Like Rip Van Winkle rising from a deep sleep, Australia’s political leaders come to life this week. Greens’ leader Richard di Natale opened up first on Sky’s Sunday Agenda doing his best to sound statesmanlike in the face of a factional party revolt, while also fulminating against President Donald Trump for being brazen enough to start implementing the promises that won him the US election.
On Tuesday Opposition leader Bill Shorten takes to the stage at Canberra’s National Press Club. Perhaps he will explain why he had suddenly turned populist and protectionist, defying all the good sense of Labor leaders of the past like Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kim Beazley who, unlike Mr Shorten, were not afraid to tell the trade unions that an export-oriented country like Australia can only survive on free trade. Perhaps Mr Shorten has studied President Xi Jinping’s Davos speech, but we doubt it.
It is prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s turn at the NPC on Wednesday. (Yes he is still PM despite the White House press office referring to Julie Bishop as ‘foreign prime minister’ in a release.). To be fair Mr Turnbull has not been idle since Christmas – he has hosted big parties at Kirribilli House, engaged in a futile exercise to save the TPP, and had his own phone chat to the Donald. But next Tuesday will be serious stuff. He has to map out how he will save the country from what would be the third failed Labor prime minister in five years. The government has gpt itself into a dreadful muddle following Trump’ decision not to ratify the TPP, which means that Japan will not ratify it either. He’s been talking about getting the Australian Parliament to ratify it when MPs returns after the world’s longest long summer break in 10 days time.
But for what? There is no TPP without the US, its rules do not permit it. So the legislation is likely to be defeated – another humiliation for Turnbull. Trade minister Steven Ciobo has been gathering air miles flying around Asia to try and gather support for a TPP sans US, but, wisely, most Asian countries are signing up to imminent negotiations on the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes many TPP participants as well as India.
Mr Ciobo is also participating in the RCEP negotiations, but he might be best served by trying to hook into that deal some of the best aspects of the TPP, rather than trying to establish support for it as an alternative.