Monday, August 03, 2015

Two ideas for open diplomacy legislation

Last week, I called for a democratic foreign policy. With the collapse of TPPA negotiations over the weekend, we've got some time to think about this and about what needs to change. Here's a couple of ideas.

Firstly, we need an Open Diplomacy Act. The essence? That any information which our government provides to other parties in international treaty negotiations, or which they provide to us, must be immediately proactively published. Why? So we can see what the government is doing, obviously. Like the OIA, this will enable participation in decision-making and promote accountability of Ministers and officials. But it will also help put our foreign policy on a more democratic footing, by providing us with the information which would enable us to meaningfully consent to the decisions made (as opposed to today, where being mushroomed means that these decisions cannot be said to have any form of consent or legitimacy).

Note that this applies to material which the negotiating parties have already made public to each other, so it doesn't undermine the government's ability to keep its bottom lines secret in negotiations (unless they tell the other parties, in which case they're no longer secret). What it does prevent is them lying to us about what they're doing, or selling us a pig in a poke then presenting us with a fait accompli.

Secondly, we need some way of providing public consent to highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses, which allow corporations to sue us if we legislate to protect public health or the environment. A recent member's bill from NZ First would have banned them outright; I'm happy enough to permit their approval by referendum (which means the government actually has to convince us of their merits). The decision belongs to the people because it effectively limits the scope of government - and that's a decision for us, not them. As a bonus, this would sidestep the prohibition in Standing Orders forbidding votes on the same issue in the same year, so such a bill could be introduced immediately.

The question is whether the politicians will move on this, or whether they're happy with the current situation of secret deals and no meaningful consent.