So it’s game on. Next week, on February 4, our PM, on behalf of himself and others who, like him, still haven’t got their heads around the Treaty of Waitangi, will be signing the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement).

He’ll be flashing his smile, and perhaps his top shelf whisky too, at the bigwig visitors from overseas — and the line will be that this is a great day for New Zealand.

Actually, it’s not. It’s a day confirming that this government and far too many other New Zealanders have their priorities wrong — and are happy to chase after distant and mostly illusory riches rather than focusing on principles that we value. Like the Waitangi deal that gave us our founding document.

There is some consolation, of course, in that thousands of New Zealanders will be making the point that the signing sucks. And good on them for that.

But I’m going to miss the party. I can hardly believe it, but before we learned that February 4 was THE day, I’d been invited to Japan by the Peoples Action Against TPPA to talk to audiences in four cities over there.

The Japanese want to hear different perspectives about the opposition to the TPPA. And I’ve been asked to talk about why Māori are up in arms about it.

My first instinct was: “Wow. Never been there. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Yamagata.”

When my father was a soldier in the Korean War, he toured Japan as a member of our K-Force rugby team. He also started a Māori concert party that performed in schools and orphanages in Hiroshima. Dad spoke really warmly of the people of Japan and I’ve been curious about the country and culture ever since.

Then the penny dropped. Firstly, it will be sub-zero in Yamagata, which is well north of Tokyo.

Secondly, I’d be flying solo. I’ll be on stage with no band. Just me talking about the mother-of-all-trade-and-investment-agreements. For 40 minutes. To audiences who know little about New Zealand, and even less about Māori. And I’ll be doing that all through an interpreter.

I mentioned my misgivings to Jane Kelsey, who’s been at the forefront of New Zealand’s opposition to the TPPA.

I said: “I don’t know if I can … ”

Jane, who can be quite brisk, didn’t encourage any discussion.

“You’ll be right,” she said. And that was that. Except that I’ve been stressing out about this for the last two months — worrying about tariffs and other figures, and projected rises in GDP over 25 years or whatever time span. About 0.01 percent of this and 36 percent of that.

And then, boom. My salvation came in the form of the NZ Herald.

“TPPA signing an honour, let’s respect it.”

That headline stuck in my craw. Did someone mention honour? And respect?

So that set me thinking — and reconsidering what I might say in Japan. I realised that, of course, this issue isn’t about numbers. It’s about principles. Or, sadly, the lack of them.

When I talk to people in Japan about people in New Zealand, I’ll be going back to basics. And I’ll start my kōrero the way I begin each of my concerts overseas.

My mountain greets your mountain.
My river greets your river.
My people greet your people..“Where are you from?”

It’s very telling.

I’m going to explain to my audiences in Japan that the traditional worldview of indigenous peoples like Māori is that we (and our ancestors) are part and parcel of the natural environment. We’re not separate to or above it.

And so every tribe has a cultural and spiritual obligation to care for the land, ocean and natural environment — to keep the balance. It doesn’t matter if a racecourse or a shopping mall or a ski-field has been plonked smack bang in the middle of that land. That land (or foreshore) is, was, and always will be the domain of Ngāti Whātua or Tainui or Ngāi Tahu or some other hapū or iwi.

I’ll talk about the Treaty our lot signed with the British and how badly that’s gone for us. I’ll mention the Waitangi Tribunal and how there have been over 2,500 claims registered but fewer than 60 settled. And I might touch on how the government has decided that less than two cents in the dollar is quite enough compensation for any Māori losses.

I might suggest that, in a way, the TPPA is about locking in the status quo. If the government binds itself to obligations inconsistent with the Treaty, it effectively prevents Māori from seeking remedies for breaches in the future — and could encourage the Crown not to resolve outstanding Tribunal recommendations it’s been sitting on. Like the Wai262 Claim on flora, fauna, cultural and intellectual property.

My bet is the government will do anything to avoid triggering a dispute with one of the other parties to the TPPA. Landing in the Investor Disputes Settlement Tribunal could just about break a wee country like ours.

It’s not as if TPPA countries and their investors care about the Treaty of Waitangi either. Their only concern is their investments and their legal right to protect them.

I’ll also bring the Japanese up to speed on where Māori are now since we signed that Treaty in 1840.

I’ll explain that the wealthiest five percent of New Zealanders own nearly 40 percent of our country’s wealth — and that Māori now have only five percent of that wealth.

So, not only are we a minority, but we are now also the poorest — and we’re over represented in all the worst statistics. That’s our situation.

The Japanese may have seen the new Oxfam report this week that confirmed that one percent of the world’s population own more wealth than the other 99 percent combined.

And they may have already been paying attention to what Joseph Stiglitz has been saying. He used to be the Chief Economist of the World Bank and he sees “a real risk that it [the TPPA] will benefit the wealthiest sliver of the American and global elite at the expense of everyone else.”

So there’s a bit to talk about. And I’ll let them know that we’ll be pressing ahead with our Waitangi Tribunal claim against the TPPA in March. The main issues there are that the government’s process ignored Māori —and we have serious doubts that the Treaty of Waitangi exception clause (inserted into the TPPA by New Zealand’s negotiators) will provide any real protection.

I’m going to tell the Japanese that, contrary to the government’s spin, TPPA opponents are not anti-trade. And that Māori have a long history of trade and enterprise.

We also have a long history of not being able to trust the government. So we’re not remotely convinced by their argument, their guarantees or their figures. And we believe that the cost to us as a people, and a country, is potentially way too high.

When I was performing in Aussie this month, people told me their politicians had done a slick job of drawing attention away from the TPPA. This week, some friends from Germany came around for dinner — and they talked about the massive protests across Europe from opponents of TTIP, the equivalent to TPPA. They spoke, too, of the widespread German frustration about the lack of transparency as the deal was cooked up.

The Japanese haven’t rolled over either. Last year, a former Cabinet minister, Masahiko Yamada, and more than 1000 citizens launched a lawsuit against the Japanese government on the grounds that signing the TPPA is unconstitutional.

This week, Lori Wallach from Global Trade Watch will tour New Zealand to explain how messy it is in Washington. She says that every US presidential candidate of either political party polling above 10 percent in any US state has opposed the TPPA.

On February 4, all eyes will be on Aotearoa. I’ll be tuning in from Tokyo where the Japanese will use Whole World Is Watching as their protest anthem.

You see, that’s another thing.

Recently, a journalist asked me if there was anything good about the TPPA. Well, yes. It’s pulled people together, from all walks of society —and right around the world.

We’re not just united in our opposition to the TPPA. We’re united in the values we share and the kind of future we want. It’s summed up quite nicely in that old saying about what’s the most important thing in the world.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata.
He tangata.
He tangata.


© e-tangata, 2016

TPPA Don't Sign Tour

St Andrews Centre, The Terrace, 7pm Wednesday 27th January

Cardboard Cathedral, 7pm Thursday 28th January

Burns Hall, Morray Place, 7pm Friday 29th January

Special guest speakers: Lori Wallach (US) Global Trade Watch and Jane Kelsey (NZ) Law Professor, University of Auckland

Free Entry


Commentary on the TTPA text is available at

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