Tony Abbott’s “open for business” agenda is taking shape. We already know it includes abolishing taxes on big business wherever possible, including for mining and carbon, that it embraces rising house prices, that it prefers to hide public debt via user-pays toll roads without due productivity analysis, that it prefers coal seam gas be developed everywhere in a hurry and that it has no time to stop and hold corruption to account.
This morning we get a taste for what it means in terms of trade policy:
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has backed fast, practical trade deals with individual countries, including China, in an apparent shift away from the last government’s efforts to win comprehensive international agreements.
And he has bluntly warned human rights activists against using Australia as a platform for criticising Indonesia, as the new Coalition government quickly remodels foreign policy along narrower business and economic lines.
…Mr Abbott set a one-year deadline for winning a free trade agreement with China, after eight years of negotiations, and signalled he would settle for the best deal available.
“I want the agreement to be as comprehensive as possible, but I’ve always taken the view that you should take what you can get today and pitch for the rest tomorrow when you’ve got a strong foundation to build upon…We will get the best deal we can. I can’t, at this stage, say it is going to include everything. If it doesn’t include everything, that will be a disappointment, but still, whatever we can get, which is a substantial advance on where we are, is worth having.”
Hmmm, well, perhaps or perhaps not. How can judge in advance? And why on earth would we say so and set an artificial deadline to put pressure on our own negotiators to sign whatever scraps are thrown our way?
As one Australian trade official said at the SMH:
“We have just sent the message to the Chinese that if they hold out, we’ll pretty much cave in in 12 months or else leave out the hard things we want from them like agriculture,” said one, on condition of anonymity.
Another former trade negotiator said the task was “not impossible” but the domestically thorny issues of lifting restrictions on Chinese so-called “state-owned enterprises” investing in Australia – and Beijing’s desire to allow more Chinese translators, cooks, and travel guides into the country to boost tourism – needed resolution.
The Coalition has form on this. The Howard Government’s US trade agreement wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Trade officials were disgusted with it, yet it was slammed through on a political deadline (the Government needed something to show for its unpopular Iraq War commitment).
It’s not that bilateral deals are worthless, although certainly less useful than multilateral. But lousy bilateral deals really only have a little symbolic strategic value. Ironically they do so at the price of trade and investment. Some way to consummate a friendship!
A better initiative came from Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop:
Business and university leaders have united in support of the Abbott government’s new $100 million student exchange program, which is being billed as a modern Colombo Plan.
Sid Myer, who heads the Myer Foundation, has backed the scheme as a means for preparing Australians to live and work in Asia. “I think it’s a super initiative,” he said.
“The old Colombo Plan stood Australia in great stead when it first got started in the early ’50s.”
That’s more constructive and should be applauded. Now we just need some new funding for Asian languages.
Just so long as you don’t use them to protest. “Open for business” also means zipping it, apparently:
“Australia will not give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia,” he said. “We have a very strong relationship with Indonesia and we are not going to give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia – I want that to be absolutely crystal clear – and people seeking to grandstand against Indonesia, please don’t look to do it in Australia. You are not welcome.“The situation in West Papua is getting better, not worse, and I want to acknowledge the work that President [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono has done to provide greater autonomy, to provide a better level of government services and ultimately a better life for the people of West Papua . . .
This followed a couple of peaceful protests at the APEC event. But it’s still a bit rich. It’s not up to the PM whether Australians want to protest about West Papua.
Finally, some more minor wedding expense infractions from the PM this morning:
Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed more than $600 of taxpayer money to attend Peter Slipper’s wedding in 2006 – a claim he has reimbursed in the wake of the past week’s scandals.
An emotional Mr Slipper has responded to the news, saying that while other MPs had been allowed to repay errant expense claims, the charges brought against him had ”destroyed his life”.
Speaking to reporters in Bali on Monday, Mr Abbott mentioned discovering that he had billed taxpayers for a “couple” of weddings.
Fairfax Media understands the two weddings were those of his former colleagues Sophie Mirabella and Mr Slipper.
We’re still waiting for inquiries into corruption allegations at the RBA, Leighton (which was supported by the government corporation EFIC) and ASIC. But perhaps that would go under the heading of “red tape”.
So, at this stage, “open for business” seems to be whatever you can rush into that appears business-favourable and delay on all else.
Not that that is hurting business sentiment, which has rocketed to a post GFC high according to Roy Morgan:
Roy Morgan Research’s Business Confidence survey in September showed that Australian business confidence rose to the highest level since January 2011 following the federal election. The rise of 14.7 points to a score of 134.3 is the biggest monthly increase in Business Confidence recorded since the survey began in December 2010. These figures are the result of 2,787 interviews with business decision makers representing all types, sizes and locations of businesses around Australia.
The two biggest factors contributing to the increase in confidence were businesses reporting they expect good economic conditions in Australia over the next 12 months, which increased by 10% points to 75% of all businesses; the proportion of businesses believing that now is a good time to invest in growing their business also increased by 10% points to 66%. In both cases these scores were the highest ever recorded for these two measures. The proportion of businesses reporting that they were better off than 12 months ago also increased by 4% points to 28%, as did the proportion expecting their business to be better off in 12 months (up 8% points to 47%). The proportion of businesses expecting continuous good times over the next 5 years increased by 7% points to 77%, also the highest ever recorded for this measure.
The increase was reflected across all business sectors: Micro businesses (less than $1m annual turnover) saw an increase in confidence of 7.5 points to 122.9, Small businesses ($1m to less than $5m annual turnover) saw an increase of 4.1 points to 128.8, and larger businesses ($5m+ annual turnover) had the biggest increase in confidence, rising 8 points to 137.7.
Most states also saw a dramatic rise in Business Confidence as a result of the election, with the greatest increase in Queensland, where it rose 9.2 points to 124.4. Among the industries showing the largest increases in Business Confidence as a result of the election were Mining (up 11.5 points to 137.3), Accommodation & Food Services (up 11.3 points to 123.5), and Manufacturing (up 10.7 points to 121.9). The Education & Training industry remained relatively unchanged despite the election result (down 0.3 points to 133.9), while the Health Care & Social Assistance industry saw only a marginal increase in confidence (up 1.8 points to 126.8).
The NAB Survey is published today so we shall see whether a lack of ethics, lower taxes, favouring rent-seeking and useless FTAs and, most importantly, no Labor Party, continue the recovery in sentiment.