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Gordon Campbell on Pharmac, Gough Whitlam and Sleater-Kinney

Gordon Campbell on Pharmac, Gough Whitlam and Sleater-Kinney

by Gordon Campbell

Ridiculous reported comments on RNZ this morning by Trade Minister Tim Groser, as he sought to dampen down concerns about yesterday’s leaked draft of the IP chapter of ther Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. According to Groser, ‘extreme’ positions are common at the outset of negotiations, and these get whittled down over the course of negotiations. Fine. Except that we’re not at the outset of these negotiations. The outset was six years ago, and negotiators were hoping to have some sort of ‘framework’ deal finished in time for the APEC meeting in a few weeks’ time. These ‘extreme’ positions are what we’ve reached near the intended end of the negotiations.

Still, Groser did promise that the cost of medicines would not rise as a result of the TPP trade deal. Great. But this is not what politicians in other countries are saying. In an article headlined “TPP Agreement Will 'Definitely' Raise Medicine Costs” Malaysian legislator Charles Santiago said flatly yesterday that ‘the cost of medicines will definitely increase’ if a TPP deal is completed. That would not be an unusual outcome. The recently concluded EU/Canada trade pact for instance, will also significantly raise the cost of medicines in Canada and for the same patent extension reasons.

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Good to see that New Zealand is among those countries pushing back against the IP proposals – which not only include the extension of drug patent terms and conditions, but some truly horrendous proposals to criminalise both (a) copyright infringements and (b) the release of information about corporate trade secrets, even if there is a public interest involved in the information being made public. Yet it remains unclear what New Zealand would regard as an acceptable trade-off for its IP positions. As mentioned in this column yesterday, the US was only last weekend pressuring Japan to make partial concessions on dairy trade. New Zealand would be one beneficiary. Re Pharmac, it would be more re-assuring if Groser would rule out any trade-offs on the IP chapter in return for enhanced market access for our dairy products to Japan.

Once again, the leaked draft has torpedoed one of the justifications for the cone of secrecy under which the TPP talks are being conducted. According to TPP apologists, the talks have to be kept secret because that’s how you negotiate; you need to keep your cards close to your chest. Bullshit. In the bracketed parts of the draft that signal which points are still in contention, the negotiating position of each country is spelled out. The negotiators know exactly what every other country is proposing, and exactly what its sticking points are on every single item still in contention.

Moreover, the corporations who have bought access to the texts also know the progress to date; it is their insider information that provides the basis for their lobbying. The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the general public. Incredibly, the public will be kept in the dark about any detail of how the TPP was negotiated for four years after the pact is concluded. Just how this condition could possibly be compatible with any proper parliamentary ratification of the TPP s easily answered: it wouldn’t be. With the TPP, the government is not only trading away national sovereignty, but the integrity of our parliamentary process.

The death of Gough Whitlam is a reminder about why New Zealand should become a republic. Democracy remains at risk from the ancient powers of a distant monarch. Anyone who thinks the monarchy is a nice, rather quaint way of ordering our affairs can look across the Tasman and see how the Queen’s representative can readily sabotage and dismiss a democratically elected government.

Whitlam was in power for only one term. In fact, that’s the striking thing about his obituary in the Guardian. Think about how little Helen Clark accomplished in three terms of office. Whitlam did all of this in just one three year term:

In a rapid program of reform it called “the program”, the Whitlam government created Australia’s national health insurance scheme, Medibank; abolished university fees; introduced state aid to independent schools and needs-based school funding; returned traditional lands in the Northern Territory to the Gurindji people; drafted (although did not enact) the first commonwealth lands right act; established diplomatic relations with China, withdrew the remaining Australian troops from Vietnam; introduced no-fault divorce laws; passed the Racial Discrimination Act; blocked moves to allow oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef; introduced environmental protection legislation; and removed God Save the Queen as the national anthem.

Sleater-Kinney returns!
In this month’s Werewolf music column that was dedicated to Sleater-Kinney, I talked about the “Run Fast” track from Kathleen Hanna’s comeback album with the Julie Ruin – but then mistakenly linked to a song by the Canadian band Alvvays. Got to put that right. So here’s “Run Fast” for real. It’s a fantastic song about growing up, growing wild, surviving your friends, surviving with them…Lovely video, too.

Big news though is…Sleater-Kinney has reformed, eight years after they went into hiatus in 2006. There’s a new album due in January, they’re touring again and a new single that’s recognisably them. Good as the single is, it will be just a shadow of how it will sound live. IMO, this is the greatest live band – ever. One reason why Sleater-Kinney is so beloved is the sense of community they embody. On stage, Janet, Carrie, Corin create something way beyond what they could ever do as individuals. And it's the happy feeling that the collective power of this great, great band is once again going to be unleashed on the world that has S-K fans doing cartwheels. Crap video from Miranda July, though.


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