Rather than undertake real reform, the Abbott government has relied heavily on so-called “free trade agreements” to prove it has an economic vision. But there is growing evidence that it has has rushed to sign such such agreements, often at the expense of good trade outcomes for Australia.

Indeed, Abbott’s obsession with signing up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, apparently at any cost, seems less about rational policy than blind ideology. The government has sought to portray opposition to the TPP as xenophobic and anti-free trade — but that position is looking shakier by the minute.

Last week the chairman of the Productivity Commission, Peter Harris, proposed that his organisation undertake a formal assessment of the TPP’s costs and benefits before Australia signs it. It would be a small price to pay for having an independent assessment of exactly what good — and what harm — the TPP will do to Australia. Remember, this is an agreement that will enable foreign companies to use foreign courts to sabotage public policy here via investor-state dispute settlement. It’s a big deal.

But in keeping with the obsessive secrecy of DFAT’s negotiations, the government is deeply resistant to any scrutiny of the deal.

Why? If DFAT’s bureaucrats and Andrew Robb haven’t done anything to damage our national interests in negotiating the treaty, they should welcome the scrutiny. If they’ve done nothing wrong, they will have nothing to hide.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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