaker to stay on message part by part and even clause by clause—that total 78 pages.

It defies logic, even constitutional logic, to suggest that 10 hours should be devoted to the technicalities of draft law, judged by worldly but inexpert members of Parliament, but nothing to the general policy of the national interest on whether or not to negotiate, sign, and ratify a major international agreement that imposes unprecedented new obligations on New Zealand.

These reflections raise the underlying question of the role of Parliament in general when it comes to treaty making.

The Cabinet Manual at least tosses off an honest appraisal.

Treaty making, it says, lies in the hands of the executive.

What a masterful understatement.

The executive decides whether to negotiate.

It decides whether the negotiated agreement is worth signing.

The executive, in the form of the relevant Government department, drafts and submits the national interest analysis.

This is a useless document because it is, by definition, redundant.

They who have just negotiated the treaty are concluding that ratifying it is in the national interest.

Of course they will; they just negotiated it.

It is fine for them to convey the reasons why the ministry believes it had been worth pursuing.

The document could have passing value as an explanatory review, but it is a classic misconception and deceitful to the public interest to convey a descriptive pretence that this an objective analysis of the national interest.

Who do they think we are? I hereby announce, in advance, to the Speaker that because of the decision of the Business Committee not to hold a debate on the committee’s report on the treaty examination of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, I shall be allowing myself complete freedom to address the general policy aspect of the agreement during the three readings of the bill.

There is no other way to ensure that the people of this country are given their democratic right not to witness inexpert legislative oversight, but informed political judgment based on natural contestation on the intrinsic merits of a major policy decision.

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