Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Parliamentary rubberstamp

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has reported back on the NZ-UK free trade agreement, and as expected, rubberstamped the whole thing. But then, the executive deliberately puts them in a position where they have no alternative, otherwise New Zealand is "going back on its word". The question of whether they had any democratic legitimacy to make such promises in the first place meanwhile goes completely unexamined. And then they wonder why so many people are suspicious of secretly-negotiated "free trade agreements" and reflexively oppose them...

On the major issue of copyright term extension - an out-of-the-blue, unconsulted and so illegitimate change which violates our Bill of Rights Act - the rubberstamp noted the opposition to the change (virtually every submission which addressed the issue opposed it), but made no recommendations. They did however note that

the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have agreed to provide advice on mitigating factors that may guard against the potential harm of the copyright extension term.
The most obvious means of "mitigation"? Not doing it in the first place. But since that apparently isn't an option, here's some suggestions on how to reduce the harm MFAT has inflicted on us, culled from the submissions:
  1. Take the full 15 years to implement the change, as allowed by the treaty;
  2. Make it apply only to works published after it comes into force, or to works by people born after it comes into force;
  3. Make it apply only by way of a work-specific extension / renewal process (so if your heirs don't renew at the end of your life + 50 term, the work falls into the public domain).

(In addition, I'd suggest using that 15-year period to work towards a new global copyright treaty to shorten terms to life + 25 years, making this shitty deal moot).

The deal will require legislation to implement, which the government has indicated it will introduce later this year (which suggests MBIE and MFAT don't have a lot of time to work, and their "mitigation" advice will be limited by that, especially if MFAT disrupts the process to protect its deal). This does mean that we will have a chance to submit on the changes, and the above may be useful suggestions for a submission. But we're still going to have the problem of the underlying dynamic of MFAT making promises without our permission or consent, and Parliament being unwilling to call them on it. Addressing that - and the issue of our undemocratic foreign policy in general - is going to need bigger changes, to empower the legislature over the executive and bind the latter to Parliament's will.