16 Aug 2015

TPP protests 'send a clear message'

11:42 am on 16 August 2015

A prominent opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) says the number of people throughout New Zealand who turned up to march in the rain against the deal sends a strong signal to the Government that it's not wanted.

Wellington's protesters chant, clap and jeer on the steps of Parliament as guest speakers address the crowd

Wellington's protesters chant, clap and jeer on the steps of Parliament as guest speakers address the crowd Photo: RNZ

Thousands of people throughout the country protested publicly yesterday, with marches and rallies in 21 cities and towns.

Full coverage of yesterday's rallies, as they happened

Negotiations for the proposed trade deal - involving New Zealand and 11 other countries - stalled in Hawaii two weeks ago, but the Government still hopes it can be signed this year.

In Auckland, organisers estimated 10,000 people marched down Queen Street and gathered outside the US consulate in Customs St East, chanting slogans.

Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey said yesterday's turnout showed the Government how unpopular the deal was.

"I'm no good at numbers, I'm just really happy so many people turned up in this lousy weather, not just in Auckland but throughout the country...I think the turnout has put paid to any suggestions by the trade minister that people are politically irrelevant for opposing this deal," she said.

"Over the last couple of months people come to understand the issues, especially as those like the Doctors for Healthy Trade have become more public in their concerns, and as the window for doing the deal closes tighter I think people are now taking it really seriously."

A member of the group Doctors for Healthy Trade, Dr Joshua Freeman, speaking at Aotea Square in Auckland's CBD, said the deal would threaten New Zealanders' healthcare, and make medicines more expensive.

He said under the deal, New Zealand would get less medicines for the same amount of money.

"The price of medicines will go up, it will have to be made up somehow, through the health budget, it may mean other areas of the health budget are diverted -to spend more on medicines," he said.

Dr Freeman said it was unlikely the health budget would be able to expand enough to cover the shortfall.

He said there would also be problems formulating health policy.

"If we wanted to be able to change our food labelling laws, or put restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children in future, then that could be met with a challenge from industry," he said.

Police hold their line at Parliament against the protesters

Police hold their line at Parliament against the protesters. Photo: RNZ

In Wellington, an estimated 8,000 people marched to Parliament Grounds, where some protesters pushed through barricades in an attempt to reach the steps of Parliament.

The police said they were able to stop them before they got there, and no arrests were made.

A spokesperson for the campaign group It's Our Future, Edward Miller, said the protest let the Government know how angry the public was over the secrecy surrounding the negotiations.

"If this deal was was being negotiated in the light of day then it would have fallen apart a long time ago. This is fundamentally undemocratic, and it cuts away our rights, it attacks our state-owned enterprises, and our health system, it's not in anyone's interest in this country," he said.

It was also raining in Christchurch, where about 1000 people protested in Hagley Park.

More than 1000 protesters march up Riccarton Road in Christchurch

More than 1000 protesters march up Riccarton Road in Christchurch Photo: RNZ

One of them, Bill, told Radio New Zealand News signing the TPP would be a big mistake.

"It's only aimed to help those at the top, those running low-wage economies, there's no reason for us to accept rock-bottom wages, we cannot compete with those at the bottom of the heap, we should be competing with those at the top, and the TPPA won't help us to do that in any way," he said.

And in Dunedin, where 1500 people marched up George St to the Octagon, an organiser, Jen Olsen, said it was the fourth protest held in the city and by the far the biggest.

"If the tide of political and public opinion turns against the TPP, the National Party are likely to think this could be a very unpopular thing for them, very unpopular come the next election, once people find out the consequences," she said.

Protesters in Dunedin

Protesters in Dunedin Photo: RNZ

Professor Jane Kelsey said the protesters would continue to fight the deal.

"The problem is, everything's underground, so we're going to have to wait until either the Government tells us, or more likely, someone from offshore tells us, what's happening," she said.