China’s uniquely regulated stock market crash may not prove to be the great fall of China so widely predicted nor is the Bling Dynasty, China’s obscenely wealthy elite, finished yet, but it what is certain is that the slowing economy of Australia’s largest trading partner has bust our mining boom and that our politics will never be the same. Liberal governments, in particular, who banked on the good times lasting forever have been caught with their pants down.
Suddenly, as Paul Krugman puts it, Australia, like Canada has the wrong exports and ‘is kind of in the wrong place in the world right now but has other strengths.’ The best, however, the Abbott government could grasp last week was the fig leaf of its Free Trade Deal with China to cover its nakedness; its failure to plan; its lack of initiative; its poverty of policy.
Liberals hope to sell us the China deal as an achievement which atones for decades of failure to plan. Above all, Tony Abbott plans to wedge Labor. Labor is not opposed to the deal, Blinky Bill Shorten makes clear, but he is not going to commit to a deal which permits Chinese firms to import their own cheap labour and do Aussies out of a job. Shorten says nothing about the FTA empowering China to sue the Australian government should one of our laws impede any of its projects. He ignores the ways in which the deal opens up Australia to some significant labour market deregulation.
A Chinese firm bringing in workers under 457 Visas on a construction project, for example, get to negotiate the wages with the department of Immigration and Border Protection. Details will be kept secret. In this and in other ways, the deal with China could represent a major assault on Australia’s construction industry, but perhaps this its real attraction to the Abbott government. Perhaps this is why it is strangely reluctant to offer any details.
The coalition unable to instance one concrete benefit has its bid trumped by Labor’s specific objection. Shorten’s challenge, moreover, resonates with the people of Canning according to ReachTEL opinion polls in the electorate this week. Yet pressure is put on Shorten when state Labor leaders go all the way with the FTA. Abbott seizes on this to demand an end to Labor’s intransigence.
The PM references the weight of opinion, hoping we have forgotten his contempt for the weight of opinion on marriage equality. The weight of opinion, he says or on even within Labor ranks, is for the agreement to pass by November for the sake of the economy.
‘Quite frankly, Bill Shorten is playing fast and loose with our future – this free trade agreement sets Australia up for decades to come,’ he said whilst offering no detail as to how or why. Although the argument is one which is couched in terms of the national interest, this is windy rhetoric. The proposed Australia-China deal, like the Trans Pacific Partnership, is mostly about entrenching the power of monopolies, about preserving the power of a ruling elite. It promise bugger all for the nation and less than nothing for the average punter.
At present, however, what matters is the politics. The deal is a useful blunt weapon for the coalition to wedge the traitor Bill Shorten, the union bastard for daring to ask questions about workers’ or any other kind of protection before hopping into bed with a complete stranger whose details have been kept low key.
Even the Productivity Commission reports that bilateral trade deals ‘lack transparency and tend to oversell the likely benefits.’ Yet we are being rushed into something which appears to offer huge political benefits to the Abbott government in terms of labour deregulation but less than nothing, including unemployment and poorer working conditions to our workers in return. Australians deserve better than this.