Tag Archives: TPPA

TPPA: How Predictable!

Editor’s note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Thanks for the great feedback on last week’s column. Despite the vindictive image of Wanganui that was encapsulated in the initial response to Duncan Garner’s visit to our beautiful city, there are indeed many thoughtful, reflective and open-minded residents.

I admit that my conservative views do not suit all readers and I apologize for forcing them upon you week after week. I’m the guy who spent four months working on drainage around his house just before we were hit by a once-in-85-year rain event.

Above all else I believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you have been brought up on the metric system instead of imperial measurements, here is a translation: 28.3 grams of prevention is worth 453.6 grams of cure. Doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it, eh?

‘Prevention’ has the same type of prefix as ‘proactive’. Even ‘prefix’ has that same…prefix. Any way you slice it, it’s about addressing an issue before it becomes a problem. One great example has been our community’s long and sustained effort to raise awareness about the likely problems that will result if the government signs onto the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

In late 2013 I contacted Chronicle editor, Mark Dawson about writing a piece on the TPPA. He gave the green light and as far as I know it was the first appearance of the secretly negotiated treaty in our local press. Here is what I wrote:


“Fortunately for democracy, some material from the TPPA has been leaked, including a 95-page excerpt published by WikiLeaks in Mid-November. Following that leak, the Herald (14 November, 2013, NZ WikiLeaks Scoop) reported that information in the excerpt includes disputes between New Zealand and US negotiators on issues of internet freedom, industrial innovation, ownership of endemic plants and animals, and, near and dear to my heart, access to affordable medicines.

“From the Herald, ‘A large section reveals the battle between the US pharmaceutical lobby and countries such as New Zealand that want to continue to buy cheaper generic medicines.’

“In order to dissect this sentence we need to know a couple of facts: 1) the utmost duty of a corporation is to return profits to its shareholders; 2) the US – where corporations have used lobbyists to sculpt health care policy – has the most expensive health care system in the world while ranking close to 40th in performance by the World Health Organization; 3) New Zealand health care remains reasonably priced in part due to the ability to bulk buy generic medicines.

“Using the numbers above in a mathematical equation: 1 – 3 = 2. In other words, if pharmaceutical corporations have their way through the TPPA, NZ health care will more closely resemble that of the US.

What this means for Whanganui is that our already strapped health services would become even more so. For example, the funds now available to pay a doctor may have to be shuffled to cover the increased costs of medicines. Along with the dollars vacuumed away, we would lose a valuable human being who lives in our city, owns a home, pays rates, and buys local products. Every dollar associated with that doctor’s salary would be wisked away to New York, San Francisco, or Hartford. We lose, they win.

I reckon it is our democratic duty to do our best to resist corporate influence globally and locally, but we need to do so proactively. Once the deal has been done, it won’t easily be undone.”


Last week the Prime Minister admitted that under the TPPA some medicines would cost the country more. If only he’d read my column two years ago he would have been way ahead of the game!

Without the assistance of a crystal ball I was able to ‘see the future’ because I am a strong believer in research, data, patterns, and evidence-based decision-making. Despite what radicals might think about secret trade deals, climate change, income inequality, and boosting regional economies, I’ll stick to my Ounce-of-Prevention ideology metric system be damned!


Sidebar: March and Rally Today!

1:00 PM. Gather at Silver Ball sculpture at the riverside.

1:15 PM. Rally at Majestic Square.

Capitalism and Surfing: Each in Moderation

There are two activities in which I have increased my involvement since moving to NZ seven years ago: surfing and democracy.

When I came here I had no interest in surfing and little interest in democracy. I always voted, but that was about it. But my interest and involvement in both increased in 2008 when I moved to Raglan and started PhD research at the University of Waikato.

Although I was researching science education, the concept of democracy came up again and again in the literature. Science education for all pupils – not just those who plan to pursue a career in science – is critical to democratic nations that face increasingly complex choices involving ecological problems, choices of ‘appropriate technology’ and genetic engineering. Surfing, I discovered, is critical to remaining sane while writing a 300-page thesis. Screen shot 2015-03-06 at 11.24.42 AM

As we look around the world, modern democracies rely on capitalism in the same way that surfing relies on waves. So-called ‘free markets’ go hand-in-hand with democracy as both ‘consumers’ and voters choose their brands of breakfast cereal and their governments. When ‘the economy’ is booming, the governing party tends to retain power at the next election, and when recession hits the government is often voted out. Similarly, when the surf’s up you go surfing. When it’s not you stay home and winge about it.

“A rising tide,” we have been told, “lifts all boats.” But trickle-down economics has never been shown to work for those struggling economically with their heads under water.

The link between ‘economic growth’ and retaining political power has resulted in the growing influence of corporations over governments to withdraw legislation that previously reigned in dodgy corporate behaviours that in the past led to the exploitation of workers, environmental degradation, and even the Great Depression.

Over the last thirty years – since Thatcher and Reagan – the world has witnessed the steady deregulation of laws that were put in place to safeguard people and the planet. This trend in deregulation directly caused the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. In surfing terms, this is called “going over the falls”: taking off late on a big wave, getting stuck on the lip (tip-top of breaking wave), falling vertically in front of the wave, and then often getting sucked back up the face and dumped again. Screen shot 2015-03-06 at 11.23.35 AM

Here we are in 2015 and the whitewash from the 2008 GFC has not cleared. The wealth gap between rich and poor is wider than ever, and the biggest corporations are even bigger than they were before the crisis.

As with most things in life, surfing and capitalism require moderation and knowing one’s limits. In both, getting in over one’s head can be deadly.

What we face in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is a potential tsunami of capitalism that drowns democracy in New Zealand. I have surfed some big waves over the last seven years and had many spectacular wipeouts, but I always came up to breath. If this government signs up to the TPPA, there is no way out – no escape clause – no coming up for air. Once signed, we will be bound to the agreement in perpetuity.

When it comes to surfing and democracy, I tend to be conservative. Going after huge waves and giving more power to huge corporations is just plain dangerous. In both cases, I think about my daughter, her future, and my duty as a responsible parent.


Peace, Estwing

Understanding Nature: Toddlers, Trees, TPPA

Eco Design is about working with nature instead of against it. Nature, in this case however, can mean many different things. For example, it may refer to natural ecosystems and how they maintain a dynamic balance. But it can also refer to sun angles and hours of daylight that fluctuate seasonally. This can be referred to as a natural energy flow.

Nature, from an eco design perspective, can also refer to the behaiviour of animals such as chickens. In this case, we often speak in terms of “a chicken’s nature” to scratch up the mulch in a vege garden.

Believe it or not, even my two and a half year old daughter has a nature, and for the most part it is a nature to imitate and to help. As parents we can choose to work with her nature or work against it at our peril. As a father and designer, I constantly design experiences that channel my daughter’s nature for good instead of evil.

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Trees have a nature, and different trees have different natures. For example, it is in the nature of plane trees to block drains and crack pavement. To quote Wilson Street business owner Tony Swain from Monday’s Chronicle, “The council has just planted the wrong type of trees.”

Step one of eco design (also step one of common sense) is to plant the right tree in the right place. What a crack up it was to read the explanation from Wanganui District councillor Ray Stevens in Monday’s Chronicle that the trees were planted back when Wilson Street was residential. Is this to imply that the trees would not grow into the sewerage pipes of private residences or block storm drains in a residential street? This excuse for council’s mistake makes no sense, and appears to support the Wilson Street business owners’ feelings that “council was not listening.”

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Although trees have their nature, this is not to say that a tree’s nature cannot be channeled just like a toddler’s. For example, we have heard from a number of sources that the plane trees around the city used to pollarded regularly to control their growth.

Another example involves the training and pruning of fruit trees. The nature of most trees is to grow to the sky, which is a problem for the safe and easy harvesting of fruit. ‘Channeling’ branches to grow sideways instead of upward involves two steps. First we train the branches with twine and stakes (see photo), and then we prune to an outward-facing bud. The tree is still a tree, but by working within the confines of its nature we make it more ‘user-friendly.’

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Finally, it is in the nature of corporations to maximize profits. In fact, it is their one and only mandate. There is not social mandate. There is no environmental mandate. There is no cultural mandate. There is only the profit mandate.

Understanding this nature of corporations, does it make any sense to readers that we allow them to negotiate a major trade agreement in secret? As a democracy, does it make sense for citizens and voters to stand by and allow the current government to sign onto this secret trade deal – the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) – without expressing our justifiable caution?

Mr. Key has stated that the October election was a mandate from the voters for the beliefs and policies of the National Party. Is it in the nature of New Zealanders to accept this and wait another three years? Or is it in our collective nature to voice concerns through all the channels of democracy?


Peace, Estwing

A Parent’s Perspective on the TPPA

When I look in the mirror I see three things: a researcher, an educator and a parent.

As a researcher I am data driven. My mind seeks out robust arguments supported by evidence, and discounts arguments that lack evidence.

As an educator I try to keep my message simple and relevant. There is a vast amount of information in the world, but people relate best to that which relates most closely to them.

As a parent I am focused on safety. Many times each day my toddler daughter strives to engage in behaviours that could negatively affect her health and wellbeing.

From these three perspectives, I’ll keep my comments on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) as evidence-based, simple and prudent as possible.

The purpose of a corporation is to return maximum profits to investors. Anything that impinges on profits – Pharmac, the Resource Management Act, the Treaty of Waitangi – can be seen as a “barrier to trade.” The TPPA seeks to remove barriers to trade, and will allow corporations to sue sovereign governments.

At the same time, it appears that the purpose of my 18 month-old daughter is to put herself in peril by climbing on anything available, playing with electrical cords, and eating as many sweets as possible. As a parent, it is my responsibility to keep her impulses in check.

The same can be said of governments in relationship to corporations. In other words, we have laws that keep corporations in check because their ‘natural urges’ have been shown to cause harm to significant numbers of people worldwide and degrade environmental quality, not to mention crash the global economy.

In other words, the government is the parent and the corporation is the child. But the TPPA seeks to reverse this, letting corporations set the rules and punish governments for laws they do not like.

This would be like my daughter telling me she is going to spend the afternoon in a candy store full of ladders and electric leads. Oh, and by the way, if I disagree with her she will take me to a secret court made up of three of her friends.

Are there any parents that think this will turn out well?


Peace, Estwing