Yesterday, the country’s pre-eminent economic analysis body, the Productivity Commission, went out of its way to devote a whole chapter of one of its regular publications to savaging the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the wildly over-hyped claims made by the government about the benefits of so-called “free trade agreements”.
Handed this remarkable gift, what did Labor do?
Of course, you wouldn’t expect Labor to endorse the PC’s well-established position that unilateral deregulation of trade restrictions generates more benefits than these sort of deals. But did it ask a single question about the TPP, the ludicrous secrecy in which this wretched deal is being negotiated (secret if you’re an ordinary Australian citizen; multinational companies get to see the text and even draft it for trade negotiators) or the unproven benefits that Trade Minister Andrew Robb insists will flow from them?
No. Not in the House of Representatives — where, to be fair, Labor was pursuing what appears to be a government cover-up over its handling of the Man Haron Monis-George Brandis letter. But not even in the Senate. The government’s own economic analyst hands the government’s critics serious ammunition against the centrepiece of the government’s economic strategy, and it gets ignored.
Robb, who has previously labelled the points made by the PC as “scaremongering”, didn’t have much to say either, except to tell The Australian, in effect, that there’d be lots of benefits from the TPP. Remember, this is an agreement that will allow foreign companies to sue the government for changes in public policy.
As the PC has forensically shown, in fact the benefits of such agreements are hard to identify, while the costs, peculiarly, tend to get ignored by governments eager to spruik them. Robb can’t wish away the damage the secret TPP will inflict on Australia anymore. And it’s time Labor did its job on the appalling deal.