Tony Abbott is open for business


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 Business Confidence - September 2013

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.

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  1. Tony Abbott was never supposed to be the PM, was he. He was the disposable dork you have managing a party when you are looking for the real leader. But here we have a classic case of unintended consequences…..

      • Yes, unfortunately a lot of people are obsessed with Abbott ‘deficiencies’ about all sorts of issues that are of minority or sectional interest when there are plenty of important national issues that warrant attention.

        Mr Howard benefited enormously by the failure of the ALP to seriously engage with the issue of economic reform and policy. Howard took wickets by just rolling the arm over.

        There is a real risk that the ALP will do it again and vacate the field of economic policy and by doing so make Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey look half decent.

        So far the comments of both Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey are a cause for concern.

        Let’s hope they are just finding their feet.

      • +1 the Labor hard men were more interested in making a buck when Howard and Costello sold the country into private debt hell.

        I’m absolutely expecting the same from Labor this time – backroom hard men go for the cash and funny little people they put out the front to push around do sfa.

      • “I’m absolutely expecting the same from Labor this time – backroom hard men go for the cash and funny little people they put out the front to push around do sfa.”

        As am I.

      • no, he’s been pegged appropriately, just as South Park so eloquently put it, it’s a vote between a turd sandwich and a douche bag

  2. Yeah it’s about time we had that flag of ours changed, I mean we’ve talked about it for long enough….easy..just get rid of that Union Jack bit and replace it with the Chinese’ll look much better, jeez get with the times one and all.

  3. TheRedEconomistMEMBER

    In the The Oz this morning it is interesting to see a small mention on the front page about Abbott being forced to to repay tax payers money to the tune of $11K, for the cost of attending private functions

    There is no mention of Abbott’s name in the headline, which is “Wedding Expense Catching out MP”

    Clearly Abbott is a protected specie. Pity the Oz were not as civil with Gillard over the last 3 years

    The front page is dominated by apparent good news, that is “PM driving China deal” etc.

    If I incorrectly claimed such an expense to my employer… I would be out the street begging.

    • You would be in court, not on the street.

      I find it hard to see Abbott convincing the Nationals to back a free trade deal with China once they read through the details.

      There’s a reason this deal has been in limbo for 8 years, it’s certainly not from lack of trying. Barnaby would come out swinging.

      Get ready for the wildly exaggerated biosecurity claims.

      • Barnaby’s not afraid to prostitute himself for money and power. I’m sure Gina’s been whispering in his ear a lot about the desirability of foreign investment, both at the Indian wedding and at his post-election celebration.

      • LOL … so, links to the unmentionable site are allowed if the context is simply a political sledge. But such links are not allowed when the context is something particularly serious.

        Like (now, where to begin) documented, original source evidence relating to BIS/FSB/G20 leaders’ secret deals on global bank bail-ins; IMF instructions to Australian lawmakers viz the government’s bank guarantee/FCS; IMF instructions to Australian lawmakers re overriding ASIC’s “immediate and continuous disclosure” rules in order to “prevent premature release of sensitive information” relating to pending bank bail-ins; the multi-billion dollar/euro rorting, emissions-reduction inefficacy, and genocide-incentivisation of myriad “green” carbon pricing schemes around the world; to name a few.

        Methinks the moderator’/s’ objectivity-challenged personalities bias is showing 😉

        FWIW, my view has been that BJ began selling out on his earlier-days principles some time ago … surprise surprise, coincident with the sniff of (more) power growing ever stronger in the nostrils.

    • “Clearly Abbott is a protected specie. Pity the Oz were not as civil with Gillard over the last 3 years”

      At least with the Oz you can choose to pay for it, or not. Unlike the taxpayer funded ABC which has and continues to use taxpayer money to push it’s Left/Green agenda at all points. Quite amazing how people become so indignant about the private Oz but quite happy to turn a blind eye to the propganda being spewed out by the Public Broadcaster.

      • I’m pretty sure the ABC gave full coverage to the Slipper expenses situation. I’m not pretty sure. I’m certain. I watched it. On the ABC of course.

        Maybe you should take those blinkers off once in a while. While the ABC can lean left, it is prepared to at least present all of the news whoever it comes from. That can’t be said for 70% of our media in this country lead by a hate filled man out of touch with reality.

        And of the expenses, if it’s good for Abbott it’s good for Slipper. Here is a case of hypocrisy at its highest and no surprise. We should have a royal commission the same way they investigated in the UK and not allow repayment of expenses if there is a suitable period lapsing. Paying back only because you’ve been caught out is not excusable.

      • I think it was Kerry O’Brien that got Rudd to loose his temper on 7:30. Other than ranting shock jocks, the hardest most and most pointed interviews of members both sides I’ve witnessed – have been on the ABC.

        The ABC seems to go hard on both sides and the right don’t like it.

        As far as the right wing group thinkers go, unless the interviewer pursues anything other than a sycophantic fireside chat with the perfect messianic leaders of the right – they are biased.

        Just the very though of quizzing them is tantamount to heresy.

      • dumb_non_economist


        GSM doesn’t have blinkers on, he suffers from Kalnienk vision and seriously needs to see an Opthamologist.

  4. “Open for business” always sounded ominous to me. Unfortunately “Business” to the Libs means selling everything they can get their hands on and then patting themselves on the back for being astounding economic managers. Going to be a mean and tricky 3 years.

  5. Don’t forget the wonderful Trans-Pacific Partnership which includes the ability for companies to sue governments (amongst other undesirable things).

    One of these chapters threatens to undermine both our existing domestic and international legal systems, throwing away the protections and rights achieved over hundreds of years.

    How? Through tribunals linked to a system of International Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). The one in the TPP led to an open letter signed by prominent Australian judges, lawyers, politicians and academics insisting that the government should not sign an agreement that includes ISDS. The letter states:

    ‘…the increasing use of this mechanism to skirt domestic court systems and the structural problems inherent in the arbitral regime are corrosive of the rule of law and fairness.’

    But ISDS is most definitely included in the proposed TPP put forward by United States negotiators.

    The Gillard government made it clear that Australia would not sign another trade agreement that included international dispute settlement by tribunals. This followed Australians being burnt by an agreement that has allowed Phillip-Morris to take Australia to an international tribunal over its plain packaging laws, even though our own High Court already decided against Phillip-Morris.

    Other countries are experiencing equally serious consequences.

    The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is being used by gas and oil company Lone Pine Resources to sue Canada over Quebec’s moratorium on fracking. A trade agreement was also used to sue Ecuador for USD $1.77 billion.

    The Coalition’s trade policy document indicates that Abbott’s government will sign the TPP with acceptance of ISDSs because the Coalition is

    ‘…open to utilising investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses as part of Australia’s negotiating position.’

    Not only that, but it says it will

    ‘…fast track the conclusion of free trade agreements.’

    • Goes with the thinking that when a government imposes or removes a regulation or policy that no one profiting under the existing system should ever be disadvantaged in any way…could be an additional clause to any proposed bill of rights!

      Combined with the government backstop for private banks and investment returns in infrastructure etc etc we have created an environment where opportunity for profit for some is completely separated from the risk of loss…that’s scary.

  6. The majority of the people do get the leaders they deserve, unfortunately the entire country suffers for it…

    I came back to Oz nearly 4years ago with hopes this country could find leadership and a sensible narrative for the present and future. I agree with what Janet said a little while ago that Australia has a fairly unique position in the world, being blessed with a rich natural bounty that could sustain it’s own population, from which it could set on its own course to how the country and culture should best progress, being beholden to no other states.
    And the best we end up with are these kinds of short-sighted, one-dimensional views being pushed through by the “elites”/those in power. And the gluttonous populace doesn’t seem to give a hoot..
    It’s exasperating! I have given up on my hope for my homeland.

    I’ll be leaving Oz indefinitely in 2weeks for somewhere (perhaps just as silly) where I can bury my head in the sand and not feel despondent that MY country is blowing such a wonderful endowment at every turn.

    I’ll still read MB regularly though as it is my favourite source of worthwhile world coverage on many things. Great job guys!

    • If not for being the only close relative to my mum, I’d already be planning my getaway from this nation. Abbott is turning out to be a completely stupid and or just plain bad person.

      I know that other places have their problems but there’s something especially painful about seeing a nation of idiots rushing to the edge. The higher living standards anywhere else that has rational property prices is a huge benefit too.

      Unfortunately, I can’t leave.. Although even my mum may not be enough one Abbott is done with this nation. The only glimmer of hope is that we reach the edge of our cliff soon. Current voters need to suffer the consequences, not future ones.

  7. The coalition has also done a u turn on funding for Holden, promising a cash injection by year end and dropping the minimum export requirement.

    • Jumping jack flash

      Obviously the best way of meeting targets is by dropping them.

      was he ever in charge of education?

      • Health.

        He found the best way to avoid uncomfortable scrutiny was to turn his back on dying people. It’s a pattern.

  8. Good to see Govt getting on and doing it’s job in delivering a diverse economy. People can then pick and choose how/where they want to participate in it.

    The Business Confidence survey just goes to show how oppressed/depressed Business was under the inept former Govt. For less than 1 month since being sworn in Abbott has done extraordinarily well, flummoxing his detractors at pretty much every turn. Especially when considering the dogs breakfast Gillard/Rudd left the place in.

  9. ‘open for business’ or ‘up for sale’ – same same. It’s hard to tell the difference until its too late.

    (not that the previous bunch in inept morons were any better)

    And Barnaby – what a mighty backflip. I’m not sure i’ve ever seen one done with such speed and prowess.

    • Jumping jack flash

      “‘open for business’ or ‘up for sale’ – same same. It’s hard to tell the difference until its too late”

      Spot on

  10. General Disarray

    I’d love to sell Tony a used car.

    Tony: Hey, I’m calling about the car you had advertised.

    Me: Yep, it’s still for sale.

    Tony: Oh that’s fantastic, I absolutely have to buy your particular car and I need it by tomorrow.

    Me: No problem, it’s yours.

    Tony: You advertised it for 30k can you do it for 28k?

    Me: Actually, I stuffed up the ad it should have been priced at 35k. I’ll do it for 34k because you sound like a nice bloke.

    Tony: …I’ll be around this afternoon.

    • He’s just not PM material is he.

      Looks like a Rhodes scholarship in Arts and Philosophy is as about as useful as one suspects it mightn’t be …

  11. Jumping jack flash

    Once again it is proved that career politicians know squat about the real world.

    Yet we elect them, and we depend on them to listen to the correct lobby groups and then make decisions accordingly.

    Obviously the one about free trade was made after speaking to the mining and retail lobbies.

    The one about throwing money at Holden is just a bit of popular politics. Everyone loves Holden. Can’t let it die even though its being eaten alive in the global market due to bloat and complacency.

  12. Brilliant negotiation skills! Hahahaha. Go into a trade negotiation saying we will take what we can get – Brilliant stuff. Upstart colonial twit meet Chinese dragon.