Teresia Teaiwa on refugee rights in the Pacific: “Mana whenua leads to mana tangata”

Teresia Teaiwa is a poet and Pacific Studies academic in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Fightback previously interviewed Teresia here.

Ian Anderson interviews Teresia on recent media coverage of Australia’s offshore detention centres.

You have said that Australian refugee centres in Manus and Nauru are exploiting the desperation of those communities, alongside the widely-reported abuse of refugees. Who benefits from exploitation and abuse in Manus and Nauru?
Well, no one truly benefits from exploitation and abuse ever. Oppressors lose their humanity in the process of dehumanizing others.

But the primary beneficiaries of Australia’s policy of detaining asylum seekers, refugees, and other so-called undesirables offshore are corporations like Transfield Services and Serco. The operation of detention centres in Manus and on Nauru is part of a wider industrial network that links the privatisation of prisons with defence and mining. Companies that have received contracts from the Australian state to manage the detention centres have made millions of dollars in profit—by providing minimal and sub-standard living conditions.

Of course, theoretically, the people of Manus and Nauru are supposed to benefit from the detention centres as well. I remember in the early 2000s that the huge attraction of the detention centre for Nauruans was the promise of a regular fresh water and electricity supply. In both the Manus and Nauru cases, jobs and income are considered direct benefits of the detention centres for locals.

But this is my concern: the detention centres are part of a perverse pattern of negative development. Nauru has already been environmentally decimated by phosphate mining, and to go from an extractive industry to a detention centre is nothing more than a downward spiral. No one can be uplifted by the detention—indeed, the inhumane imprisonment—of others.

In an interview with E-Tangata, you recently warned of the danger of painting a people with just one brush stroke. Is this also the warning you are offering about portrayals of Nauru in recent media coverage?
My problem with the media coverage of Manus and Nauru, especially by the New Zealand and Australian media, is that the interest has been solely driven by the detention centres. Prior to the establishment of Australia’s offshore detention centres in 2001, there was little media interest in Manus or Nauru. Of course, the media industry needs crisis in order to invest resources in investigating and reporting stories. But if we continue to use the brush stroke metaphor, what we’ve got is Manus and Nauru being painted by the media solely as detention centres, and we get very little sense of these places having a life beyond this as a reason for being.

Unfortunately, the well-meaning activism that has emerged in response to the horrific abuses of detainees has also fallen into the trap of painting Manus and Nauru as simply sites. You get placards and slogans that say “Close Nauru” or “Shut Down Manus”—as if that’s all they are—sites that can be maintained or closed down at will. Then there are the slogans that go “Hell exists and it’s on Nauru,” and the constant pairing of “hell” with the images of Manus and Nauru.

Frankly, it’s disturbing to me that human rights activists’ concerns seem to extend only to the detainees and do not seek a larger analysis of the kind of underdevelopment or negative development that makes it necessary for the communities of Manus and Nauru to accept detention centres as a solution to their development challenges.

What would policy/news/activism look like if the well-being of the people of Manus and Nauru was always kept at the centre of considerations? I feel certain that if the welfare of Manusians and Nauruans was put first, there would either be no detention centres, or the detainees would actually be well cared for.

How does your own whakapapa interact with your take on this story?
I whakapapa to Banaba or Ocean Island, which is Nauru’s twin phosphate island. The Nauruans have an oral tradition that Banaba was formed as the result of a traumatic event on Nauru.

I have had relatives and friends who have lived, worked, and married on Nauru, and I was able to visit there twice in the 1990s. I developed a great affection for the island and people from those two visits—I fell in love with the geography, especially the pinnacle formations along the coast, and the Buada Lagoon inland. But what made me realise that Nauru had so much more to offer the world than phosphate was the experience I had of running a family history workshop through the University of the South Pacific’s Nauru Centre in 1997. The Nauruan participants came from a range of ages and experiences, but what they had in common was an incredible wealth of both indigenous and worldly knowledge, a wicked sense of humour, and serious story-telling talent. I’m not sure if any of the writing from that workshop ever got published, but if outsiders could read those stories, they might be able to see how Nauru is more than just a site for Australia’s human refuse.

I have not been to Manus, but I remember when I was on my way to Madang last year, that one of the ground staff at Brisbane airport assumed that I was going to Manus when I presented my paperwork at the check-in desk. I was a bit alarmed by that—just wondering, how much traffic is there from Australia to Manus? I have a friend who has Manus whakapapa, and she was telling me that her father’s people are well-known among Papua New Guineans as peaceful and welcoming. So when the riot broke out at the detention centre there early last year and a local employee and PNG police were implicated in the events and the death of Reza Barati, she felt strongly that the detention centre was a deeply corrosive influence in the community.

As a Pacific person and as a Pacific Studies scholar living and working in Aotearoa New Zealand, I recognise that Papua New Guinea and Nauru are quite peripheral to our very Polynesian-centric sense of the Pacific. But ultimately, the indigenous peoples of the Pacific all do share the same ancestry. And the question becomes whether we care about these fellow human beings who are distant relatives of ours or not?

As you’ve noted about Britain, even imperialist nations can’t be painted with one brush stroke. Australia certainly has its own refugee rights movement, alongside a strong racist current even among the working majority. How much hope do you hold for anti-imperialist movements in countries like Australia and New Zealand?
I’d like to see more connections made between the refugee rights movement, anti-imperialist movements and indigenous rights movements in Australia and New Zealand. As I’ve said, I find it disturbing that movements concerned about refugee rights can be so disinterested in the welfare of Manusians and Nauruans, let alone Aboriginal Australians or Māori.

Unfortunately, human rights discourse these days often falls short of critiquing imperialism. And some of our socialist comrades are pretty quick to buy into one-dimensional representations of Papua New Guineans and Nauruans as primitivist brutes, without trying to nuance their analyses—not trying to understand, for example, what complex social tensions might be at play in the indigenous societies of Manus and Nauru under the circumstances.

It’s important to note, too, that the refugees and asylum seekers have quite fixed ideas about the Pacific Islands in which they find themselves detained. You can’t blame them when they are seeing the islands through the bars and fences of detention centres.

Some are very clear about the kind of life that they are after: they did not risk their lives leaving one “third world” country in order to end up in another “third world” country. But most would much rather not have had to leave their homes in the first place.

Our problem is that we have such gross inequalities across the globe, and too many of the citizens of rich countries just don’t understand how their affluence is actually a result of the impoverishment and endangerment of so many people in other countries.

In the last few days, we’ve seen riots at Australia’s Christmas Island detention centre, and our own Prime Minister John Key describe detainees as “rapists and murderers.” Do you have any comments on this unfolding situation?
From what I understand the Prime Minister was actually incorrect in his categorization of the New Zealanders being detained on Christmas Island. It’s unacceptable for a Prime Minister to be so misinformed and to spread such misinformation.

It’s also supremely ironic that someone who risked his life in military service for New Zealand and received decorations for his efforts and also at one time provided security for the Prime Minister, would find himself detained at Christmas Island as well, once he was no longer deemed a desirable immigrant in Australia.

I hope that those New Zealanders who have only begun to get interested in Australia’s detention policy because they are concerned about the welfare of their fellow citizens are able to then connect the dots to see how the logic behind the detention of asylum seekers and refugees might very easily be used against them one day.

Some of the larger questions here are about who gets to have freedom of movement across national borders, and who gets to have human rights?

Christmas Island also interests me as it is an island that attracted phosphate mining in the twentieth century like Banaba and Nauru. For me, the relentless extraction of our planet’s resources is part of the very phenomenon that produces the refugee and immigration crises we are witnessing today.

Quite simply, if people were able to look after their ancestral lands, and make fully informed choices about the kind of lives they wanted to lead, there’s a good chance we would not be in this situation.

Do you have any comments on New Zealand’s refugee policy?
There’s currently a huge debate in Hawai‘i about whether the state can accommodate refugees from Syria when Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiians make up a significant proportion of the state’s homeless population, and Micronesian migrants who are already there are facing animosity from state residents and exclusion from state services.

New Zealand has one of the lowest intakes of refugees per capita among OECD nations. And just like Hawai‘i, questions can be raised about whether New Zealand has any business increasing its refugee quota when its own people aren’t being looked after—for example, the almost 1 in 4 children living in poverty in this country. But whether we’re thinking about 260,000 New Zealand children living in poverty, or whether to raise the quota from 700 to 1200 for refugees desperately looking for safe shelter, what demands our careful attention is how the wealth and resources of this country are distributed.

But as I said earlier in relation to Manus and Nauru, we have to challenge ourselves to think about what policy/news/activism could look like if Māori were at the centre of our consideration. It won’t make things easier, by any means. But it would be a radical improvement on the way decisions are made and actions are being taken or not taken now.

What sort of coalitions are necessary, in your opinion, to undermine Australia’s regime?
If you’re talking about the regime of Australia’s detention centres, there need to be some strategic coalitions around shaping public opinion both in Australia and internationally. One important area of focus should be Australia’s bid to chair the UN Human Rights Council. Australia does not deserve to chair that council, and if human rights NGOs, indigenous rights and anti-imperialist movements can mobilize to get their bid defeated through lobbying among the G77 countries, especially, then I think we will empower Australians to hold their country more accountable for the appalling human rights abuses in the detention centres. If Australia wins their bid, there will be no incentive for the government to make any changes, because becoming chair of the UN Human Rights Council will essentially vindicate the current policy.

What can readers of this article do to challenge Australia’s abuses?
It is truly sad to me that in their first encounter with each other, Somalians and Nauruans, Iranians and Manusians, for example, are not given the chance to truly recognise each other’s dignity. This is because their encounters are being mediated by the Australian state and its contracted proxies.

Readers of this article need to demonstrate their solidarity with and concern for BOTH the refugees and the people of Nauru and Manus. The readers of this article need to put pressure on their governments and elected officials to demand accountability—and more importantly, CHANGE—from the Australian government in relation to the abuses in its offshore detention centres.

Some of the media point out that Nauru has an authoritarian government that is curbing international media access and also tampering with the judiciary and perverting the rule of law. The government of Papua New Guinea is also facing accusations of corruption and poor governance.

I hope that readers of this article will think critically about a) how Australia’s detention centre policy is exploiting the weaknesses of the governments in Nauru and PNG; b) how successive Australian governments are continuing to foster the negative development of these countries—replicating Australia’s colonial history in both countries; and c) how some New Zealanders are actually in the same detention centres as refugees; d) how Aboriginal Australians and Māori might have or make common cause with the people of Nauru and Manus, and e) how those of us who are not indigenous to Australia and New Zealand would benefit by putting indigenous people’s interests before what we believe might be our own. If we take time to think about these things, I believe that right action will flow.

Any last thoughts?
You sent me these questions before the Paris attacks, so that has been heavy on my mind as I’ve been reflecting on the situation in Australia’s detention centres in the Pacific…Australia’s “Pacific Solution.”

If the Pacific is to be a solution, it will not be in the way that Australian policy is currently positioning it.

One thing that is very clear is that Paris and Beirut and Nauru and Manus and Syria and Somalia and Afghanistan and Iran and Iraq and Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and New Zealand are all connected. But we are being connected in ways that are not of our own making. We need to reclaim our own sovereignty over these connections.

My Banaban community was relocated to Fiji by the British between 1945 and 1947—ostensibly with our leaders’ consent, but I wouldn’t say it was full and informed consent. Once we got to Fiji, and after we got over our disorientation, we realised that we could not depend on the British to safeguard our future—after all, they were gleefully mining our homeland. So we found out whose indigenous lands we had been moved to, and we paid tribute to them, acknowledging their customary stewardship. As Banabans, we never forget that we’re living in someone else’s land. That’s a lesson that has informed my understanding of what it means to be a migrant myself, and I think it’s an important paradigm shift to make.

We cannot assume that the government that welcomes or rejects or detains refugees is representative of the indigenous people of the land. Europe has lost much of its sense of indigeneity and because of World War II keeps conflating indigeneity with ethno-nationalism. But Pacific people should not surrender our ethics of hosting to either our own governments or the governments of other countries. Māori are good at asserting mana whenua. I guess that’s what I’m talking about: mana whenua leads to mana tangata; without the former, you can’t get the latter.

“One ocean, one people” – Interview with Teresia Teaiwa on self-determination struggles in the Pacific

Teresia Teaiwa speaks at Capitalism: Not Our Future (photograph by Bronwen Beechey).

Teresia Teaiwa speaks at Capitalism: Not Our Future (photograph by Bronwen Beechey).

Teresia Teaiwa is a poet and founding academic of Pacific Studies in Aotearoa/NZ, who spoke on the gender panel at Fightback’s 2014 public conference Capitalism: Not Our Future. Teresia recently attended an international workshop on self-determination in Papua New Guinea. Ian Anderson interviewed her for Fightback.

You recently attended a workshop in Papua New Guinea. What was this all about?
The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC), Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG), Social Empowerment Education Program (Fiji) and the Bismarck Ramu Group (Papua New Guinea) collaborated to organize this event called the “Madang Wansolwara Dance 2014” [Wansolwara means “one ocean, one people”]. The gathering brought community-based organisations, activists, artists, academics and theologians together in order to re-ignite a movement of solidarity across the Pacific. Close to 200 participants from Hawai’i, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Vanuatu, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and Papua New Guinea (PNG) explored issues of grassroots sustainability and national self-determination in the face of the relentless assaults of extractive industries, militarization, consumerism and colonialism. A crucial dimension of the gathering was a commitment to putting artistic and creative practice at the centre of our activism—the genres of art we focused on were visual art, poetry, music, and dance. The gathering was described as a dance rather than as a conference, because its structure and philosophy was not at all that of a conventional conference. Three of us went from Wellington: myself, my son Mānoa who is studying dance at Whitireia, and one of our Pacific Studies Honours graduates, Tekura Moeka‘a, who is a Cook Islands dancer and choreographer. A contingent of slam poets came from Hawai’i; visual artists came from the University of the South Pacific in Fiji; there were musicians from the University of Goroka in PNG; yam farmers from PNG and Vanuatu; forestry workers from PNG; social workers from FSM and West Papua; landowners from Fiji and Aotearoa and tribal chiefs from PNG and Vanuatu; theologians from West Papua, Australia, Fiji and Te Ao Ma‘ohi (French Polynesia)—it was quite an amazing gathering of people, perspectives and skills!

What are some of the ongoing struggles in Papua New Guinea?
It’s important to remember that PNG occupies roughly one half of the second largest island in the world. PNG is also the Pacific Island region’s most populous country at 7 million; it is the most linguistically diverse with over 1000 distinct languages at a recent count, and it is also the most rich in natural resources. The “Madang Wansolwara Dance 2014” was held in a province of PNG (Madang) that harbors mining industry, logging, tuna fisheries and a cannery. Over the six days we were there, we learned that ongoing struggles include a) preventing the rampant exploitation of the country’s vast resources; b) ensuring the equitable re-distribution of wealth generated from both foreign investment and local industry; c) developing strong governance systems that allow for robust civic participation and state and corporate accountability. It’s hard for us in this part of the Pacific to imagine how much wealth is being extracted out of PNG, I mean they’ve just delivered on an 18+billion dollar liquefied national gas project with BP! So it should have one of the highest per capita incomes in our region, it should be able to sustain a high quality infrastructure and provide decent medical services and education to all its citizens, but it can’t because the wealth that isn’t going off-shore is held in the hands of politicians and other local elites, and that ‘wealth’ is based on the destruction of the environment. One of the newspaper headlines that greeted us when we landed in Port Moresby was that the Fly River, the second longest river in the country, was dead. This was a consequence of untreated waste from the Ok Tedi open pit copper and gold mines being discharged into the Fly and Ok Tedi rivers.

What was the main message you took away from the discussion of struggles in Papua New Guinea?
Before going to Madang, it was easy to be influenced by the foreign media’s preoccupation with violence and security issues in the country. The main message that I took away from our gathering was that things are a lot more complex there, and while it seems logical to work to eliminate things like inter-tribal warfare, raskol attacks and gender-based violence from everyday life in PNG, we need to be vigilant about the way that ‘security’, ‘peace’ and even women’s rights can effectively be coopted into the agendas of government and large corporations—that aren’t really about security or peace or women’s rights, but about making it easier to extract natural resources. It’s heart-breaking to think that the cost of what is perceived to be ‘peace’ might have to be national, cultural, political, economic and environmental sovereignty.

What’s the connection between the movement in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in the Pacific, particularly Aotearoa/NZ?
The main connection is that we are facing similar types of economic logics, and the same type of corporate and state collusions around extractive industries. Our demographics are rather different, though. PNG’s population of 7 million has an indigenous majority. Aotearoa New Zealand does not have an indigenous majority—Māori are 15% of the population at the latest census. While Māori understand their need to be actively involved in decisions around mining, Pasifika people as a migrant group constituting 7% of the population and largely urban-based, may not be as alert to the implications of extractive industries for them. Also, with mining being a mainly terrestrial activity in the Pacific in the last century, the centre of gravity was mainly in Melanesia, so Melanesians have a longer history and familiarity with these industries, while the Polynesians who have been migrating to New Zealand haven’t really had to think too much about it. In the 21st century, however, with the advent of deep sea mining technology, countries with small land areas but huge marine territories granted to them under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention are now being encouraged to exploit their sea beds. The Cook Islands is one of those countries. With over 61,000 Cook Islanders living in New Zealand and less than 15,000 back in the islands, this means that Cook Islanders in New Zealand will need to educate themselves pretty quickly about the costs and benefits of proposed sea bed mining in their homeland. Hopefully, they’ll be able to learn some valuable lessons from their cousins in Aotearoa New Zealand as well as in Melanesia.

You brought copies of the Fightback magazine as a gift. How were these recieved?
Yes, I did. I took copies of the Fightback magazine as well as copies of Kassie Hartendorp’s booklet on Women, Class and Revolution over to Madang as gifts. Some I presented to individuals who I thought would especially appreciate them, and others I left on a gift table, and they all got snapped up! One PNG participant used the Fightback magazine as a kind of memento book that he asked everyone to sign and write notes of encouragement or their email addresses on. That was really cool!

What opportunities can you see for deepening the connection between self-determination movements in this region?
I think this Wansolwara [“one ocean, one people”] movement is very promising, and really fills a gap that was left when the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) movement fell into inertia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Our next meeting is in Vanuatu in 2016, and there is a Youngsolwara (youth) meeting planned for Suva in 2015. Right now, I think it’s really important that the movement grows strong roots and branches in the Pacific Islands. As far as the Wansolwara movement in Wellington is concerned, when Mānoa, Tekura and I returned from Madang, we organized an evening session where we invited friends from the university and wider community to hear about our experiences and join the movement. Our focus in Wellington since we returned from Madang has been on building awareness about West Papua’s struggle for independence. We’ve been promoting the #WeBleedBlackandRed campaign that was started by PCC and PANG in Fiji to build regional awareness about West Papua, and we’ve also done a few actions around media freedom in West Papua. We’re also slowly building up a second stream around seabed mining, and Tekura and I made a joint written submission to Vanuatu’s first national consultation on deep sea mining earlier this month (October). We’re keen to work in solidarity with groups like Peace Movement Aotearoa and the Green Party, who have been the most consistent in reminding New Zealanders of their obligations to West Papua. I think we have a lot to learn from the dialogues and debates and formulations of a socialist position that go on in Fightback Aotearoa, too. But it’s crucial for us to develop our own ideological standpoint and a solid and autonomous constituency amongst Pasifika students and youth in this country.

Marshall Island poet speaks at UN climate summit

The people of Micronesia are some of the most at risk from climate change, yet some of the least responsible. Following this speech, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is supporting the direction action taking place in Australia tomorrow
From 350.org

“The fossil fuel industry is the biggest threat to our very existence as Pacific Islanders. We stand to lose our homes, our communities and our culture. But we are fighting back. This coming Friday thirty Pacific Climate Warriors, joined by hundreds of Australians, will peacefully blockade the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia using our traditional canoes.

United we will stand up to the fossil fuel industry and world leaders must join this fight in order to stand on the right of history.

With our heads raised high the people of the Pacific are not drowning, we are fighting. The biggest threat to our homes is the fossil fuel industry and we will not rest until our very existence is no longer threatened by their greed and endless extraction.

I stood before world leaders at the United Nations last month to remind them that the price of inaction on climate change is high for the whole world. To tackle it we need a drastic change from the course we are currently on. The Pacific Warriors are here to remind the world what that change of course entails.

It entails freeing ourselves from the stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry once and for all.

The choice to make this happen is within reach as in the case of the divestment movement which serves to directly challenge the social license of the industry.

It’s time for us all to stand with the Pacific Climate Warriors and all frontline communities around the world who will be hit first and worst by the catastrophic climate change if the fossil fuel industry continues unchallenged.

It is time to show the fossil fuel industry we are united in the fight for the future of this world!”

New Zealand state’s quandary in the Asia-Pacific

Asia PacificJared Phillips (reprinted from socialistvoice.org.nz)

In May, the US government brought criminal charges against five Chinese military officials for hacking into the systems of US energy and steel companies. They stole trade secrets and conducted economic espionage.

The Chinese government retaliated by urging domestic banks to remove high-end servers made by IBM and replace them with locally-made servers. Technology companies operating in China are now being vetted and state-owned companies have been instructed to cut ties with US consulting firms. These developments are examples of increased tensions between the US and China.

US-China tensions dominate region
The Asia-Pacific region is one of the main arenas where US-China tensions play out. A new order is developing in East Asia after 40 years of relative stability. In many ways the world is moving from being ‘unipolar’ to ‘bipolar’ for the first time since the fall of the USSR in 1991.

China has seen huge economic growth over the past 30 years. It experienced 10% annual growth rates from 1985 to 2011. While China’s per capita GDP is far behind the US, its overall GDP is gaining ground. This gives China a significant amount of strategic and political weight on the world stage.
At the same time the position of the US in East Asia is in decline. Between 2000 and 2012, the US’s share of trade to East Asia fell from 19.5% to 9.5%. China’s share rose from 10% to 20% in the same period. In 2009 US President Obama announced the “Pivot to Asia” foreign policy, an attempt to check China’s emergence as a challenger to US dominance in the region.

Increased US-New Zealand military cooperation
In mid-2012 the NZ and US governments signed the Washington Declaration which set out to achieve regular high-level dialogue and enhanced cooperation between the two nations. In 2013 there was a meeting of Pacific Army Chiefs which was co-chaired by New Zealand and the US. Following this meeting the NZ Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman and US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel made a joint press release announcing further military cooperation.
Coleman said “Our defence relationship with the US is in great shape, and provides a strong platform for working closely together in the future”. In many ways US-NZ military relations are the strongest since the ANZUS relationship ended in 1984.

The closer co-operation is not merely a result of a set of National Party policies. It stems from the needs of New Zealand business interests. New Zealand plays the role of a mini-imperialist force in the region attached to the US.

The New Zealand government began patching up relations with the US in the early 2000s. The Labour Party sought to straddle the US-Franco tensions but ultimately sided with US imperialism by making commitments to the so-called “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Labour’s election adverts in 2002 sought to promote this relationship with images of then US Secretary of State Colin Powell with a voice-over message saying that we are “very, very good friends”.

Up until this year National has civilianised military roles and cut military spending. However for 2014 National has allocated an increase of $100 million to military spending. This is part of an additional $535 million being allocated over the next four years, and has essentially been a restructure based on the needs of the US in the Asia-Pacific region.

NZ and China’s strong economic links
The world economic crisis has not had such a dramatic effect on New Zealand as it has on other regions. This is because New Zealand’s economic integration is strongest with Australia and China, whose economies remained relatively stable for the first years of the crisis.

There are more New Zealand companies with overseas production engagements in China than any other country. In 2013 China became New Zealand’s biggest export destination. This was the first time in decades that the biggest destination was not Australia. New Zealand’s next strongest links are with Australia, and the Australian economy is also intimately linked with China.

The Chinese economy has grown by around 7.5% over the last year. This is a slowdown on the 10% growth China had experienced for decades before the crisis began to take effect. With the slowdown, Chinese corporate debt has increased by up to 260% in the period between 2008 and 2013. Local government debt has also increased.

China is facing a crisis of overcapacity and its main export markets are struggling with low growth. This further drives China’s need to conquer new markets and exploit cheap resources in the region.

TPPA an attempt to strengthen US influence
The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) did not initially include the US but the US joined it and has sought to dominate the negotiations. From the US Government’s perspective, the agreement is an attempt to counter China’s emergence as a power in the region.

The agreement would serve the interests of big corporations and empower them against states. It would establish trade tribunals to regulate disputes between companies and states. This would equate to bringing neo-liberal economic policies into law. A corporation could sue a state for introducing laws that undermine profits and violate the TPPA. Such measures would hamper the ability of working people to fight for reforms.

In the negotiations the US have often used heavy-handed tactics and this has caused other countries to hesitate to sign. The National government is currently trying to turn its own stalling to an advantage by saying it will not sign without the support of the population. However National has engaged undemocratically in the negotiations and the Labour Party has not opposed them. The truth is that National is currently recoiling because aspects of the US’s corporate agenda are at odds with aspects of New Zealand’s corporate agenda. This is just one of the dilemmas NZ big business faces.

Pacific Islands
While the capitalist class is collaborating in order to advance its interests, the left and workers’ movements must also seek to build links between working people and the poor in the region. The Pacific Islands will be of particular importance.

The fight against climate change in New Zealand and other advanced economies must be intensified to help prevent further climate change displacement of the people on these islands. For those who have already been forced to flee, we must fight for their rights as refugees.

In some Pacific nations up to half the population rely on money sent from family members in New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere. It is imperative that socialists and the workers’ movement play a leading role supporting full equal rights for Pacific workers.

Future struggle
The situation in the Asia Pacific region is becoming more fraught. While the New Zealand ruling class has hedged its bets with US imperialism, the economy is also highly dependent the US’s main imperialist rival, China. On the face of it, New Zealand’s domestic situation appears relatively stable. However, an analysis of the regional situation reveals that there is much scope for destabilisation in the years ahead.

It is clear that economic and political rivalries will continue to sharpen in this part of the world. The only way this can be resolved in a positive way is if working people throughout the region unite their struggles and fight for an alternative to the system that pits nations and people against each other.
While democracy struggles in places like Fiji and Tonga must be supported, we should argue that only by transforming society along socialist lines will we really be able to address the issues ordinary people face. A socialist federation of the region would promote cooperation and the democratic sharing of resources. This is the alternative to oppression and imperialist aggression.

MANA gets it right on Pacific migration

Many Pasifika migrants work in fruit-picking through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

Many Pasifika migrants work in fruit-picking through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

by Byron Clark.

Following questions directed at Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse from opposition MPs and media regarding a meeting with businessman and National Party donor Donghua Liu, who in Woodhouses words “had ideas about investor policies and his experience as a migrant coming in” Woodhouse rejected the idea that the meeting was controversial, claiming there were “hundreds of examples” of people who don’t donate to political parties who have access to him and other ministers.

The MANA movement responded by issuing a press release inviting the minister to make a house call “to discuss the matter of a struggling family of three children, one of whom has a medical condition which a medical expert said would be exacerbated in a hot Pacific climate and advised strongly against the child being forced to live there”.

Significant was the statement from MANA co-president John Minto: “MANA wants to discuss with the Minister why the government discriminates against Pacific people from Tonga and Samoa while it puts out the welcome mat for anyone from Australia – irrespective of skills or any other criteria. An Australian can get off the plane, get a job and no-one bats an eyelid but Tongan and Samoan people face demeaning discrimination to enter New Zealand.”

While locally there isn’t a groundswell of support for opening New Zealand’s borders to people from the Pacific, regional labour mobility has been a key demand of Pacific countries in the ongoing negotiations for a successor to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER). “The reality is that without substantive commitments on labour mobility and development assistance, [Australia and New Zealand] will be the major beneficiaries of this Agreement.” Robert Sisilo, Lead Spokesperson for the Forum Island Countries (FICs) told the Solomon Star News on May 5th.

“We have three main demands on Labour Mobility, namely the legal certainty of the RSE and SWP labour schemes, removal of the caps or increasing the current numbers and to include employment sectors in which the FICs have a comparative advantage such as healthcare and construction.”

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme allows workers from a number of Pacific countries to come to New Zealand for fruit-picking jobs in the provinces. It was created in response to labour shortages. While under the scheme employers must give New Zealand citizens hiring priority, few citizens are moving to rural towns to take up the low wage work.

In many ways the scheme has been hugely positive for Pacific island countries, for whom labour could be considered an export, but workers who come here are at risk of the all too frequent abuses of migrant labour: underpayment of wages, violation of labour laws, substandard accommodation, and the threat of deportation if they complain about any of the above.

One ridiculous seeming example of the tight control RSE workers are put under is the actions following a group of Vanuatu workers entertaining people at a multi-cultural day in Nelson, this activity as well as busking at weekend markets were deemed to be illegal secondary employment, as the workers were only here to pick fruit. Presumably, these workers are not among Michael Woodhouse’s “hundreds of examples” of people who have access to him.

Giving workers from the Pacific the same rights in New Zealand as Australians would not immediately stop the abuses happening to RSE workers, but it would remove the threat of deportation and in doing so make it easier for those workers to join unions and have grievances addressed, at the very least it would mean no one stopping them from busking on their day off.

Taking the side of migrant workers is a principled stand in an election year where the Labour Party is hoping to ride a wave of anti-immigrant populism by talking of cutting immigrant numbers from the current 31,000 per year to somewhere between 5000 and 15,000. NZ First has gone further with policy to ban migrants from living in the major cities until they have been in the country for five years, and the Green’s have been largely silent on the issue. In this instance MANA is showing itself to be a genuine party of the dispossessed.

300 hotel workers strike in Fiji

 

300 workers strike in FijiOn December 31 close to three hundred workers at Sheraton Fiji, Sheraton Villas, and Westin Denarau Island Resort took industrial action. Workers held a spontaneous protest against the unilateral removal of their staff benefits. The strike was initiated by the land owning committee (LOC) after maternity leave and overtime pay entitlements were taken away.

“In fourtee n days we will go back to work… sort things out. All those temporary staff who were supposed to be permanent, they have to be made permanent and those who are owed maternity  leave and sick leave etcetera – they have to be paid,” LOC spokesperson Simione Masicola told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.  [Read more…]

The climate crisis

Philippines climate justice protest

Philippines climate justice protest

By Wei Sun (Fightback, Christchurch)

World production and consumption have been increasing rapidly in recent decades due to global ‘westernization’. While socially this can mean a higher standard of living for many in the developing world, the results are mostly negative on the local, national and global natural environment. For example, global transportation has increased the consumption of fossil energy, causing an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which has in turn increased the warming of Earth’s climate.

Investors want returns on their investment, so capitalism requires growth; a drive towards increased production and expansion into other ‘markets’ necessitates increased use of energy and natural resources. Greenhouse gas emissions are treated as an externality, not factored in to a firms expenses.

Figure 1

Figure 1

This graph (figure 1) shows the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured in parts per million (PPM) Scientists now agree with 97% certainty that concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are the cause for increasing temperatures. For about 900 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere remained relatively stable, but there is a rapid increase following the industrial revolution. CO2 in the atmosphere grew from approximately 270ppm to 390ppm between 1900 and 2000, a 44% increase. This trend appears to be increasing, with CO2 recently reaching 400ppm. This has massive negative effects beyond just warmer weather.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Looking at this graph (figure 2), we can see that the frequency of natural disasters such as drought, extreme temperatures, famine, flood, insect infestation, landslides, wild fires and wind storms had been relatively stable for centuries, but began increasing slowly from 1900 to 1960, and then started rising rapidly. Within only 40 years, from 1960 to 2000, the number of disasters per year went up from around 30 to 425, that is an increase of more than 14 times. Much of the increase in the number of events reported is probably due to significant improvements in information access and also due to population growth, but the number of floods and cyclones being reported is still rising compared to earthquakes, which could not be affected by the climate.

figure 3

Figure 3

According to a case study from the Himalayas in India, a glacier will advance in a healthy climate and retreat in response to a warmer climate. Before being affected by climate change, glacier length records were at maximum from around 1700 to 1825, and then began to decline. As we can see in the graph (figure 3) there is a massive retreat from approximately 1825 to 2000. Alarmingly, this trend seems to be continuing. According to the latest studies, the average glacier thickness loss is approximately 30% from 1976 to 2012.

The loss of mass from glaciers contributes to increasing sea levels, along with melting polar ice. Sea level increased approximately 20cm from 1880 to 2000. This puts low-lying countries at risk, particularly island nations. Oceanic acidity increases as the water warms, affecting the delicate balance of ocean dynamics, and putting ecosystems at high risk.

According to the Ministry for the Environment, the likely impacts of climate change on New Zealand include higher temperatures, though likely to be less than the global average, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall pattern (higher rainfall in the west and less in the east) and more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts (especially in the east) and floods.

Agricultural productivity is expected to increase in some areas although others will run the risk of drought and the further spread of pests; forests and vegetation may grow faster, but native ecosystems could be invaded by exotic species. It is likely that there would be costs associated with changing land-use activities to suit a new climate; undoubtedly the costs of this shift will be passed onto to consumers at the supermarket. People are likely to enjoy the benefits of warmer winters with fewer frosts, but hotter summers will bring increased risks of heat stress and subtropical diseases.

Drier conditions in some areas are likely to be coupled with the risk of more frequent extreme events such as floods, droughts and storms, rising sea levels will increase the risk of erosion and saltwater intrusion, increasing the need for coastal protection and glaciers are expected to retreat and change water flows in major South Island Rivers.

People are aware of the dangers ahead, which is why at the end of November thousands of people protested against deep sea oil drilling on beaches across Aotearoa. Deep sea oil drilling has additional problems as well. While it may be too late to stop the planet warming by up to two degrees, it’s not too late to prevent further warming. That can be done though social movements like those behind the Banners on Beaches protests. Social movements needs to align themselves with those who will be affected the most by climate change, who tend to be among the world’s most oppressed, people like Ioane Teitiota who recently attempted unsucessfully to become the first climate change refugee, or those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. These movements can be most effective by targeting the structural causes of climate change, which lie in our economic system.

See also

Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan crisis: For climate justice now! Fight, don’t be afraid! Makibaka! Huwag Matakot!

Statement by the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Labouring Masses, PLM). Reprinted from Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

November 10, 2013 — Partido Lakas ng Masa — The people are still reeling from the impacts of possibly the biggest typhoon to strike the country. Death toll numbers are rising rapidly. There is massive devastation. Many are still trying to contact their relatives, friends and comrades, but communication systems are down, in the hardest hit areas. How should we, as socialists, respond to the crisis?

First, we have to support and take whatever measures are necessary to protect the people. This means all measures that bring the people immediate relief. In the hardest hit city of Tacloban, in South Eastern Visayas, the people are already taking what food and relief supplies that they need from the malls. The media reports this as looting and the break-down of law and order.

But we say: let our people live. This is not “looting”. People are taking food, where they can get it, in order to survive. If there is no timely and organised support system from government, people just have to do it themselves and they should organise themselves to do it more effectively. Even some grocery owners understand the need for this. According to one report of a man who broke into a grocery store, “The owner said we can take the food, but not the dried goods. Our situation is so dismal. We have deaths in our family. We need to save our lives. Even money has no use here now.” Where possible, PLM will assist them to organise to take over food supplies and necessary relief goods.

Then there’s the issue of the government response. Our experience has been that it has always been too slow and inadequate. Any efforts are undermined by corruption. The exposure of the organised plunder by the political elite and sections of government, of development funds or “pork barrel” funds meant for the people, is a testimony to this. This outraged the country and brought almost half a million people out in to the streets in a massive show of protest on August 26 this year. While one plunderer has been arrested, the president has not responded decisively to clean up the system.

The public funds plundered by the elite should have been used for preventative measures to support the people weather these disasters: for infrastructure, including better sea walls and communication infrastructure; for early warning systems; for well constructed and therefore safe public housing, to replace huts and shacks built out of dried leaves and cardboard; for health and education; for equipment and personnel for rapid emergency response, and the list is endless. But no, this was not the case, it was eaten up by the greed of the elite classes.

Unfortunately, we have no reason to believe that the government and the system will deliver and meet the needs of the people this time round either. The self-interest of the elite, and their control of the government and the system that is designed to perpetuate their interests, through the plunder of the people’s assets and resources, renders the entire set-up futile in the face of a disaster on this scale.

Then there are our international “allies”, such as the United States government, who have sent us their best wishes. But these “allies”, so-called, are also responsible for the situation faced by our people. These typhoons are part of the climate crisis phenomenon faced by the world today. Super Typhoon Haiyan (referred to as Yolanda in the Philippines) was one of the most intense tropical cyclones at landfall on record when it struck the Philippines on November 7. Its maximum sustained winds at landfall were pegged at 195 mph with gusts above 220 mph. Some meteorologists even proclaimed it to be the strongest tropical cyclone at landfall in recorded history. Haiyan’s strength and the duration of its category 5 intensity — the storm remained at peak category 5 intensity for an incredible 48 straight hours.

The still-increasing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis are disproportionately emitted by the rich and developed countries, from the US, Europe to Australia. For centuries, these rich, developed countries have polluted and plundered our societies, emitting too much greenhouse gases to satisfy their greed for profit. They have built countless destructive projects all over the world, like polluting factories, coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plants and mega dams. They have also pushed for policies allowing extractive industries to practice wasteful and irresponsible extraction of the Earth’s minerals. They continue to wage environmentally destructive wars and equip war industries, for corporate profits. All of this has fast tracked the devastation of the Earth’s ecological system and brought about unprecedented changes in the planet’s climate.

But these are the same rich countries whose political elite are ignoring climate change and the climate crisis. Australia has recently elected a government that denies the very existence of climate change and has refused to send even a junior minister to the climate conference in Warsaw, Poland. The question of climate justice –- for the rich countries to bear the burden of taking the necessary measures for stopping it and to pay reparations and compensate those in poorer countries who are suffering the consequences of it -– is not entertained even in a token way.

The way the rich countries demand debt payments from us, we now demand the payment of their “climate debts”, for climate justice and for them to take every necessary measure to cut back their greenhouse gas emission in the shortest time possible.

These rich “friends and allies”, so-called, have preached to us about our courage and resilience. But as many here have pointed out, resilience is not just taking all the blows with a smiling face. Resilience is fighting back. To be truly resilient we need to organise, to fight back and to take matters in to our own hands, from the relief efforts on the ground to national government and to challenging and putting an end to the capitalist system. This is the only way to ensure that we are truly resilient.

Makibaka, huwag matakot! Fight, don’t be afraid!

Email us at partidolakasngmasa@gmail.com if you can assist in anyway. Donations to those affected can be made via paypal on the Transform Asia website or donations can be sent to:

Transform Asia Gender and Labor Institute
Account No. 304-2-304004562
Swift Code: MBTCPHMM
Metrobank, Anonas Branch Aurora Blvd., Project 4
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Email: transform.asia1@gmail.com
Mobile/cell ph no. +63(0)9088877702]

NZ and Pacific nations still poles apart on labour mobility

Byron Clark

Regional Seasonal Employer scheme used by New Zealand vineyards

A worker on the Regional Seasonal Employer scheme used by New Zealand vineyards

On September 26th acting NZ High Commissioner Sarah Wong joined Barret Salato, Director of the Solomon Islands Labour Mobility Unit in Honiara to make an announcement about Solomon Islanders working in New Zealand. “In 2014 [The] Solomon Islands will be allocated 594 RSE places” read their joint statement.

RSE stands for Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme; the scheme allows workers from a number of Pacific countries to take seasonal jobs in New Zealand. These jobs are in the horticulture and viticulture industries, where the rural location and short term nature of the work makes them unappealing to New Zealand born workers, meaning there are frequently shortages of labour despite unemployment in urban areas.

“This is an outstanding result for Solomon Islands and represents an increase of more than 20% on the number of places allocated in 2013,” said Salato “The RSE scheme is employer driven, meaning the increase in available spaces has been a result of the performance of Solomon Islanders who worked in New Zealand last season. Their exceptional performance has been rewarded with Solomon Islands receiving an extra 120 places.” [Read more…]

Fijian sugar workers face threats, intimidation

fiji sugar workers

Workers at the state owned Fijian Sugar Corporation (FSC) have voted to take strike action after they were offered a 5.3% pay rise. This equates to just $7.10 a week after tax, or in terms of purchasing power, enough to buy half a chicken. The bigger issue though is that wages for sugar workers in Fiji have declined 40% since 2006 when the government was deposed by a military coup.

The Lautoka sugar mill workers, who crush sugarcane to extract sugar, have also been impacted by a decline in the country’s sugar crop over this time, from 3.8 million tons to 1.6million tons annually, resulting in less weeks of work each year, in some cases people were without work for eight months of the year. The Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union (FS&GWU) had been demanding a wage review for two years.

Just days before the vote to take strike action, a worker was fatally injured on the job. Samuel Sigatokacake was admitted to Lautoka Hospital ICU Unit with burns covering over 50% of his body. The accident occurred when the support structure of an evaporator gave way, pouring extremely hot water onto the factory floor. Further investigation found the release valve on the vessel, which stored water at high pressure, had not functioned since 2010. The vessel itself was in very poor condition with corrosions found on the inside. Earlier that same week it had l burst through the cracks in the welding, but cracks were re-welded and operations continued as normal. The union has since made a Criminal Negligence complaint.

The management of the mill have intimidated workers, some requiring them to fill in a form indicating if they were going on strike. Others were threatened with termination if they took industrial action. Almost a third of the 770 workers did not vote in the secret ballot, likely a result of this intimidation, but of those who voted 90% were in favour of strike action. Management has also offered five year contracts to retired workers to take on the work of the strikers, and threatened to bring in workers from overseas to replace them.

Fiji’s Attorney General and Minister for Industry and Trade Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum urged workers not to go on strike “We [the government] have made a substantial investment to rescue the industry from collapse. This investment has begun to turn around the Fiji Sugar Corporation, without a single job being lost, and it is in the national interest for this to continue.” Of course, workers have seen little benefit from this investment, instead they have seen seven years of declining wages.

“It is a sad indictment on the Regime where the workers real wage is allowed to decline by more than 40% forcing workers into extreme poverty.” Said union president Daniel Urai “Workers deserve recognition from this Regime in the development of the Sugar Industry and indeed in all other industries in this country. Workers create the wealth and sustain the economy despite the hardship, intimidation and the bullying by the authorities and they deserve better.”

On August 21st two truckloads of military officers today drove into Lautoka. Workers were warned that should they go on strike they would not be allowed to return to work and would be dealt with by the military. As we go to press no industrial action has yet occurred and the company continues to refuse to negotiate with the union. Unions in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere have expressed solidarity with the sugar workers and condemned the actions of the regime. Sugar is Fiji’s largest industry, with sugar processing making up a third of industrial production in the country.