29 Jan 2016

Little attempts to keep lid on TPP tensions

7:26 am on 29 January 2016

Labour leader Andrew Little is attempting to keep a lid on brewing tensions in his caucus over the party's position on the Trans-Pacific free trade deal.

Labour MP Phil Goff, left, and leader Andrew Little at the Australian Parliament in Canberra on 25 November 2015.

Phil Goff and Andrew Little in Canberra in 2015 Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

After being reluctant to make his party's position clear, Mr Little has finally said Labour does not support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in its current form.

But Mr Little has already had to give senior MP Phil Goff special permission to cross the floor to vote with the government for the agreement and has now had to discipline another senior MP, David Shearer, for speaking out.

Prime Minister John Key said Mr Goff and Mr Shearer's support for the trade agreement was a problem for the opposition leader.

"It's actually a major upfront sort of challenge, I think, to the leadership of Andrew Little. Not that they want to be leader themselves but they are essentially saying they will not support what the leader is saying."

Trade Minister Todd McClay said Phil Goff was right to support the TPP and had no doubt there were many other Labour MPs who also wanted to support the deal.

Todd McClay

Trade Minister Todd McClay Photo: NZ Parliament

"I'm just a bit disappointed that Mr Little, you know under pressure in the polls, has decided to take Labour out on a limb here...

" I think there will be a few other Labour MP's that will be finding Mr Little's announcement extremely difficult to live with," he said.

Mr McClay said it would be catastrophic for New Zealand's economy if the TPP was not ratified.

Andrew Little said Labour's position did not mean the party was opposed to free trade.

"I'm not going to make any apology for the fact that this has been a difficult issue for the Labour Party because we are and we remain wedded to free trade and we've had good discussions. And we had a good discussion this week that we concluded on Tuesday. And now we have a position."

While Mr Goff has got permission to break with the party line, David Shearer has not.

Mr Shearer said he personally supported the TPP but he would be voting with his Labour colleagues along party lines.

However Mr Little said he would still be talking to him about the consequences of speaking out publicly in support of the trade deal.

"I've had a conversation with David, principally about the remarks he's made, I've yet to have another conversation because all caucus members know that caucus collective responsibility is vital."

One Labour MP, Damien O'Connor, who crossed the floor in 2014 over a native timber bill, said the party had the country's best interests at heart by opposing the TPP.

"In this particular situation, my personal view is we can't trust [former Trade Minister] Tim Grosser and John Key to have done the best deal for New Zealand in the long-term."

Mr Goff said he respected his party's position on the TPP, but as a former Trade Minister he took a different view.

"As [former trade] minister I took the steps that led to the negotiation for the TPP, I've always supported the opening up of markets for New Zealand exporters," he said.

The TPP is set to be signed in Auckland next Thursday.