Monday, March 4, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Free trade with Indonesia
After years of negotiation, the deal is done


Today’s signing of the free-trade agreement with Indonesia is surely welcome as a gesture of goodwill and engagement with our most important neighbour, as much as for the reported $35 billion economic windfall that it might deliver. Hopefully, the agreement will help end the woeful neglect of the trade relationship, to which both Coalition and Labor governments have paid lip service for decades. Opposition leader Bill Shorten today described the agreement as “a Labor project”, given negotiations on the Indonesia–Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement kicked off under PM Julia Gillard in 2012. But free-trade deals are a sore point for Labor, especially after trade spokesperson Jason Clare rammed the Trans Pacific Partnership through caucus last year, and the union movement flagged yesterday that it would seek to renegotiate any agreement before it was ratified.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham’s talking points include that Indonesia is on track to grow from the world’s 16th-largest economy to the fourth, a staggering rise that will mean more opportunity for the Australian agricultural, steel, education and other industries. However, unions are opposed to the deal in its current state. As The Australian reported [$] this morning, ACTU president Michele O’Neil said: “We are deeply concerned that they (the government) have done yet another dodgy deal that lets corporations hire temporary-visa holders in unlimited numbers instead of hiring and training locally.” Shorten today said that Labor would look at the detail, but stressed [$]: “We want to make sure Australian jobs are prioritised. We’re positive, from what we have seen so far.”

Depending on the outcome of next month’s Indonesian election, the agreement could falter on their side, too. The ABC’s Jakarta correspondent David Lipson reported today that Indonesian Opposition leader Prabowo Subianto has described the deal as “suicidal”, giving everything to Australia and nothing to Indonesia. The agreement will remove all remaining tariffs on imports from Indonesia, including textiles, coffee and palm oil, and specifies 200 Indonesians a year will be given six-month work-training opportunities, while the number of working holiday visas will also rise from 1000 to 4100 a year.

Birmingham, one of the last competent ministers left standing after the exodus of recent weeks, dismissed the union concerns as “shameful scaremongering”, and said the agreement will deepen diplomatic and security ties, becoming a “central pillar to our strategic relationship”. It’s a good thing. As ANU PhD Jennifer Rayner wrote for Australian Foreign Affairs last year, Australia’s perceptions of Indonesia are stuck in a time warp of C.J. Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously. “We couldn’t be more wrong,” she wrote. “Indonesia is very likely Asia’s next big power, another engine of growth that will drag the pole of the world’s economy ever more strongly towards our region.” It’s high time to stop the neglect.


“To maximise investment in the domestic economy for the good of society some things have to be tackled as a consequence of the [banking] royal commission … You’ll see more focus on ESG [environment, social and governance] issues but also over time an interest in business models, in particular in the financial services sector. AMP’s model has destroyed value.” AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW [$]

Greg Combet, chair of Industry Super and IFM Investors, flags a “reshaping” of business.


“I honestly don’t know if I was asked to provide a reference or not. I have no recall of providing a reference but, just, when it comes to the phone call, look, I’m not a fair-weather friend. This was someone who was obviously going through a very, very bad experience.”THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Tony Abbott, speaking to 2GB’s Ray Hadley this morning, unable to recall details of a conversation with George Pell last week.

The Number

The conservative number of known massacres of Aboriginal people between 1794 and 1928, according to a special report, “The Killing Times”, published by The Guardian today. READ ON

The Policy

“We, the undersigned, who have collectively devoted 600 years to climate and energy issues know that Australia is not on track to meet its current target to reduce emissions by 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2030 under current policy.” CLIMATE COUNCIL

The list

“The imminent retirement of Christopher Pyne, christened the ‘mincing poodle’ by Julia Gillard and the most irritating person in Australia by just about everyone else, does not just signal another deserter from the sinking ship. It also signals the effective demise of the shrinking moderate faction within the Liberal Party.” the monthly


“In so-called safe seats around the country, a small army of locally prominent independent candidates has begun to emerge, recruited by voters who want to fight back. A good many of them are using the services of Damien Hodgkinson, set to be a pivotal backroom figure in the coming election. They include Phelps, Zali Steggall and Julia Banks.” The saturday paper


“The royal commission is remarkable in another way. It is both reflective of and a powerful contributor to a cultural revolution that has ushered in a new sensibility about child sexual abuse. The old pro-perpetrator regime in religious organisations – the covering up, the protecting of the churches’ hierarchy and reputation, the turning of a blind eye to abusers while sending them to new parishes (and fresh victims) – has been under intense and damning scrutiny.” the monthly

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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