Shorten An Embarrassment
The hypocrisy of federal Labor in recent weeks is breathtaking.
For years in government, Labor talked about the importance of free trade. The party told us free trade wasn’t just a desire but a necessity — and, most important, it told Australians that, because of our geographic location, we must embrace free trade, not fear it.
It said we were living in the Asian century and we should take advantage of it.
Oh, how times have changed.
The behaviour of the puppet masters — the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Electrical Trades Union — has been irresponsible. These unions represent a solid fifth of the ALP caucus and are not afraid to throw their weight around when they want to protect the jobs of their union leader mates, if not of the rank and file.
Understandably, economic hardheads of the Labor Party, including Chris Bowen, and previous reformist leaders including Bob Hawke, are not happy. This is in part because it shows Bill Shorten — the party’s choice, not the people’s choice for leader — seems to stand for nothing.
Not only does Shorten appear to stand for nothing, he also gives the impression that he believes in nothing and that he will say anything, however much it may contradict his previous utterances.
The economic case for free trade is strong, but the human case is stronger. That’s because free trade directly leads to more jobs. And it leads to more jobs in states that, thanks to Labor-Greens governments, have fallen on tough times.
Take Tasmania, which is emergÃ‚Âing with gusto after 2Ã‚Â½ decades of a Labor-Greens accord that ran the state into the ground — killing a resources boom in the Ã‚Âforestry sector just when the state’s economy finally was getting moving.
Just as the mining sector provided rivers of gold for Western Australia in recent years, it is the advent of free trade with our Asian neighbours that will provide Tasmania with rivers of gold in the years ahead.
Tasmania exported $28.1 million worth of cheese this past financial year. That is a lot of cheese, and making it employs hundreds of Tasmanians.
Under our free trade agreement with China, tariffs of up to 12 per cent on cheese will be abolished across the first decade of the agreement.
But many forget that our free-trade agreement with South Korea already is helping.
Because of our agreement with South Korea, Tasmanian cheese producers are gaining, in many cases, duty-free access to South Korea’s growing middle-class market. Australian cheese exports faced South Korean tariffs of up to 36 per cent before the agreement. Those tariff walls are being ripped away, just as the Berlin wall was torn down in 1989.
But it doesn’t stop at cheese. Australia is more than a farm and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re more than a mine.
The FTAs don’t just slash tariffs on goods but they open up Australia to more than two billion middle-class Asian consumers eager to enlist our services to help develop their economies and improve their quality of life. While we send about 34 per cent of our exported goods to China, only about 14 per cent of our exported services go to that country.
This is a crucial area to grow, leveraging off the new opportunities that our FTA with China will provide.
As part of this FTA, China will deliver new or improved market access to Australian financial services providers.
Think Australian banks, insurance companies, superannuation advisers and trading firms, all providing services to new and emerging middle classes that demand “Aussie quality.
They keenly want what we can provide.
Also think healthcare. Under our agreement, Australian-owned hospitals and aged care institutions will be allowed to establish themselves in China. This is a remarkable opportunity given 180 million people in China were older than 60 by last year — that’s nearly eight times the Australian population.
That Shorten-led federal Labor wants to oppose these opportunities is daft. It shows a lack of leadership at the highest level. But, then again, Shorten has form in this area.
After all, he did exactly the same thing in 2004 as a young union hack who was head of the Australian Workers Union.
Only a couple of years after the event, the party’s former federal leader Mark Latham claimed in his diaries that: “Little Billy was in my ear about the (US) FTA, telling me the party has to support it.
“I said that I thought both he and his union were against it, to which he responded, Ã¢â‚¬ËœThat’s just for the members Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬â„¢.
Latham continued: “The two faces of Little Billy Shorten: Public Shorten against the FTA, Private Billy in favour of it.
“Is this why he’s being groomed for one of the top slots in the corporation? Political courage is not his long suit.
Latham was right. Political courage is not Shorten’s long suit.
Moreover, not only has Shorten not changed; if anything, he is getting worse. A man who will say anything at any time is ill-fitted to be a leader.
The Opposition Leader cannot, and should not, be trusted and his behaviour on the China free-trade agreement demonstrates just how reckless and irresponsible he is.
He is an interÃ‚Ânational embarrassment, in my opinion.
The Weekend Australian, September 5-6, 2015, Commentary p 22.