Don’t leave a toxic legacy –

give up on the TPPA

Joe Biden’s visit to New Zealand comes amongst desperate moves to try to rescue the deeply unpopular Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Citizens opposed to the TPPA will be at Auckland Airport today to call for an end to the TPPA.

Legacy: “doing an end run around democratic process?”
The TPPA was on the agenda for talks in Australia and is expected to be discussed in Auckland on Thursday. The TPPA is in deep trouble in the US, with both Presidential nominees recently affirming their rejection of the agreement.

There is overwhelming evidence that the TPPA will produce little if any economic benefit, cause social and environmental damage, and result in the loss of governments’ right to regulate. Yet, the current President is still talking about the TPPA as a key part of his legacy from 8 years in office.

The campaign against the TPPA in New Zealand, It’s Our Future, is calling for talks to be abandoned. Spokesperson Barry Coates said:

“The US President and Vice President should not be leaving a toxic legacy from their time in office.”

“People are waking up to the dangers of giving over powers to foreign corporations. The TPPA’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism would allow foreign investors to challenge the decisions of our Parliament and our judicial system.”

“The recent TransCanada US$15 billion case against the US government’s rejection of the KeystoneXL pipeline shows how action on climate change will be further undermined by the TPPA.”

People are waking up to the dangers of giving over powers to foreign corporations
There is strong and growing opposition to the TPPA and similar pro-corporate treaties around the world, including huge opposition to the parallel Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations between the US and EU. A majority of the New Zealand public oppose the TPPA, according to opinion polls.

There is no chance to pass the TPPA in the US using the usual democratic processes, so the US administration is trying to push the TPPA through during the ‘lame duck period’ between the Presidential election on 8 November and the time the President takes office on 20 January 2017. As with the previous push for Fast Track Authority, the wheels will be oiled by lavish corporate contributions.

Barry Coates commented: “Doing an end run around democratic process to pass the TPPA is not a legacy that the Obama/Biden administration should be proud of. It’s time that governments – including the US and New Zealand – started listening to their people, not just the big corporations.”

It’s Our Future is calling for a halt to the ratification process in New Zealand, and if the TPPA is to continue, there should be a binding referendum on New Zealand’s participation.

It’s Our Future spokesperson Barry Coates concluded: “The world has moved on. The TPPA is a throwback to the era of extreme liberalisation, trickle-down, growth-at-all-costs policies. It has benefited big corporations and the wealthy few, and caused massive inequality, unstable economies, climate chaos and a hollowing out of democracy. It’s time to change direction.”

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In this issue ...

A Critique of the Cullen-Reddy Intelligence  by Warren Thomson

A Marriage Made In Hell. What Would They Call It? The GCSIS? by Murray Horton

Waihopai Spy Base Protest 2016 by Murray Horton

Weapons Conference Campaign Moves To Auckland by Valerie Morse

Spooky Bits by Warren Thomson

Tackling Technocratic Militarism by Dennis Small

Reviews by Jeremy Agar
  • The Wikileaks Files
  • Eyes Of Fire: The Last Voyage Of The Rainbow Warrior, by David Robie

Obituary by Murray Horton
  • Jim Holdom

Larry Ross Memorial Plaque Unveiled in Christchurch by Murray Horton

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What NZ Needs Is A Bouncer, Not A Doorman

The Government has announced an “independent review” of the Overseas Investment Office in the wake of its 2014 approval of the sale of Onetai Station to buyers who figure in the Panama Papers.

Once again the people in question were deemed to be of good character by the OIO, despite evidence to the contrary.

Any such review needs to look at considerably more than just this one approval.

Don’t take our word for it. To quote Martin van Beynen in the Press : “The tireless Murray Horton and Bill Rosenberg, at the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, have been making lack of good character complaints to the OIO and its predecessor for nearly 20 years”.

This link to our Website takes you to the result of a keyword search for “good character”. Pages and pages and pages of articles we’ve written about different cases over many, many years.

And what is the common denominator to all our “good character” complaints – the OIO has never upheld any single one of them.

The reason is quite simple – the OIO sees its function as being that of a doorman (doormat would be more accurate), a facilitator of the transnational corporations and other foreign applicants. Definitely not an overseer, regulator or investigator.

This role has been delegated to the OIO by successive governments headed by both major parties throughout the 40+ years of its existence (first as the Overseas Investment Commission). It has fulfilled the role with exemplary enthusiasm: of the very few applications where Ministers have exercised their rights to make the final decision, the OIO has always argued for approval, even when the arguments for refusal are overwhelming. The most recent example of this was the Government’s 2015 refusal to allow a Chinese buyer to purchase Lochinver Station – the OIO wanted it approved.

The OIO is well past its use-by date.

CAFCA says the review needs to look at the following:

  • the OIO’s process for deciding whether an applicant is “of good character”;
  • exactly how the OIO substantiates an applicant’s claim that their application will be of economic benefit to New Zealand;
  • what OIO processes are in place for monitoring compliance with conditions imposed by the OIO and undertakings made by the applicant;
  • what OIO processes are in place for third-party (TP) interests, i.e. determining a TP interest, notification to TPs, receiving submissions from TPs, and keeping TPs informed, particularly after a Decision (approval) has been made;
  • OIO criteria for giving retrospective consent.

Let’s have a bouncer, not a doorman.

But the OIO is only part of the problem of NZ’s incredibly laissez faire foreign “investment” policy (which translates as “come on in and help yourselves”). The whole regime, not just the rubber stampers, needs an overhaul. And to be replaced by one which puts the interests of the New Zealand people first and foremost. 

When the Crafar Farms sale to Chinese buyers first became a major political issue several years ago, John Key said that he didn’t want to see New Zealanders “become tenants in our own country”. CAFCA very rarely agrees with anything Key says but we’re happy to quote him on that one. In the owner-tenant relationship, there is no doubt about who holds the upper hand. Ownership means political power. Foreign control means recolonisation, but by company this time, not country.

Well done, Mr Weldon!

First You Stuffed TV3

Then You Stuffed Yourself

It was one of those fascinating contradictions of capitalism that the foreign-owned TV3 always took its journalistic obligations more seriously than the State-owned TVNZ.

Sadly that didn’t, and couldn’t, last (which doesn’t imply any improvement in TVNZ; simply that TV3 sank to the same level).

And the man who did the sinking was the now ex-CEO Mark Weldon. He enthusiastically applied himself to the task of converting TV3 to a sewerage farm with a most impressive output of the old proverbial.

MediaWorks, the company which owns TV3 as part of its media empire, was one of the six finalists in the 2015 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand (the winner was announced on April 30th).  To quote from what we wrote when the finalists were announced, back in December 2015

“MediaWorks was another making its first appearance in the Roger Award, specifically for TV3 killing off Campbell Live. ‘The grounds for nomination are political interference, by killing off the only current affairs show anywhere on TV that actually took seriously its mission to be the voice of the people and to hold the powerful to account. And considering that TV3 replaced John Campbell with Rightwing mouthpiece Paul Henry, another ground for nomination is running an ideological crusade.

The New Zealand Herald article headline ‘Campbell’s Crusades Irked TV3 Bosses’  puts it in a nutshell. The article says that TV3 management considered that the show ‘over-emphasised charitable fundraising, and coverage of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, GCSB spying and child poverty’ (as well as subjects like Pike River). There was plenty of evidence that not only did Campbell Live piss off TV management but also senior figures among the directors with close connections to the Government and the Prime Minister.

“To add insult to injury Campbell Live was, at first, replaced by yet another Australian police reality show, then by a cooking show. And MediaWorks has not stopped there in its relentless drive to kill off current affairs and any kind of serious news. More recently it has announced it is shutting down its newly created 3D current affairs show (which led to a fightback from its journalists). Me-diaWorks has moved in a heavy-handed fashion to extend the dumbing down of its programmes into the one remaining area (news and current affairs) that had previously stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the dismal crap produced by either major NZ network. It falls nicely into the playbook of capital’s inherent compulsion to provide a lowest common denominator market for advertisers”.

MediaWorks didn’t win the Roger Award (the Judges Report here) . It didn’t even get into the top three. That simply shows what fierce competition there is in the transnational corporate race to the bottom.

The Roger Award includes an Accomplice Award. But that is only for New Zealand organisations or institutions, not individuals. Otherwise, Mark Weldon would have been a very strong contender.
So now, the poopmeister has gone. And good riddance too, from both viewers and his long suffer-ing work force.

As a former Olympic swimmer Mark Weldon would be very familiar with the axiom “to sink or swim”. He has sunk, but it remains to be seen whether he has taken TV3 with him.

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The April issue of Watchdog is now available to download.


Articles on
     The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPPA)
     The 2015 Roger Award  
     Christchurch City Asset Sales.

Articles by
     Bill Rosenberg.  
     Murray Horton. 
     Mary-Ellen O’Connor. 
     Greg Rzesniowiecki. 
     Alastair Duncan. 
     Dennis Small.

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Cafca Forces Overseas Investment Office To

Lift Cloak Of Secrecy On Its Approvals

The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) has had a relationship with the Overseas Investment Office (and the Overseas Investment Commission before that) dating back to the 1980s, when we waged a five year long campaign just to get any access to its data at all

With almost no exceptions the OIO always withholds some Decisions from its monthly batch (in some cases it is the whole Decision; in the great majority it is just the “consideration” i.e. how much was paid). CAFCA routinely appeal all such deletions to the OIO; once again, with very few exceptions, it upholds the deletions. We then appeal those to the Ombudsman, usually three months worth at a time. Those had been piling up and we had received no verdicts from the Ombudsman on any of our appeals for several years. In 2015 the Office of the Ombudsman decided that it wanted to meet with CAFCA (which had put in 100 appeals) and which was tying up its valuable time and resources.

We duly met with Ombudsman Professor Ron Paterson in Christchurch, a year ago. He agreed to urge the OIO to release the “considerations” of a large backlog of deleted Decisions which we had appealed. The OIO has subsequently released to us a great wodge of previously withheld Decisions, complete with the considerations, spanning the period 2012-14 inclusive.

To be precise, the OIO has released to us 88 Decisions which had previously had material withheld; it has decided to withhold four Decisions indefinitely, and will review another 16 after a specified period of time (it has told us when that will happen, in every case).

More significantly, the OIO has now decided to institute a whole new regime relating to the cloak of secrecy thrown over foreign investment applications to it (the new regime actually started as from May 2015 but we have only just been informed of it by Professor Paterson).

To quote his letter to us: “If the OIO determines that there are good grounds under the Official Information Act for withholding the information, the applicant is advised that the information will be withheld for a period of one year or until such time as the information becomes public (whichever is earlier). If the applicant considers that the information should remain confidential beyond the specified expiry date, the onus is on the applicant to write to the OIO explaining why that is the case. The OIO will then reconsider the grounds for withholding”.

“With these actions, the OIO has effectively changed its starting position with respect to information that is deemed confidential when a Decision summary is released – that is, confidentiality is maintained for a specified period rather than indefinitely. The onus is on applicants to contact the OIO if they consider that there are good grounds under the Official Information Act to withhold the information after the expiry of the specified period”.

This is a definite improvement on the OIO’s position up until now (i.e. throwing an indefinite cloak of secrecy over all or part of its monthly Decisions).

CAFCA thanks Professor Paterson for his work on this. And we pat ourselves on the back for continuing to hold to account this very publicity-shy, rubber stamping part of the State’s foreign investment “oversight” regime.

CAFCA is fundamentally opposed to the whole “come on in and help yourselves” message to foreign investors from Governments led by both major parties.

That being the case, the Overseas Investment Office has not seen the last of us just yet. We will continue to appeal most Decisions that are fully or partly withheld.

Flogging The Country Off To Foreign Owners

Does Nothing To Reduce NZ’s Debt

A common justification for flogging off NZ, particularly its publicly-owned assets

In a word: nonsense

But don’t take our word for it. 

Here what the Old Master of privatisation, Sir Roger Douglas himself, had to say (in a book praising him and his mates for privatising State forests):
"I am not sure we were right to use the argument that we should privatise to quit debt. We knew it was a poor argument but we probably felt it was the easiest to use politically"
("Out Of The Woods", Reg Birchfield and Ian Grant, 1993).

He was right that it was, and is, a poor argument

Here is the relevant extract from CAFCA’s newly updated Key Facts.

Foreign ownership does nothing to improve New Zealand's foreign debt problem. In 1989, total private and public foreign debt stood at $47.5 billion, equivalent to about two-thirds of New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product, and worth $86.4 billion in March 2015 dollars. As of March 2015, it was $246.2 billion (or $270.9 billion including derivatives), equivalent to 102% of New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product despite being helped out temporarily by $20.2 billion of insurance claims for the Canterbury earthquakes and all of the asset sales and takeovers.

The full Key Facts complete with sources (meticulously researched and compiled by CAFCA’s Bill Rosenberg), can be read here.