By Josie Butler
This week marks the beginning of the New Zealand government’s national roadshow on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a roadshow that was meant to address the people’s questions and concerns regarding this “trade agreement”, with a focus on public consultation.
I put “trade” in italics, because out of the 29 chapters of this agreement, only 5 are actually related to trade, the other 24 are to do with investors rights.
If we wanted to call it what it is, we would call it an investors rights agreement, with a sprinkle of trade making for an excellent public spin.
Anyway I digress. I attended the roadshow at the Rydges Hotel in Christchurch on Friday, March 11.
When I arrived there was quite a heavy police presence, with all entry points into the hotel covered by police and security. The hotel/restaurant/bar was on a complete lock-down and not open to the public.
Unfortunately the heavy police presence thwarted our original action against this atrocity, which I wont go into details of, but let’s just say if someone’s pants are on fire from lying so much it seems logical that a fire alarm could go off, and that friendly protesters might be kind enough to put out said fire.
Thankfully I had registered for the event so me and my pink squeaky phallic friend (carefully concealed in my jacket) decided to go in.
Military on security
I went to the first security check point which was at the front driveway to the hotel. The guards asked for my ID, and while I was getting it out I noticed one of the guys had an army badge pinned to his lapel.
I asked him if he was military and he confirmed that all security present today were army personnel. Bloody hell! Seemed a bit excessive for a “trade” roadshow!
Finally I got to the actual entrance to the building, which was covered by numerous security guards and police. More ID checks, bag searches, and even some photographs taken.
The police informed me they had quite a presence here today, and pointed to one of the conference rooms which was filled with numerous police personnel.
I told them that I hoped to make an interesting work day for them, they laughed and left me to it.
One of the waiter staff came over to me, and warned me to be careful inside as one lady had been kicked out literally for saying “boo” when MFAT were presenting. I was appalled that this could even happen, so I went in to check it out for myself.
I arrived at the Q&A session, which was meant to be an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and questions to MFAT and David Walker (Chief Negotiator of the TPPA).
Enforcer of propaganda
Sean Plunkett was meant to be MCing the event, but a more accurate description of his actual role would have been enforcer of propaganda.
I stood at the back of the room and listened for a while. There is full video footage of this event, but the general gist was every time someone stood at the microphone and politely voiced a concern they had about the TPPA they were immediately shut down by Sean Plunkett who informed them that they were to ask a question or sit down.
A lot of people tried to explain that to ask their question they needed to explain the background information, but they were repeatedly shut down. Any time someone’s question went for more than 10 seconds, they were shut down.
And the very few questions that actually were able to be asked were either danced around by the officials, or flat out lied about.
It would be like if you asked someone what their age was, and they responded by saying, “I have an age, it’s a very good age, I’ve been this age for a while, and it’s the best age for New Zealand at the moment”, but without at all addressing the actual question!
People were getting understandably upset by this reception, one elderly lady even told Sean Plunkett “it is a very scary thing to stand up here and ask my question in front of a large group of people, and I’d like to think you’d show me some respect”.
He didn’t. He interrupted her, shouted at her, and told her to either ask her question or sit down. She was shaking and tearful by the end of it. It was absolutely disgusting, and it honestly hurt my soul to see the community trying to honestly and respectfully partake in this “rogue show” only to be disrespected and cruelly bullied by our government and their henchmen.
My turn at the microphone
I’d decided that I’d seen enough, so lined up at the microphone for my turn to have a say. I got to the microphone and announced that on behalf of the vast majority of New Zealanders I would like to present David Walker with New Zealand’s very first Dick of the Year Award.
I whipped out my pink friend, and held it staunchly in the air for the room to see. Sean Plunkett at this point tried to interject, at which point I loudly and proudly told him “you were a very close second for this award ‘Shane’ with the way you were carrying on today”.
I knew his name was Sean, I just wanted to show him a sliver of the disrespect that he had shown the good people of Christchurch today. Security came and escorted me away (very gently I must say!) from a room full of applause, cheers, and yahoos!
As I was being taken away I shouted, “but you are so deserving of this award dear David, you have put in so much work to earn this honour, you simply must accept it!”
Police came and walked me out of the building, stating they thought it was pretty funny, and that they were very surprised I didn’t actually throw the toy at David.
We laughed, and I said that I would have absolutely loved to but that I’d probably pushed the boundaries with the law enough currently.
I went back to the beautiful and vibrant protest group that was outside the event….all day I must add. Big ups!
Water pistol protest
About ten minutes later the roadshow broke for lunch, so I went and grabbed a water pistol (onsite from our thwarted original action idea), and eagerly waited at the gate for one of the villains to exit the premises.
I was rewarded rather quickly, as an MFAT officially approached me almost immediately. He smiled, laughed and said, “before you shoot me can I please explain to you why the TPPA is so good”.
I said cheekily to him “you can try!” He went on to tell me that the TPPA is so wonderful for New Zealand and that we need to be in it to win it, wank wank wank.
I smiled at him and yelled “not good enough!” and squirted him, a lot, in the face with the water pistol. It was all very friendly, and we both had a good laugh.
Suddenly I was grabbed from behind by a police officer, I had my arm twisted behind my back, heavy flexion put on my wrists and was marched down the street. He shouted at me, “you are under arrest for disorderly conduct!”
I was incredibly shocked by this heavy handed approach to a bit of playful protest. The MFAT official came over and told the police officer that it was fine, and that he most certainly did not want to press charges.
Our film crews came over and started recording. The police officer continued to put heavy flexion on my wrists, repeating that I was under arrest.
A potential martyr
I asked him to please loosen his hold on me because he was hurting me. He ignored me. I appealed to him again and said that I was not resisting or any risk to anybody, and would he would please stop hurting me.
I reminded him the cameras were recording everything, and that he was potentially about to make a martyr for our cause by arresting me.
He confirmed that the MFAT official did not want to lay charges, and then let me go, telling me to “pull my …… head in”. It is worth noting that apart from this specific police officer, all of the police on site were polite and pleasant, and seemed supportive of our cause.
From my observations today these roadshows labelled as public consultation were actually heavily enforced propaganda missions dead set on annihilating any public discussion.
They were policed and secured to such a high level, one has to wonder if this “trade” deal is so great for our country why on earth would 30 police and 40 military personnel be required to protect a presentation about it?
The vast majority of New Zealanders remain staunch against this absolute violation of our sovereignty, and the government are frightened. We can and we will still stop this.
As with any movement, things need to gain momentum to continue progressing and growing. If we look at previous successes such as the Suffragettes, the Civil Rights Movement, the Springbok tour, Nuclear-Free NZ, it is clear that direct action and strategic civil disobedience are required.
Every time you see a National MP, every time Prime Minister John Key tries to come to your town, I strongly encourage you to stand up and let our “dear leaders” know that if they try to trample on our country and our human rights then they are no longer welcome here!
Josie Butler is a human rights activist. This column was published first on The Daily Blog.