Day One of what could have been the Great TPP Debate at the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Select Committee at Parliament yesterday produced little that was new.
Labour’s David Clark may have a point; that submitters have not had enough time to put together substantial submissions.
But whether Mr Clark needed to ask each submitter if they felt they had enough time was debatable.
And it was probably unnecessary.
It was clear they hadn’t.
Of course the Committee will eventually get to hear from the heavyweights in the debate like Business New Zealand, the NZ US Trade Council and the leading opponent, Jane Kelsey.
But in the meantime it looks more like Telethon than serious political analysis.
First up yesterday was Jim Rose, a Wellington economic consultant who told the Committee that he had worked for the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, the Department of Labour, Treasury and the Australian Prime Minister’s Department.
He didn’t mention that he is currently the Research Fellow at the Taxypayers’ Union.
And Mr Rose was true to the Union’s fundamentalist free market principles.
He warned that labour provisions in the TPPA could limit New Zealand’s right to deregulate the labour market and he thought the intellectual property provisions onerous because he argued we should be on our way to a world where there was no copyright or patent protection.
He offered up some technical economic theory on tariffs and concluded that overall, the TPPA offered New Zealand tariff reductions on its exports which were “pretty minimal.”
“Most of the gains are in tariff cuts and most of the other Chapters are things to make you suspicious as to why they are there,” he said.
“At the most this is pretty much a so so deal.”
And then followed what regular attendees as the Foreign Affairs Committee’ hearings would recognise as a Kennedy Graham moment.
Mr Graham, a former diplomat and Green MP, is drawn to often complex but arcane lines of questioning.
He began yesterday by saying that what he was going to say was hypothetical “or you could even argue it isn’t”.
He wanted to know whether Mr Rose would oppose a trade agreement if it contained environmental provisions which it was generally agreed, were overwhelmingly negative.
Mr Rose: “I assume you are talking about New Zealand – I can’t work out what in trade agreements does that because they rarely change the laws in New Zealand on the environment.”
Mr Graham: “Exploring the hypotheses for a moment, suppose you had a trade agreement that encouraged really dirty coal burning, so badly that both countries engaging in that trade were increasing their carbon emissions by 20%”
Mr Rose: “I’d be working out why New Zealand would sign such an agreement.”
Mr Graham: “So you would oppose it?”
Mr Rose: “Do we have a coal powered plant in New Zealand. We’ve nearly got all renewable energy so the trouble with your hypothetical is that it’s hard to latch on to.”
Mr Graham: “It’s entirely possible for a country to switch to coal burning. In fact some are.”
Mr Rose: “Yeah, some are.”
Mr Graham: “So New Zealand could?”
Mr Rose: “Yeah, New Zealand could but I don’t think it would be terribly wise and I don’t think it would be a politically popular in New Zealand.”
Mr Graham: “So the answer is no – thanks.”
Mr Rose: “I’d say it is more in confusion.”
This exchange brought a warning from Committee chair, Mark Mitchell that members were not there to interrogate witnesses.
Then there was a moment of light relief as the Committee clerk tried (unsuccessfully) to get a witness on the phone.
A member of the public began to engage National MP David Bennett in conversation.
“I’m a child of the universe made of stardust just like you,” said the member of the public.
“And I started off in the same church as you but I’ve broadened out.”
Mr Bennett, clearly perplexed, said nothing.
The attempts to make the phone call were abandoned and the next witness was an elderly man, Michael Woods who sounded suspiciously like he might once have been a follower of Social Credit.
He read a series of quotations from American Presidents about banking conspiracies.
“The TPPA is nothing more than a geo-political mechanism to maintain the supremacy of the United States as a world power and to ensure the survival of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency,” he declared.
“It is primarily designed to constrain the rise of the BRIX nations who threaten the US dollar by creating a rival world bank.”
NZ First MP Tracey Martin does not usually sit on the committee.
She was (as they say) “subbing” for colleague, Fletcher Tabuteau.
Her unfamiliarity with the language of foreign affairs was tested by Mr Woods’ submission.
Ms Martin: “You said something about a Bix nation.”
Mr Woods: “The BRICS ”
Ms Martin: “What are you referring to there/”
Mr Woods: “There’s some countries got together to form a world bank to rival the one in America. Brazil, Russia ….
Ms Martin: “Is this like the Bit coin?”
Next up was Peter Jason who was largely concerned about the ISDS provisions in the TPP and said he was from a farm “half an hour north of here”.
This later led to an exchange with National’s Jamie-Lee Ross.
Mr Ross: “You said you were from a farm. What type of farm is it?”
Mr Jason: “It’s a lifestyle sort of thing.”
Mr Ross: “it’s not a dairy farm, or a meat farm or anything?”
Mr Ross: “I just ask because you mentioned there are minor benefits in your submission and I just wondered whether you thought $96 million worth of tariff savings for dairy farmers was minor. Or whether you thought $894 million of tariff savings for meat exporters was minor. These are the relevant numbers these exporters are dealing with.”
Mr Jason: “Yeah, I’d say that on the scale of a New Zealand wide agreement they are small and looking at the problems in the world like environmental, dairy contributes half of our emissions.
“I think relying on that – growing that – I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
The final submitter, Pete Youing, was primarily opposed to the ISDS provisions but he managed to get a swipe ibn at the secrecy around the agreement and the failure of the media (in his view) to inform the public about the agreement.
He declined to take any questions saying he would prefer to just rattle on.
And he did.
There will be more hearings next week and then more or less every week for the next two months.