It’s perhaps appropriate that the MP who has steered the Select Committee report on the TPP was not so long ago more comfortable in a flak jacket.

Mark Mitchell, chair of the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee, is a former police dog handler who went on to work as a security advisor in Iraq.

He then established a very successful private security company and acquired a business degree from the prestigious Wharton Business School in the US.

Going back to Iraq last month with Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee meant a chance to catch up with some of the junior Iraqi officers had trained who are now senior officers working with the New Zealand training mission at Taji camp there.

But politics is in Mr Mitchell’s blood.

His grandfather was Air Commodore Frank Gill, a member of the Muldoon Cabinet and said by veterans of that administration to be one of the few ministers prepared to stand up to the Prime Minister.

So that sort of background might have suggested that the marathon hearings on the TPP would see the committee chair deal to the long line of repetitive, vague and often polemical submissions members had to listen to.

It didn’t. Committee sessions were polite. Even the Opposition more or less gave up with Labour’s trade spokesperson David Clark heading off to South America on the Speaker’s Tour before the hearings were over.

That was a recognition that in many ways the Committee was simply going through the motions.

It couldn’t change the trade agreement.

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And the Government was hardly going to listen to it if it advocated not ratifying it.

Nevertheless, Mr Mitchell felt that he needed to take every submission  seriously and listen to them for 12 full days.

“By the end of the day though I was completely mentally exhausted,” he said.

And that is from a man who has is an internationally recognised hostage negotiator with over 100 successful negotiations in the Middle East.

One thing that pleased him though was the diversity of the submissions.

But many were characterised by a lack of understanding of the agreement. Submitters would cheerfully admit they had not read the National Interest Assessment.

“A big part of the committee’s role was trying to get some factual information in front of some of the submitters.”

Perhaps one of the surprises of the hearings was the relatively low-key appearance of the principle TPP opponent, Jane Kelsey.

Mr Mitchell says all the committee members noted that.

“But she’s coming to Parliament this week with a Candian academic to meet informally with the committee.

“The good thing about the hearings is that has created some of these sidebar discussions.”

He believes that most of the people who appeared in front of the committee had genuine concerns about the TPP.

 

“They made a great deal of effort to appear but often they were driven out of misinformation.”

The committee has a broad brief and towards the end of the hearings, Mr Mitchell donned his flak jacket again and joined Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Opposition Leader Andrew Little in Iraq.

He hadn’t been therefore four years so it was something of a homecoming – even though he found getting into the flak jacket in 40 degrees plus heat an unpleasant reminder of how challenging life is there.

Mr Little has raised the question of whether the two-year time limit on the deployment of New Zealand troops to Camp Taji will be sufficient.

“Certainly the feeling I got having spoken with the Iraqi commanders and the soldiers is that they would like us to stay there for as long as we feel it is viable because they feel that there is a real tangible difference in their own ability and what they can achieve on the frontline against Daesh.”

This week his committee is taking some time off.

But like his return to Iraq, it is unlikely that its chair will be out of the political frontline for long.

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