If the government changes something, and causes a corporate to lose income it expected to get, that corporate can sue for that lost income and get the change reversed. That's "Investor state clauses", which are within the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty New Zealand is negotiating.
They're shit. If our government makes a change to discourage smoking, the tobacco companies can get the change reversed, and a pay out for their lost profit. That's exactly the example of what Investor State Clauses are waiting to do in Australia: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/
But it's not just tobacco. Let's say we discover a chemical is killing kiwi birds - we can't do anything about it because the maker of that chemical can get it reversed. For a real world example we need only look at Canada, who signed up for Investor State Clauses in their free trade deal with the USA. Canada banned a toxic additive in petroleum. The makers of the additive sued under Investor State Clauses, got a payout for all their lost profit AND they got the ban lifted.
The possibilities are many. Changes to labour laws, safety regulations, copyright law, patents on software, restrictions on advertising vodka to 12 year olds: any of these changes could cause a corporation to lose profit it expected to get. Could we have ever banned lead paint in children's furniture if we'd had investor state clauses? No, the makers of lead paint can sue.
This is coming to New Zealand. Our government's negotiators hosted the last rounds of talks in Auckland for the Trans Pacific Partnership. It's looming, it's shit, and it's time to make some noise about it.