Trans­parency is crit­i­cal to ne­go­ti­a­tions

The Australian - - COMMENTARY - PENNY WONG Penny Wong is the leader of the op­po­si­tion in the Se­nate and op­po­si­tion spokes­woman for trade and in­vest­ment.

TRADE is crit­i­cal to our cur­rent and fu­ture pros­per­ity. As the na­tions of our re­gion con­tinue to grow and trans­form, cre­at­ing the world’s largest con­sump­tion zone, Aus­tralia’s prospects are strong.

Trade is the key to re­al­is­ing those prospects.

But we must shape this op­por­tu­nity by mak­ing in­formed choices with an un­der­stand­ing of the im­pli­ca­tions for Aus­tralia’s busi­nesses, our work­ers and our com­mu­nity.

Trade Min­is­ter An­drew Robb has been com­plain­ing about what he de­scribes as ‘‘the deliberate ped­dling of mis­in­for­ma­tion’’ on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship ( The Aus­tralian, Feb 10). He should re­call Tony Ab­bott’s pre­elec­tion com­mit­ment to ‘‘re­store ac­count­abil­ity and im­prove trans­parency mea­sures’’.

The whole­sale ditch­ing of this com­mit­ment isn’t just un­demo­cratic — it has real and neg­a­tive eco­nomic con­se­quences.

The ‘‘mis­in­for­ma­tion’’ the Trade Min­is­ter rails against is gain­ing mo­men­tum be­cause of this gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to be up­front with Aus­tralians about its ne­go­ti­at­ing pa­ram­e­ters.

Ques­tions about the po­ten­tial im­pact on the Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Ben­e­fits Scheme, im­pli­ca­tions for our copy­right regime and the con­se­quences of al­low­ing for­eign com­pa­nies to sue gov­ern­ments for health and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­forms are not be­ing an­swered. In­stead, any­one dar­ing to ques­tion is attacked and la­belled.

In one of his first acts as min­is­ter, Robb ban­ished the for­mer gov­ern­ment’s trade prin­ci­ples, in­clud­ing trans­parency, from his depart­ment’s web­site.

The gov­ern­ment is pre­pared to ne­go­ti­ate a TPP with an in­vestor-state dis­pute pro­vi­sion that gives for­eign cor­po­ra­tions the right to take ac­tion against gov­ern­ments when they make pub­lic in­ter­est de­ci­sions that may ad­versely af­fect the com­mer­cial stake of the com­pany.

Aus­tralian tax­pay­ers are al­ready foot­ing the bill for such a chal­lenge launched by Philip Mor­ris Asia against our worldlead­ing plain pack­ag­ing laws.

The gov­ern­ment says any in­vestor-state dis­pute clause will in­clude so-called safe­guards, but with­out en­abling any pub­lic dis­cus­sion or scru­tiny.

La­bor ini­ti­ated the TPP talks be­cause it has the po­ten­tial to de­liver greater mar­ket ac­cess for our ex­porters, cre­ate jobs here and act as a stag­ing post on the path to a more open global trad­ing sys­tem.

But it’s not pos­si­ble to make judg­ments about the value of the agree­ment when ob­jec­tives are hid­den, ne­go­ti­a­tions are con­ducted i n se­cret and signed agree­ments are pro­posed to be pre­sented as a fait ac­com­pli.

Judg­ments about the costs and ben­e­fits of trade deals should not be made by un­elected of­fi­cials or min­is­ters in com­plete iso­la­tion from the par­lia­ment and the broader com­mu­nity.

There is a real risk the gov­ern­ment is ne­go­ti­at­ing trade deals that don’t serve our na­tional in­ter­est or re­flect Aus­tralia’s long-term mul­ti­lat­eral trade am­bi­tions.

The gov­ern­ment is treat­ing trade agree­ments as po­lit­i­cal tro­phies, struck in se­cret and ac­com­pa­nied by de­mands they be ac­cepted with­out ques­tion.

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