Mission more urgent than healing the wounds at home
Advertisement

Mission more urgent than healing the wounds at home

Prime Minister Scott Morrison headed to Indonesia on a mission so urgent it rated higher on his agenda than staying to heal the deep divisions in his party.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Presidential Palace on Friday night.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Presidential Palace on Friday night.Credit:AAP

The haste behind Morrison’s Jakarta jaunt was to announce the in-principle agreement of a new free trade deal with Indonesia. This is an agreement that nobody – not even parliament – in either country has had the chance to assess. If history is any guide, it will favour big business at the expense of working people. It will allow business owners to exploit temporary workers at the expense of secure local jobs. And it will prioritise corporate profit at the expense of national sovereignty.

Loading

A good trade deal should reduce inequality and put people at its centre. That seems self-evident, but it’s a principle that the Turnbull government failed to embrace. Given Morrison’s desperation to keep his predecessor’s appointment with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, it seems no lesson has been learned.

Advertisement

The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government is also pursuing a deal with India, China and other Pacific countries, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, as well as direct agreements with Britain and the European Union. No analysis on the proposed benefits of these deals has been performed or released, and our government doesn’t tell anyone what’s in them until the deal has been done.

If the track record of recent deals is any indication, these agreements will fail to advance the interests of working people, catering instead to the interests of multinationals.

Japanese farmers hold placards opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Tokyo.

Japanese farmers hold placards opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Tokyo.Credit:Reuters

Take the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest trade agreement Australia has ever been involved in. It was signed in March in Chile and the enabling legislation is before Parliament. It should be rejected. This "corporations-first" trade agreement is expected to cost up to 39,000 Australian jobs over 10 years, according to after-the-fact analysis, by Tufts University in the United States, of the agreement's first incarnation, which included the US.

The agreement will see multinationals - not small or medium businesses - reap the benefits of trade.

It’s time to bring trade agreements out of the board room and into the parliament for public scrutiny. While they are negotiated behind closed doors they are too easily influenced by big business and their impacts cannot be fully understood until it’s too late. Because once in force, they can’t be amended.

We know in broad terms that India and Indonesia want access to our labour market, we know the EU wants access to our government procurement market and we know Britain wants access to our financial services. The only reason we know is because our trading partners are more open in their negotiating process than our recalcitrant and secretive government is.

Loading

We don’t know what the Australian government will agree to when negotiating these agreements. What will they trade off in order to get deals done so they can claim a victory for big business? Will they let European big pharma gouge us with prices for medicines? Will they big business hire short-term visa workers on low wages who are vulnerable to exploitation and wage theft? Will they prevent governments from mandating local purchasing in procurement policies? We will only know when the deals are signed and then it will be too late.

We want trade deals to be fair, to create more opportunities and jobs for people, instead of loopholes and more profit for corporations. Australian governments should only sign trade agreements where there are enforceable labour rights chapters which require adherence to International Labour Organisation Conventions. Such agreements should require genuine labour market testing to prioritise local hiring and training over the convenience of exploitable short-term labour for business.

Only by shining a light on these negotiations and enabling our democratically elected parliament to vote on such deals can we ensure that trade is fair. We must be able to hold our leaders to account and ensure agreements made in our name advance working people’s interests. We need to change the rules on trade.

Michele O'Neil is president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.


Advertisement