Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Its not right

By now you've probably already seen this: a campaign to get the New Zealand government to release the text of of the Trans-Pacific partnership Agreement so that we can see what they're signing up for in our name - and what they're signing away. The core point of the campaign is stated neatly in the Herald piece on it:

"One of the things I love about democracy is that it is a conversation between us and our government," said comedian Michele A'Court.

"It doesn't work if our government doesn't invite us into the conversation.

At that point, it's not democracy. It's that other thing."

The core idea of democracy is that legitimacy depends on the consent of the governed. And that consent isn't merely periodic, a literal box-ticking exercise at elections - its something the government must maintain every day. But in order to consent, we need to know what the government is doing in our name. When they act in secret, do things behind our back, lie to us, there can be no consent. And where there's no consent, there's no legitimacy.

But this isn't just about the TPPA. This anti-democratic approach - negotiation in secret, followed by the presentation of a fait accompli, which we must accept or be seen to "break our word" (which the negotiators had no right to give) - infects our entire foreign policy. There are historical reasons for that around how our constitution evolved, but it has to change. We're supposed to be a democracy now. Isn't it time we had a democratic foreign policy, open, transparent, and legitimate?

As for how to get there, I'd like to see the opposition parties announce that they will not honour any deals made in secret, and that major treaties will be put to the people in a referendum for ratification. That will make the MFAT deep state squeal - but its the only democratic way.