Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the NZ Herald’s attack on Jane Kelsey

November 29th, 2012

The best way of appreciating Fran O’Sullivan’s attack on Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey in the NZ Herald yesterday is to read it aloud as if you’re actually Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey. In which case the general content of O’Sullivan’s column – does this creature never sleep? How on earth has she managed to commandeer the debate on free trade? Are there no men in this house able to put this, this, this confounded woman in her place? – will sound exactly what it is. A last despairing squawk from the neo-liberal right, as yet another of its castles in the sand is washed away by the tide of history. Get used to it, Fran. It’s your lot that has lost the plot on “free” trade.

Part of O’Sullivan’s complaint is that Kelsey is an activist, from academia, who consorts with NGOs. Dodgy in itself, clearly. What on earth is an academic (sorry, I’m still channelling Maggie Smith) doing being part of an actual social debate? Surely they should remain in their ivory tower doing what God and Steven Joyce plainly intended them to do – which is to tend an assembly line where bright inquiring minds come in at one end and emerge at the other as corporate drones. Kelsey, bless her, refuses to be a willing accomplice of that process. She seems to see her role as being to challenge the false consensus on the Trans Pacific Partnership, and thus contribute to one of the key debates in society – which is what universities did for hundreds of years before being taken over by the bean counters of the neo-liberal market economy.

O’Sullivan wants some of the economists at Auckland University to take issue with Kelsey, and to say something stout in defence of the TPP. That way, the NZ Herald can then quote them back at the public. Actually I don’t mind this crude attempt at media manipulation – i.e., ask the university vice-Chancellor to instruct his staff to make public comments in support of your pet theories, so that you can then cite them publicly to validate your pet theories – because any subsequent debate is one that Kelsey and the anti-TPP analysts and commentators are likely to win, hands down. And are doing so all around the world.

In Canada for instance, a former federal government adviser on NAFTA such as trade lawyer and analyst Peter Clark has described the secrecy surrounding the TPP as “bizarre and unprecedented” and elsewhere as “a theatre of the absurd” and has likened the TPP to a Kool Aid that’s more likely to restrict trade than to liberalise it. Similar concerns have been expressed by Gordon Ritchie, Canada’s former trade ambassador and the architect of NAFTA who has also given the TPP the thumbs down.

And if O’Sullivan wants to wheel up some Auckland economists to support the TPP, what about the verdict of Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, the acknowledged world’s leading trade economist who has recently attacked the TPP at some length as not being in New Zealand’s best interests, as likely to erode the existing WTO disputes resolution system, and as not being in the interests of free trade – since those who advocate FTAs and regional pacts like the TPP are, in Bhagwati’s opinion, some of free trade’s own worst enemies:

The American doctrine of inducing multilateral trade liberalization by signing on FTAs has proven to be a chimera….So we need to put a moratorium on more FTAs, while treating those already ratified as water under the bridge. The free traders who are passionate supporters of these FTAs are undermining everything that we have worked for to produce and strengthen a non-discriminatory trading system. There is no better example of folly wrought by good intentions.

To the contrary, O’Sullivan’s column runs the sad old gambit that if you’re against the TPP, you must be against free trade. Which ignores the fact that many multilateral free traders also, like Kelsey, oppose the TPP because it is dominated by US business lobbies out to use trade negotiations to enforce their purely commercial interests (e.g. in copyrights and patenting) which have nothing whatsoever to do with liberalising trade, and a great deal more to do with maximizing their existing commercial advantage. That is why the same lobbies torpedoed the Doha Round – in the face of defiance from India and Brazil – and that’s why they are now treating the TPP as a more compliant vehicle.

The truly weakest part of the pro TPP argument is that when the slew of downsides evident in leaked TPP drafts is pointed out by Kelsey and co. the typical O’Sullivan/Key/Tim Groser response is then to say : “No worries, we won’t sign up to those kind of provisions.” Good luck with that. Good luck with getting what you want, without conceding what you don’t want. It is a totally implausible scenario. When faced with the downsides of the TPP, the O’Sullivan/Key/Groser team chooses to live in denial, and to insist that gains for New Zealand can be made without self-damaging concessions. The TPP is all upsides in their sunny little corner. Re-assurance is a political reflex for them, even though the re-assurance makes no logical sense.

Kelsey at least, lives in the real world. It is one where genuine dangers exist that our negotiators will give away substantive ground in Auckland next month on IP and on the purchasing conditions for generic medicines, and on the investor/state provisions…all for a pipe dream of illusory gains on agriculture glimmering away somewhere, 20 years in the future.

On a slightly different point, the Herald’s attack on Kelsey is not much different to the Herald’s recent editorial attack on Dr. Mike Joy of Massey University – another academic entering a social debate at his peril. It’s an interesting role for the fourth estate to play – to be about the silencing of academics who deviate from the party line on trade and/or the environment. No wonder so few academics in New Zealand take the risk of entering the public fray. It is no place for the faint hearted. If it is not the Herald denouncing you, or public relations flacks Mark Unsworth accusing you of something close to treason, many fellow academics tend regard your participation as being somewhat infra dig.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Tertiary Education goes about his task of tuning our universities into feeder station for National’s corporate friends. The grim details are here. Joyce is turning off the funding tap on varsity courses that he disparages, while force feeding students into six or eight year science and engineering courses in order to meet current skill shortages on the job market. Smart. (This is happening even while career prospects for scientists at the other end continue to shrivel, and while our current crop of science graduates head overseas.) Publicly funded science is now more than ever, being pressed into serving the innovation needs of a private sector long been averse to paying for its own R&D, and which is chronically dependent on the state to fund its research. It is a form of corporate welfare that Joyce seems more than happy to perpetuate.

Typical, really. For a Minister of Everything, Joyce has a remarkably narrow view about how to make this country a rewarding and productive place to live. Funnily enough, the same Auckland University being called upon by Fran O’Sullivan is the same one targeted by the Minister less than a fortnight ago.

“If they want us to be more directive, I’m more than willing,” Joyce said. “I’m watching them really closely to make sure they do respond to what the market wants, and if they don’t, I can go and tell them how many they should enrol for each department.”

The stupidity of these kind of attempts at social engineering is matched only by their brutality. Right now, we should be thankful for the Jane Kelseys and Mike Joys that we have, and treasure them. Because they’re something of an endangered species.


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    1. 13 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the NZ Herald’s attack on Jane Kelsey”

    2. By Andrew R on Nov 29, 2012 | Reply

      In today’s Herald Brian Fallow (?) has an article outling in how pharmac and the taxpayer are likely to get shafted by TPP., John Key’s assurances to contrary notwithstanding.

    3. By peterlepaysan on Nov 29, 2012 | Reply

      I am never ceased to be amazed at O’Sullivans knowledge and insight. She is so clever and knowing.

      A few citations might help.
      Sorry . I forgot , reporters do not reveal sources.

      Bullshit rules! it sells advertising space for the Herald.

    4. By J on Nov 29, 2012 | Reply

      Some New Zealanders are STILL, unbelievably, saying “What’s TPPA???”

      Perhaps we should be grateful that there is any attention paid to TPPA in the media, even though as usual O’Sullivan is spreading misleading propaganda for Key and his 600 American corporate masters, that have seized control of the secretive proceedings.

      Then we can advocate for Jane Kelsey by telling those people, that ask, the real facts about the con that is TPPA.

      New Zealanders who fail to recognise the inherent dangers to New Zealand sovereignty in this agreement need to have a really good excuse when 20 years in the future, their children start asking why they don’t have one – a sovereign future in their own country.

      And not too far distant from now any young New Zealanders who care anything about the well-being of the planet will be demanding answers about the pillaging of Antarctica after it was sold off for Key’s knighthood, 600 corporate financial profit margins and why the once-honourable Kiwi protection of the world’s last worthwhile inheritance was so easily cast aside for the dollar.

      It’s amazing how easily a moneytrader could turn a once proud country of Kiwis into a nation of greedy individuals.

    5. By Ian Todd on Nov 30, 2012 | Reply

      Brilliant, Gordon. Jane Kelsey really does deserve a medal for bringing the TPPA to our attention. Way to go, Prof!

    6. By Peter Johnstone on Nov 30, 2012 | Reply

      Fine work, and keep criticising the lunacy that contines to emanate from the neo-libs. They are responsible for the economic “experiment” that has been carried out in NZ over the last 30 years, one that has demonstrably failed to deliver on the promises made, and one that has left the majority of New Zealanders worse off than they were before. Bernard Hickey also nailed the problem a few days back in a fine opinion piece that included the admission that he was wrong about supporting many of the liberalisations that have been carried out. But there remain a few diehards who will never admit how wrong they were. Thanks to the Jane Kelseys and Brian Eastons of this country who are prepared to question the lunacy that the late Bruce Jesson so well descibed in his book “only their purpose is mad”

    7. By awgb on Nov 30, 2012 | Reply

      Good stuff Gordon. We should pay far more attention to Jane Kelsey on this than the stooge O’Sullivan, conceited Groser and slippery,forgetful and untruthful Key.

    8. By Cam McLeod on Nov 30, 2012 | Reply

      LOL, you’re right about reading aloud in the voice of Maggie Smith. Hilarious.

    9. By mutyala on Dec 1, 2012 | Reply

      spooky- had just finished watching another Downton episode when I read this. Lady Grantham is easily the best character!

    10. By Gordon Campbell on Dec 1, 2012 | Reply

      Sorry, I incorrectly described Peter Clark as a “trade lawyer.” He’s a trade specialist with a multinational firm based in Ottawa, but he’s not actually a lawyer himself.

    11. By arants on Dec 2, 2012 | Reply

      “the typical O’Sullivan/Key/Tim Groser response is then to say : “No worries, we won’t sign up to those kind of provisions.””

      Don’t forget Goff & Cosgrove, also auditioning for their next career moves, who are doing their utmost to undermine the anti-TPPA remits endorsed by the recent Labour conference.

    12. By Carolyn Lahikainen on Dec 3, 2012 | Reply

      Good on you Jane Kelsey for being so informative and refusing to be silenced. Good on you Gordon Campbell for refusing to become a corporate/National Party mouth piece.

    13. By rogermorris on Dec 22, 2012 | Reply

      Cui bono? Sovereign NZ law being Governed by transnational corporate dictate/agenda,
      the devil in the detail negotiated in secret .
      In secret.
      What part of secrecy is benign?

      Wonderfully put Jane Kelsey and Gordon Campbell.

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