Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why I'm Not Celebrating The Martin Shkreli Arrest. Much.

Ok, so the title's a little misleading. I guffawed when news of Shkreli's arrest came to my attention - as, seemingly, did just about everyone else on my corner of the internet.

If you've just joined us, and were living in heretofore blissful ignorance as to who and what Shkreli was ... allow me to disabuse you. Remember that pharmaceuticals investment exec from a few months back who massively jacked up the price of a vital medication (by about five thousand percent) - and then appeared ready to "fight the whole internet" when people asked him to relent?

Few men in modern times have inspired such widespread revulsion. On the (American) political spectrum, everyone from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump appeared to believe he was a nasty, entitled piece of work - and arguably more than a little evil.

Pro-tip: when even The Trump thinks you're acting like a "spoiled brat", you've gone so far over the line they might as well build a wall over it.

So - at least initially -  the fact that one hundred percent of people who've bought the latest Wu Tang Clan album are now in federal custody seemed like a cause for celebration.

But then I sat down and thought about the situation ... and something just didn't add up.

People were talking about how Shkreli's arrest was evidence of "karma" in action. And while that's certainly an amusing and narratively appropriate thought (to say nothing of the added levity that this comes less than a week after the whole Wu Tang fiasco), the evidence unfortunately doesn't bear this out.

Shkreli's being done for securities fraud. The charges he's facing are for offences which he committed in the late 2000s and early 2010s. He's not in custody for the vile acts of pharma-profiteering which earned him a hefty score in public opprobium and reviled infamy earlier this year.

Those outrages aren't illegal. Hence why (with the possible exception of some amusing Tinder rejections) he wasn't really punished for them.

Ripping off a few multi-millionaire investors, however, was against the law. And he'll very likely suffer some reasonably serious consequences for it. (Which may play out quite positively for his purported future rap career - Shkreli's gone from shoehorning the truth by claiming he's hard and got cred because ... get this ... "I sell drugs!" to potentially facing jail)

And that's the problem here.


Think about it this way:

All this jubilation about Shkreli's arrest misses the point that the *wrong* crime is being punished.

Because according to the American legal system, it's apparently entirely a-ok for one self-declared gangsta-capitalist to extort ordinary people by holding them hostage for the price of their vitally needed medicine.

But taking from the wealthy rather than the unhealthy? That'll get the book thrown at you.

See how this is an inequitable situation?

Now don't get me wrong. Investment fraud is a serious issue, and those Shkreli has misled possess every right to demand justice. But in all the noise and self-congratulatory hubbub about Shkreli's arrest for securities fraud, there's a very real danger that we lose sight of the real issue here: the pressing need for serious reform in how America (and thus, much of the rest of the world) does pharmacy and drug-selling.

Shkreli made his money (the non-Ponzi scheme parts of it, anyway) by exploiting FDA loopholes. Those loopholes still exist.

And 'Big Pharma' is probably quite pleased Shkreli's now out of their game. His balls-out no-holds-barred approach to shameless profiteering by maliciously manipulating drug-prices is pretty much how many of the big guys in the industry make their millions anyway. The only difference was how brazen and bereft of sound PR Shkreli was about it.

Now that Shkreli's presumably more worried about his own court-case than bailing out errant rappers from prison, he'll presumably have less time, energy and effort to inadvertently and incandescently (to say nothing of "indecently") highlight how the pharmaceutical industry operates.

That's why Shkreli's arrest *can't* be the end of the conversation. We haven't "won" anything - not really, at any rate. If anything, the fact he's now in custody simply strengthens a perception being deliberately fostered by others in the pharmaceutical industry that Shkreli was a rogue and a 'bad egg' - rather than a shining, stinking embodiment of conscience-free profiteering to which they all blandly aspire; and to some extent partake in. Getting jubilant about his comeuppance changes the focus to minor-retribution rather than attempting to force real systemic change

So have a laugh at some of the many - and glorious - Shkreli-memes that are presently circulating the Internet. They're quite funny - and needless to say, eminently well deserved.

But remember: Shkreli's emphatically just the tip of the iceberg. He represents an extreme - but not the exception - of industry practice. And his arrest changes nothing.

For meaningful change to occur, the entire system needs to be put in the dock - not just one public bete-noir fraudster who got caught with his hand in the till.

Monday, December 21, 2015

White Ribbon NZ Plays 'Spot The Difference' Defending Prime Minister

Yesterday, White Ribbon New Zealand issued a statement concerning the Prime Minister's recent on-air antics. This was in response to a petition that had been in circulation which called for the Prime Minister to be dropped as a White Ribbon Ambassador due to the fact that our dear PM appears to have a bit of a serial problem with trivializing sexual assault.

Not a great look for a charity whose purpose is to remind us all that as applies sexual violence ... "It's not OK".

Their statement on Key reads, and I quote:

"White Ribbon asks men to stand up and not remain silent when we see behaviour that is violent and/or demeaning to women. Remaining silent allows the violence and sexism to go unchallenged and to be accepted. [...] Recently, The Rock radio station created a segment that referenced male rape in a manner that trivialised this horrific violence. It was an awful exercise in bad taste and helped to perpetuate violence by normalising and trivialising it. We understand that some people won’t see it that way, it will be in their eyes just a joke. We however do not agree."

So far, so good.

But then it also states:

"As many people know, a White Ribbon Ambassador (the Prime Minister) was involved in on-air segment on the Rock which was highly offensive. We have reached out to the Prime Minister, and we are informed that he did not know what was about to occur, and did not at the time comprehend the rape references or make any. We take the Prime Minister at his word."

There is, needless to say, more than a bit of a contradiction here. White Ribbon NZ can't have it both ways.

Even assuming it's possible to believe that a middle-aged and very much theoretically mature man *didn't* comprehend what dropping the soap while behind bars was supposed to connotate and entail, this is hardly the first strike.

Who could forget his shameful conduct of less than a month ago in attempting to use rape (or, at least, the supporting and endorsement of rapists) as a political weapon during the Christmas Island debacle - and his hiding behind the Speaker shutting down female survivor voices speaking on our behalf to demand an apology from the Prime Minister.

Or what about the workplace assault (arguably with a sexualized element) which became his apparent calling-card in the popular imagination towards the start of the year. It's sufficiently closely connected to his public image and perceptions that another radio station - The Edge - felt it a good joke to give him the option of pulling on the pony-tails of a number of female staff in an on-air stunt the same week.

A successful White Ribbon Ambassador would have embodied the organization's values and virtues by "[standing] up and not [remaining] silent" in the face of problematic on-air behavior ... rather than participating in and perpetuating it. If "remaining silent allows the violence and sexism to go unchallenged and to be accepted", then what exactly does "going along with a puerile and offensive trivialization stunt lent legitimacy by the presence of the Prime Minister" do.

Furthermore, it's rather difficult to believe that the Prime Minister genuinely felt the prison-rape references went over his head. After all, his own Minister of Corrections has previously obliquely endorsed prison-rape as a deterrence policy for serious offenders.

So the questions must be asked: first, if White Ribbon believes Key's litany of conduct is acceptable for one of its Ambassadors; second, whether it would be prepared to tolerate this sort of behavior from anyone else representing the organization; and third, if not, why Key's being given a 'special pass' by White Ribbon (and surely, what else does "taking him at his word" that he didn't know what he was doing was offensive ... over and over and over again ... represent if not that).

From where I'm sitting, the answer is both obvious and sad.

It's not just that the office (if not necessarily the person) of the Prime Minister still carries a pretty significant weight of prestige and potency.

As an analyst friend of mine put it: "Look at the way the Key government responds to its critics and those who embarrass the government. The Ninth floor has become very adept at manipulating public opinion against people or groups who get offside."

And he's right. Ever since it got into office, the Key government has made quite a specialty out of manipulating public opinion to marginalize if not outright discredit groups and individuals who start to become somewhat inconvenient in their truths. In fact, this literally became such an all-pervading pattern for the government that there was literally enough of it to fill a book with. It was called Dirty Politics. You may remember it.

White Ribbon New Zealand will have made the cruel calculation as to whether the limited positive PR boost supplied by keeping the PM on retainer with a ribbon on his lapel is worth the trade-off from the continued hypocrisy inherent in lending the puller of ponytails and dropper of soap added legitimacy by *their* association with him, rather than the other way around.

They will have decided, one way or the other, that they can't afford to drop him. Either because the marginal benefits of connection to such a high-profile figure (regardless of *why* he's making headlines seemingly every other week) will be regarded as too important to lose ... or, more insidiously, because they're too afraid of the fallout to make the right call.

That's sad.

That's scary.

That's "Not OK".

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Neoliberalism, Not Drug Addiction Is The Social Ill Causing Child Poverty

There's two heavily contrasting ways people in the political sphere try and attempt to explain poverty.

Either it's the result of poor choices and personal deficiencies on the part of the individual (the right-wing view - and I note that "the individual" in question is rarely if ever thought to be the Minister of Social Development) ... or it's the result of huge and impersonal systemic failures which leave the fate of those individuals precariously unaffected by any decisions nor virtues of their own.

The real answer's probably somewhere in the middle. Yes - hard work, energy and effort can help to lift a citizen or their family out of poverty. But it's incredibly, insanely hard to do when the cards are so heavily stacked against upward mobility. We are, after all, living with a system which gives us average house-rents of over five hundred dollars a week, yet which has also caused real wages to decline by around twenty five percent since the onset of neoliberalism.

Regrettably, there are few signs that this sorry state of affairs might change at any point in the not-too-distant future. Our political system has, for three Elections running now, continued to give us National, National and more National - a party which possesses no great nor abiding interest in making fundamental alterations to our economic fate.

Instead of winning us over with serious and enduring policy solutions, then - and, y'know, actually *leading* - the National party has become amazingly adroit at coming up with cockamamie buck-passing excuses for the failures and short-comings of their governance.

When pressed about their dismal economic performance for their first two terms in office, for instance, they'd respond that our economic circumstances simply weren't their fault. National had inherited a perilous economic situation from Labour, or so the story went, and that was held up as the sort of self-evident political truth which explained everything. (Funnily enough, it's even sort-of true ... except the woeful economic orientations National inherited from Labour come down to us from the Fourth Labour Government in 1984 rather than the Fifth Labour Government in power from 1999-2008)

Equally, when Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley was asked to explain the dismal phenomenon of substantial and long-term endemic unemployment within her own electorate, she didn't give a serious response.

Instead, she ascribed the situation to the downright curious idea that "it can be a pretty good lifestyle [on the dole]", thus rendering it a "pretty tall ask sometimes to convince people" to go into paid employment instead.

That's an excuse, not an answer - and one which is custom-crafted in order to resonate with National's core support base ... people who don't particularly care to look beyond the easy explanations and subtle rhetorical rightness-feeling afforded by beneficiary-bashing in order to see how "broken" the system actually is for themselves.

Yet it was another part of Tolley's statement which popped instantly to mind when news of John Key's clanger that poverty - and especially child poverty - in this country could be largely explained by drug addiction. She'd effectively claimed that what made a benefit livable for some of her constituents was "a cash crop and good kaimoana". Or, in other words, whatever foraging they were able to pull off, and some drug-dealing to make ends meet.

I must say, it's rather extraordinary for the welfare minister of what's very theoretically a modern, first-world country and enlightened social democracy to outright state that families on the benefit apparently need to engage in illegal conduct in order to survive with a viable standard of living ... but that's our government for you.

In any case, Tolley's remarks inadvertently help to shine a light on one of the most important contributing factors to poverty in New Zealand: whether working poor or people on a benefit, we simply aren't paying enough to actually allow many of our citizens to enjoy a decent standard of living.

Experts agree, and when National announced its "hardship reduction package" as part of the 2015 Budget, academics from Victoria and Otago Universities were quick to note that families on a benefit would require between $100 and $200 a week extra in order to be above the poverty line - not the $25 a week National had promised some families.

As NZ First Social Development spokesperson Darroch Ball pointed out at the time ... the Government would have to be delusional to believe that a mere two dollars a day would have a serious tangible impact when it comes to tackling - much less ending - child poverty here in New Zealand.

The same problem applies for those actually in paid employment in the first place. The minimum wage in this country is $14.75 an hour. The living wage is estimated to be $19.25. There are more than a hundred thousand workers in New Zealand still stuck on the minimum wage, and tens of thousands more earning various figures above the minimum wage yet well below a viable income. The minimum wage also represents an ever-diminishing slice of the economic pie - in 1946, for instance, the minimum wage was 80% of the median wage ... yet has regressed to just over half the median wage in the years since.

All of this together means that even if there were any truth to Key's assertion that drugs represent a barrier to people getting off a benefit and into (presumably entry-level) paid employment ... they'd hardly be likely to find themselves escaping poverty in so doing.

Our labour market just simply doesn't work like that any more.

More to the point, on the face of all available evidence it would appear the Prime Minister is simply making up misinformation in order to 'justify' his Government's woeful lack of action on this pressing social issue.

Let's consider the facts:

At the start of last year, then-Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett trumpeted figures showing only twenty two beneficiaries had either failed drug tests or refused to take them upon being referred to jobs.

Not twenty two thousand or twenty two hundred ... twenty two individuals.

By the end of the year, this had risen to a grand total of 134. To put that figure in context, that's a hundred and thirty four failures out of a pool of nearly three hundred thousand beneficiaries nationwide.

So for these 134 people, yes I suppose it's fair to say that their drug use may have presented a bit of a barrier between them and their more full participation in the workforce. This is true, but there are literal orders of magnitude worth of difference between that number and the more than three hundred thousand Kiwi kids who are presently living in poverty. (Oh, and while we're on the subject, the New Zealand Drug Foundation have also argued that National's more punitive approach towards drug-using beneficiaries may actually *worsen* rather than ameliorate poverty while not actually meaningfully reducing beneficiaries' barriers to work)

So what's happened here?

Well, like I said. The Key-led National government doesn't have any serious solutions for poverty or income inequality in New Zealand. They're not really that interested in that sort of thing.

Instead, when questions like this come up ... they present us with excuses for why things haven't improved, rather than ways we can work together to improve them.

National also possesses a highly regrettable penchant for scapegoating, wedge-politics, and trying to blame the economic victims of neoliberalism for their own misfortune.

It all makes for good politics. Their base doesn't care if the Government lies where convenient - particularly where the deliberate falsehoods "sound right".

And it doesn't matter if there's a wealth of evidence including the Public Health Agency coming out to openly contradict the Prime Minister's breathless claims. Beneficiaries on drugs sounds like something that happens. People who don't want to confront the reality that the government they voted for lacks ideas and is instead inarguably making the situation worse ... are quite happy to believe in stereotypes instead.

But as the lies get ever more desperate, and the gulf between rhetoric and reality becomes steadily more insurmountable by the year ... I have every hope that more and more people will start waking up to the fact that whenever the Prime Minister comes up with an outrageous falsehood like this, it's actually because he's desperately trying to cover for the failings of his own social and economic system.

Because let's be clear about this: the only time poor choices by ordinary New Zealanders creates systemic poverty ... is when a large proportion of us vote for National.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Maori Party, Bereft Of Relevance Or Insight, Tries To Claim NZ First Stealing From Them

There are few parties in Parliament more chalk and cheese than New Zealand First and the Maori Party.

One's a group of unitary nationalists who've provided some of the most trenchant opposition to a hell(a)-bent neoliberal government in recent times, and put "one law for all" into our political lexicon. The other, an ethnically-constituted government lapdog who can be described as "nationalists" only in terms of their steadfast if not slavering support for the Government which is their meal-ticket. We refuse to campaign in the Maori Seats ... they're only able to poll above the margin of error when running in same.

We castigate and criticize Budget after Budget which delivers little for the great majority of New Zealanders - and assets and asset sales revenue to the fiscally and politically privileged few.

The Maori Party, by contrast, takes great pride in getting up and supporting the Government and its economic measures every year when they're presented for a vote.

And yet there are some similarities, too.

To their credit, the Maori Party joined with New Zealand First and others in opposing the #TPPA. They also voted for Fletcher Tabuteau's excellent Fighting Foreign Corporate Control bill in order to help us to try and protect New Zealand from the pernicious implementation of Investor-State Dispute Settlements designed to undermine our nation's economic sovereignty.

And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given this Government's woeful stance on child poverty throughout most of its history, the Maori Party also agrees with New Zealand First about the pressing need for free healthcare for under-13s.

Ordinarily, this would be cause for celebration. The more parties we have advocating for the same positive change, the better ... right?

Except yesterday in the House, Maori Party Co-Leader Te Ururoa Flavell got up and tried to claim sole credit for the policy. More than that, he outright stated that New Zealand First had been "pinching [their] ideas". He said we should feel "shame" about this.

This is thoroughly out of order - and not just because Flavell appears to have been attempting to claim that finding common cause with other parties in pursuit of a demonstrably positive end is something to be "shamed" over.

Here are the facts:

New Zealand First spent a good chunk of the mid-1990s campaigning for free healthcare for under-13s. To be fair, we were never *quite* able to implement it. In 1996, when we entered into that abominable and apology-worthy relationship with National, we attempted to - but were only able to negotiate them to rolling out free healthcare for under-6s. Which is, at least, almost half-way.

Subsequent to this, we continued to push for the policy. In 2005, for instance, we'd elevated the policy to the status of a "key negotiating plank in post-election talks". We also campaigned on it in 2014.

So it's a bit rich for Flavell to turn up in 2015 and try to claim exclusive credit for the policy ... still, much less, to state another Party who first put it firmly on the political agenda almost a decade before the Maori Party was founded ought to feel "shame" for such advocacy.

It goes on:

In his speech in support of this year's Budget, Flavell claimed of the Opposition (of which New Zealand First is a proud member) "They get nothing. They have delivered nothing to this country. Why? Because they are in Opposition, and here we are at the table getting gains for our people. Today, the Maori Party can, and will, take every bit of credit that comes its way."

Clearly, that remark by Flavell is a statement of general Maori Party policy - namely, that they're so incredibly desperate for something to point to as evidence to justify their sorry existence ... that they're quite prepared to lie outrageously about another Party in order to make political ends rhetorically meet, and ensure those "bits of credit" "come their way".

So let me put it this way.

On Wednesday, when Flavell got up to make that speech in Parliament which this blog is responding to, he embarrassed himself. And not simply due to his idiotic bobble-tinsel antenna.

Parliament should be above this sort of shysterous and inaccurate political point-scoring. We're all there for - at least nominally - the same reason: making peoples' lives better. There's no "shame" in that.

But where there *is* "shame", is in having so little to show from seven long years supporting a corrupt and iniquitous Government that you have to try to shout down and rhetorically de-legitimate the contributions of others in order to try and grasp some sorry shred of relevance for yourselves.

In his speech - by his tone, tenor and mannerisms - Flavell revealed himself to be a frightened, desperate man.

He knows that his party's time is ending.

It's a pity he can't take a leaf out of that other political footnote of a minnow David Seymour's book and embrace (political) death with dignity.

Monday, December 7, 2015

"Judith Collins Is An Unaccountable Monster. It Believes It Is Outside The Law": On Collins, the SuperCity, Democratic Solution-Making & Accountability

Over the weekend, disgraced former Justice and Police Minister Judith Collins claimed the Independent Maori Statutory Board tied to Auckland's disastrous SuperCity arrangement was an "unaccountable monster" which believed it was outside the law.

Given Collins' own personal record with being an unaccountable monster who evidently believed herself to be outside the law during, for instance, the Oravida scandal ... I guess she'd know, wouldn't she. It's been her standard M.O. for pretty much the last half-decade.

Let's remember. This is the same former Minister who:

- Used her position as part of the Government to lobby a Chinese border-control official for preferential access to a premium export market for her husband's company;

- Lied about it repeatedly;

- Attacked a Parliamentary Press Gallery journalist for reporting on the scandal, by revealing confidential information on national television to a rival network - while threatening the Press Gallery generally by claiming she could "recall all sorts of things" about them;

- And was forced to resign after a string of allegations came to light about Collins working illegally or improperly with right-wing attack-whale Cameron Slater in order to get back at political enemies or undermine public officials.

Despite all of this, she refused to resign as an MP ... had to be pressured hugely (including the infamous "final final warning" from John Key) into resigning as a Minister ... and now sets her sights as her number one goal on getting back into Cabinet.

How's *that* for an "unaccountable monster" who seemingly has no compunctions about operating outside the bounds of legality and propriety.

For the record, I do think there is an issue with any organ of local governance picking a fight with the Ombudsman. I also have an issue with unelected statutory boards generally ... which is why it's so peculiar that Collins in the same speech talked up the role of unelected public-private partnerships - like the mess we've got down at the Ports of Auckland - as having a greater contribution to make when it comes to service provision and asset ownership. I note those aren't particularly accountable to the public, either - yet I cannot seem to recall a whiff of opprobrium from Collins meted out towards these quasi-privatized-in-all-but-name shambolic walking imbroglios. Either she wants democratic and accountable public institutions and amenities ... or she doesn't. (And given what happened with, say, Environment Canterbury - I think it's a fair enough assumption to state that National definitively *doesn't*)

But let's remember: who gave us the SuperCity structure in the first place? This is what this is ultimately about, after all.

Who let slip the dogs of rampantly unaccountable local governance into our midst way back in 2010?

Why, it was the ACT Party under then-Minister of Local Governance Rodney Hide - and the National Party which Judith Collins was then part of the preening upper echelons of.

So really, what's happening here, is the two architect-parties of the present Auckland local governance quagmire have gotten together to po-facedly decry the natural and eminently predictable results of the local governance legislation which THEY created and then implemented half a decade ago.

At the time, a certain Winston Peters cropped up to warn National and/or Aucklanders as to the mess they were about to get into with exactly these issues - but sadly, as with most things our very own political prognostication equivalent to Cassandra comes out with ... the Government just simply didn't want to know.

I would have said that this sort of blame-dodging by National and ACT was rather rich ... but considering the nature of the two parties in question, there's very little about them that *isn't*.

When it comes to local governance in Auckland ... they broke it, they're outraged about it, and the only purported "solutions" Collins et co can muster up to propose (i.e. "part-privatize the street-lighting to raise 0.125% of the revenue Auckland needs") is to break it further.

All in all, this entire "SuperCity" fiasco has been one drawn-out half-decade-long Tour de Farce from National & Friends.

There are serious and legitimate issues with local governance in Auckland. It just seems rather curious how National and ACT only started piping up about some of them once it became clear that they'd be unable to beat Phil Goff for the Mayoralty.

P.S. How is ACT still a large enough "party" to warrant having a "regional conference". It wasn't so long ago they were so desperate for numbers to show to the cameras at their conventions that they'd bus in Young Nats from as far afield as Wellington to make up the seat-warming numbers as part of an illusory show of strength.

Is ACT's "Auckland South" grouping just what it calls a half-a-dozen members going out to the Manurewa Golf Course...?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What Comes After Fighting Foreign Corporate Control? International Transparent Treaties! [NZ First Private Members' Bill Series Part 1]

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a seminar by NZ First MP Fletcher Tabuteau on some of the likely impacts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on New Zealand's economy and economic sovereignty.

Needless to say, it was harrowing stuff.

Fletcher, as you may remember, was the man behind arguably the best and most necessary private member's bill put forward this Term ... the Fighting Foreign Corporate Control bill. If it had passed, this piece of draft legislation would have protected New Zealand's sovereignty from legal attacks by foreign corporations mounted under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions of the TPPA.

Unfortunately, due to the perfidy of Peter Dunne (and, needless to say, the entire National Party writ large) ... it failed by only a single vote.

Still, as The Other Winston once said, that wasn't the end - nor even the beginning of the end - of the fight against pernicious international trade deals. Instead, it was merely the end of the beginning.

One of the parts of Sunday afternoon's discussion that I was most eager to hear was Fletcher's revelation as to what the next step in this fight was going to be.

It's called the International Transparent Treaties Bill, and its stated purpose is to place the power of approving or rejecting international treaties and trade deals *firmly* in Parliament's hands.

Why is this necessary?

Because, as the Bill's own intro puts it: "recent events show a disproportionately small and non-representative group of individuals negotiate and sign secret trade deals on the country's behalf".

This obviously leads to inferior outcomes for our country, because our lawmakers aren't properly able to scrutinize nor criticize potential trade deals before we find ourselves shackled to them and forced to attempt to implement their tenets or face lengthy withdrawal battles.

How did this happen?

Well, at the moment, the power of international treaty-signing isn't held by Parliament. Parliament gets to "ratify" treaties by incorporating their terms into our law through passing legislation, but the Executive wing of government (i.e. Cabinet and its multifarious minions) are the ones who do the negotiation and ultimately decide what agreements we are or aren't going to sign up to.

And unfortunately, that means our present cast of neoliberal overlords are free to bind us to international agreements which aren't in our best interest - without *our* elected representatives getting anything even remotely resembling a say until after the deal is signed and our sovereignty partially signed away.

Worse, in the case of trade treaties like the TPPA, there's a new move toward keeping all the negotiations and substantive details secret from both the public and parliamentarians - further stifling intelligent, informed debate on our nation's economic future and directly contributing to inferior governance outcomes.

The reason why the Executive rather than Parliament as a whole have the power to sign us up to things like the TPPA is a holdover from the by now long-gone days when the "monarchy" in "constitutional monarchy" was rather more important. The powers of regulating international affairs and trade - even issuing declarations of war - used to be squarely invested in the hands of the sovereign, rather than his servants.

Over time, these underwent a steady devolution from being the sorts of decisions kings or queens would directly deliberate over through to undertakings decided "on the advice" of an executive council of ministers and notables. Finally, these became an entirely symbolic function of the monarchy. These days, the Queen or one of her Governor-Generals might be the official focal point for a Declaration of War, but they obviously aren't the ones who actually decide whether or not we'll be going to war. They just take part in the formalities, on behalf of the Executive - who now holds all the real power.

This is because the Executive fulfills much the same role in our constitutional setup as did the monarchs and sovereigns of old. And just as successive generations of English revolutionaries and political reformers seemingly inevitably concluded ... too much of a concentration of that kind of power, unchecked by the will of the people through our Parliamentary watchdog-representatives, is not a good thing.

We long ago decided that one person ought not have the ability to send an entire nation to war - and that instead, it should be up to a larger group of people in order to ensure the best decision was made. Interestingly, this even resulted in an apparent political if not necessarily constitutional convention whereby something approaching a Parliamentary consensus used to be called for in the event of a Declaration of War. Something that now appears to have fallen sadly by the wayside.

So the question must be asked: if we recognize the implicit logic of having our representatives - i.e. Parliament - make decisions on our behalf about almost everything else ... why not international trade deals.

What's so uniquely worthwhile about these instruments of international law that the ability of our lawmakers to legislate ought to be constrained without them (and us) first getting a say in the matter?

There's nothing I can think of.

The simple answer as to why this is happening is because the Government knows very well that had Parliamentarians been made aware of the terms of the #TPPA before New Zealand signed up to the agreement, MPs and civil society would have been in a better position to campaign against our country signing up to the TPPA.

Instead, what's happened is our representatives have been shut out and kept in the dark for more than half a decade by enforced secrecy provisions. Unless they were part of Cabinet, they found out what was in the #TPPA for the most part at exactly the same times we did - through WikiLeaks document dumps. And then, through a massive six-thousand page text-release which they were only allowed to sift through once it was too late to meaningfully change the contents.

That's no way to run a country or its international affairs.

Interestingly, the United States and its Legislature has historically kept a far tighter rein on its Executive's ability to conclude international treaties and trade deals for exactly this reason. American Lawmakers were also allowed access to the text of the TPPA far in advance of the agreement's conclusion, with the Obama administration claiming letting legislators see what was in the treaty before they'd signed up to it was "consistent with negotiating the best possible agreement for the American people".

So if even the Americans can see this sort of transparency is a good idea ... why can't we?

That's why I'm such a strong support of Fletcher Tabuteau's International Transparent Treaties bill.

Not because I'm some sort of rabid Party-partisan. But because I genuinely feel that it's wrong for our Prime Minister and our Minister of Trade to be able to sign us up to potentially perilous international agreements without our political representatives being able to look over the terms of the agreement and check out for themselves what the likely impacts upon our nation and its future will be.

Section 6 of the proposed bill states simply that "the Minister must present the text of the proposed treaty to [Parliament before] any binding action is taken on behalf of the Crown". Section 7 clarifies that the Crown is unable to undertake any "binding action [...] in relation to the proposed treaty" until Parliament has approved the agreement. And Section 8 provides us with additional protection by requiring specific enactment legislation before the provisions of the treaty can be enforced (i.e. merely presenting the terms of the treaty to Parliament is not sufficient to make it binding in our law).

Despite its point of inspiration and origin, Fletcher's bill isn't just an anti-TPPA measure. Looking on into the future, it seems pretty likely that the neoliberal parties who regrettably form the fulcrum of government around which our nation's politics seemingly inevitably for the moment swing, will keep on trying to foist unwelcome if not outright unwholesome international trade deals upon us. Let's remember that it was Labour who first hitched us to the TPPA bandwagon in the first place, just as National's now carried us over the ghastly finish-line some seven years later.

Passing Fletcher's International Transparent Treaties bill is therefore not just a direct message to National that we won't tolerate their frankly opaque and quasi-feudal approach to governance. It's also future-proofing our Parliament and our way of life against the next time something like this happens.

Because it will.

And the onus and the duty is on all of us to try to prevent that from happening.

In the mean-time, I'm just glad we've got quality MPs like Fletcher Tabuteau ready to do their bit to protect our economic sovereignty and our future.