Labour leader Andrew Little has turned his back on the party’s left and their opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership and says a Government he led would be unlikely to withdraw from the agreement.
“From New Zealand’s point of view that would be a pretty serious call to make, I think it is unlikely,” he said.
After he said this on RNZ’s “Morning Report” his office began to receive messages from party members criticising his statement.
Some of the messages apparently claimed that the authors would resign from Labour and join the Greens who oppose the TPP.
Criticism was also starting to appear last night on the left wing blog site, “The Standard”.
“Colonel Viper” said: “In my view the damage that Andrew Little has done to himself and the Labour Party is beyond easy calculation. My bet is that they don’t even realise it yet…. What a costly and damaging day it has been for Labour’s reputation.”
Mr Little made his comments after a two hour meeting with Trade Minister Tim Groser on Monday night but before the party’s caucus had met.
Also at the meeting were deputy leader Annette King, and former leaders Phil Goff and David Shearer.
A senior caucus member said that Mr Little made the comments on “Morning Report” confident that the caucus would back him even though he had previously said that the information released so far on the agreement indicated it failed Labour’s five bottom lines on which it would base its support..
And for the caucus, Mr Little’s move is a clear indication that he is already thinking about how the party would operate in Government.
This doesn’t mean he is happy with the TPP.
One senior MP told POLITIK that the party will continue to “grizzle” about it.
Mr Little’s principle concern is over what he argues is an erosion of New Zealand sovereignty by it not providing for the opportunity sometime in the future to legislate against foreign purchases of residential property.
He told RNZ’s “Morning Report” that a Labour Government would be prepared to flout the TPP and go ahead with the legislation anyway.
And he appeared to be getting a wink and nudge from the Prime Minister that he might actually get away with this approach.
NUDGE, NUDGE, WINK, WINK
At his weekly press conference on Monday Mr Key was asked if he was saying that Labour could flout the TPP on restricting housing and it would be okay.
“No I’m not saying it’s okay,” he said.
“I’m just saying technically any government can flout any free trade agreement rules that they set, and there’ll be a process for arbitration of those if someone wants to take an arbitration case against them.
“I wouldn’t have thought for the countries we’re talking about in TPP it’s really the biggest issue.”
In Parliament yesterday, Housing Minister Nick Smith faced a series of questions from Labour’s Housing spokesperson, Phil Twyford, on the TPP and its provision that would not “technically” allow New Zealand to ban foreign residential property buyers.
Mr Smith said : “ Tim Groser, specifically included provisions that might be used by our Government, such as a stamp duty that could be imposed on overseas owners, because it is our view that the instrument of a ban, which that member has advocated, is inconsistent because it would not apply, even under his policy, to Australia, would be inconsistent with the free-trade agreement that his Government negotiated with China, and would not make any material difference to the core issue of improving housing affordability for Kiwi families.”
Senior Labour MPs are however sceptical about the idea of a hefty stamp duty on foreign house buyers.
KELSEY WINS ONE
But TPP opponents did have one victory yesterday when the High Court found for leading TPP opponent Professor Jane Kelsey and a number of organisations that oppose the TPP, over a refusal by Mr Groser to hand over eight categories of documents she requested under the Official Information Act.
The information requested by Professor Kelsey concerned material associated with the TPP negotiations.
The Judge David Collin’s judgement said that when the Minister refused Professor Kelsey’s request, neither he nor his officials assessed each piece of information requested against the criteria in the Act for withholding official information.
Instead, the Minister adopted a “blanket approach” to the request based upon his knowledge of the categories of documents requested by Professor Kelsey.
“I have concluded this approach did not comply with the Act.” the Judge said.
He has now ordered that Mr Groser must reconsider Professor Kelsey’s request and justify the decision not to release each piece of information separately.
AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY LEANING TO SUPPORT
Australian Labor now looks as though it too is moving cautiously towards supporting the TPP.
Their Trade spokesperson, Senator Penny Wong told the ABC programme “Insiders” on Sunday that “we recognise as a general principle the benefits of trade liberalisation, our party’s recognised it for four decades.
“We welcome the finalisation of this agreement and we’ll responsibly consider it.”
Both Mr Little and Ms. Wong are speaking the language of politicians who recognise that one day their party will be back in Government.
But that hasn’t stopped Labour’s left continuing to mount a vigorous opposition to the TPP.
BUT MAORI PARTY MAY OPPOSE
Meanwhile there’s a hint that the Maori Party might oppose the TPP.
MP Marama Fox told the Wairarapa Times Age yesterday that the TPP would “benefit the few and not the many”.
“With all trade agreements, the Government is focused on the economic benefits for the country,” she said.
“We have got homelessness and poverty in this country, despite fair trade agreements we have had in the past.”
Ms Fox said that the TPP would most likely only benefit “those at the top of the rung. Meanwhile, those at the bottom of the rung continue to sit below the poverty line.”
She said she was sceptical the agreement would make the changes necessary to lift New Zealand as a whole.
“There’s no doubt that there are benefits for New Zealand but the fish-hooks are what I’m worried about.
“What have we given away?”