Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Harawira and Co. do heavy lifting on TPP

Then we saw Harawira's clumsy over-reach in a bid to debate TPP with Key at Waitangi. Photo / Christine Cornege
Then we saw Harawira's clumsy over-reach in a bid to debate TPP with Key at Waitangi. Photo / Christine Cornege

When today's TPP protesters are sitting round singing songs of struggle and reminiscing about where they were at the battle of February 4, they will claim a series of victories.

First, they mustered a decent sized march. Not as big as the one against mining on conservation estate, or the foreshore and seabed, but a respectably large march in Auckland, undoubtedly bolstered by Labour's formal opposition to the deal.

Next, they shut down the Auckland traffic system with their carefully executed occupations akin to strategic disruptions during the Springbok tour.

Not much fun if you were in the traffic but it was very cleverly done using a small group for maximum disruption.

Third, they forced a celebration lunch by TPP ministers at Villa Maria winery after the signing of the agreement to be abandoned because of security concerns.

(That one will probably get its own folk song written about it).

But the biggest victory of all, that they forced the Prime Minister to abandon his trip to Waitangi to mark Waitangi Day.

It will become legend that John Key bottled out of Te Tii because he wasn't willing to face the opposition to TPP from Maori.

From their point of view, these past few days have been causes of celebration.

In the longer term, John Key has had more to celebrate about the opposition in the past few weeks.

The linkage of TPP critics to Treaty of Waitangi activists settled the issue for many TPP doubters - the sort who think: "If Hone Harawira thinks the TPP is bad for the Treaty of Waitangi, it must be good."

Then we saw Harawira's clumsy over-reach in a bid to debate TPP with Key at Waitangi.

That, combined with the circus at Te Tii over whether the Prime Minister could say anything about TPP, resulted in a silent chorus of Kiwis saying "don't go".

Linking the Treaty to TPP has been a disaster for the left.

Even in his ignorance about what the TPP says, Harawira has helped Key.

Harawira went on RNZ's Morning Report on January 21 to claim Maori were near unanimous in not wanting the TPP to be signed on the basis there was "no mention" of Maori in the TPP, there was "no mention" of the Treaty of Waitangi in the TPP and there was "no mention" of the protections for Maori through the Waitangi Tribunal in the TPP.

The fact that he was wrong and the reverse is true did not change his opposition; he just found other reasons to oppose it, as did Labour when the final deal met almost all of its bottom lines.

Labour has decided to rest its opposition on issues of sovereignty and democracy.

Despite the fact that Labour leader Andrew Little appeared before an Australian select committee to give evidence on an immigration law affecting New Zealanders, one of his primary objections to the TPP is that it gives other countries the right to make written submissions on new laws affecting them.

[The Government] has been content to think that most voters won't care about TPP and will simply be reassured by Key.

Labour is calling that undue influence by other countries in New Zealand's democratic processes; others might call it common sense or natural justice.

TPP critics have bemoaned the fact that there is no provision in the trade deal giving Maori the right to have a say on New Zealand law.

That is because it has never been in doubt.

It not only preserves the right of the Government to give Maori more "favourable treatment" to meet its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, it will require the Government to address findings of the Waitangi Tribunal in the Wai 262 claim, as regards intellectual property relating to plants, within three years of the TPP entering into force.

The TPP critics are hardened and experienced campaigners.

Until their own-goals of the past few weeks, they have been effective - they could not complain they don't get their fair share of media coverage, including in the Herald.

They have largely controlled the public discourse, even when many of their fears have not been realised over the journey of the TPP.

We heard that TPP talks would collapse and they didn't; we heard that Barack Obama would never get fast-track authority from Congress and he did; we heard that TPP could destroy Pharmac and it doesn't; we heard its investor-state provisions would provide big business with big payouts in secret tribunals - and instead the rules have been tightened and they have been opened up to the public.

As the US Trade Representative Mike Froman said on Thursday, they share concerns about being sued and are clearly motivated to close loopholes.

The TPP critics have been on campaign footing from the outset. Opposition has been unrelenting and co-ordinated.

The Government hasn't.

Instead it has relied on three things to sell the deal: the trust voters have in John Key's assurances, any assurances; literature produced by Ministry of Trade officials; and a hope that others with the most to gain from the deal, such as business, agriculture, and regional New Zealand, will go in to bat for the deal.

The Government has been let down by the business community whose response has been nothing short of pathetic. A letter here, a press release there.

New Trade Minister Todd McClay is doing a reasonable job for someone who has been in it for less than two months.

But the Government could be forced to rethink its strategy and enlist more ministers into action.

A letter released to the Weekend Herald by McClay on consultation with Maori is instructive, if late in the process.

A speech by Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson on the finer points of TPP and Treaty could be enlightening.

But instead of co-ordinating a campaign, it has been content to think that most voters won't care about TPP and will simply be reassured by Key in his weekly media spots.

The good news for the Government is that Hone Harawira and his friends just made its sales job a lot easier.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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