Plain-packaging tobacco: more nonsense from Labour

David Farrar
David Cunliffe (TV3)

The Herald reports:

He made his comments after Labour leader David Cunliffe said the plain-packaging tobacco legislation to be debated later today should be passed through its stages without delay and accused the Government of “running scared of tobacco interests”.

Running scared? I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. The Government has hiked tobacco excise tax massively and decided to introduce plain packaging, and signed up to a plan to reduce smoking rates to under 5% by 2025. How the hell is that running scared? It’s more than Labour ever did.

While the Government bill providing for mandatory plain packaging on cigarettes will get a first reading later today, its final passage will be stalled until a World Trade Organisation case against Australia’s plain-packaging law has been concluded.

“I think that is regrettable,” Mr Cunliffe said this morning. “I think the best way through this would be for New Zealand to take a very clear and upfront position on plain packaging.”

Let us think about how stupid this position is. If Australia loses the WTO case they will have to pay tens of millions of dollars of damages to countries affected by their plain packaging law. Cunliffe is saying that we should not wait for the lawsuit to be resolved, but go ahead and pass the law while the case is being heard – which will mean that NZ taxpayers will also have to pay tens of millions of dollars to foreign Governments if the WTO case goes against Australia.

Mr Cunliffe in Parliament this afternoon called on the Government to release the text of the TPP agreement before the Cabinet signs it – although not until the negotiations have concluded.

His motion to have the issue debated was blocked by the Government, as can be done by any member on a motion without notice.

When asked earlier if Labour had conducted negotiations with China for a free trade agreement in the same way as the current Government was negotiating TPP, Mr Cunliffe said: “We took a different approach to full and open briefings by including folks like environmental and labour groups on our delegations so they were briefed as the negotiations were going on.

“The current Government has not done that. What the current Government has done is negotiate effectively in secret.”

I’m sorry but that is a lie and a slur on the MFAT staff who have been working on TPP.

MFAT staff have held numerous briefings on the negotiations with stakeholders. I know this because I’ve been at some of them. They can not show you the exact text being negotiated (as that would get NZ expelled from the negotiations) but they have been incredibly open and helpful about what the key issues being negotiated are, and what the NZ position is.

The draft text that was leaked on Wikileaks, shows that the NZ negotiators had been entirely honest with stakeholders about the NZ position. What they told us they were asking for, is reflected in the draft text that was leaked.

As far as I know there has been no difference at all between how the Government has consulted stakeholders with the TPP and the previous Government did with the China FTA.

Cunliffe is saying do what I say, not what I did.

Even putting aside the hypocrisy, what Labour are demanding is simply not possible. NZ can not unilaterally release the text until the parties unanimously agree to release it. NZ would be expelled from the negotiations and never allowed into a trade negotiation again if it did so.

I support the draft text being released. I think it would be a good thing to have draft chapters released at certain stages. But that has to be agreed by all negotiating parties at the beginning of the negotiations – it can not be done unilaterally halfway through.

Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.

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