Trade wars: Malcolm Turnbull lines up 'gutless' Bill Shorten over TPP retreat
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has flagged bringing China into a reworked Trans-Pacific Partnership to replace the US - or rewriting the deal to exclude Washington - as he lashed out at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, calling him "the greatest example of Labor gutlessness for generations".
Speaking in the hours after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order consigning the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal to the dustbin, Mr Turnbull condemned Mr Shorten's claims that the contentious pact was "dead", revealing instead that Australia would not back down on its trade agenda because it is in the national interest.
"Forty years of Labor leaders have stood up for trade, have sought to open up opportunities for Australians to export their products, export their services, because they've recognised that trade is good for jobs," he said.
"Now Mr Shorten has put himself in the position where he's against trade and he's for higher energy costs . . . Bill Shorten is the biggest threat to Australian jobs, especially in any business, any industry that has an export market or wants to take on export opportunities and that applies to most of our fastest-growing industries."
While the government's response to the US retreat to protectionism has been to become even more bullish on free trade, it remains unclear what form any new architecture would take.
Rocked by the swiftness of the Trump White House, Mr Turnbull flagged not only the possibility of China stepping in, but of a future change of heart within the new Trump administration if free trade advocates such as incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can somehow gain in influence.
"There is also the opportunity for the TPP to proceed without the United States and I've had active discussions with other leaders as recently as last night with (Japanese) Prime Minister Abe about that," Mr Turnbull said.
But Mr Shorten hit back, depicting the Prime Minister's responses as "the peak of delusional absurdity" based on a lack of a substantive agenda for Australian jobs, and an unwillingness to finger the real culprit.
"Mr Turnbull instead has pinned all of his hopes on a trade treaty including the United States, which Donald Trump said he would never sign," Mr Shorten said.
"So now Mr Turnbull is lashing out and blaming Labor. It's not Labor who killed the TPP . . . it was Donald Trump . . . if he wants to criticise me, I hope he has the courage to criticise President Trump."
The TPP contained a threshold provision that stated that it would only operate if 85 per cent or more of the combined GDP of the 12 countries was affected by its terms. That effectively required both the US and Japan - the two largest economies - to sign up or the whole multi-country deal would lapse.
Labor now says it is pointless putting enabling legislation to the Parliament because the TPP in its current form has been gutted. It says any revised deal would need to return to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties first.
The trade policy morass comes as the Greens stepped up its opposition to unfettered free trade by proposing legislation that would outlaw investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) clauses that give companies the right to sue governments for losses when trade deals allow competitors in or when other government decisions including in public health or environmental protection impact adversely upon profits.
"The Greens will introduce a bill to ban these insidious clauses from Australian trade deals on the first day of Parliament in 2017," the party's finance and trade spokeswoman, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, said.
"We've already seen the government sued by tobacco companies for trying to protect our children's health, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Any moves to tighten environmental protection, such as a moratorium on new coal mines, would open future governments up to legal challenge from the international fossil fuel industries who are only worried about protecting their own profits."
Labor's trade spokesman, Jason Clare, said the opposition would examine the details of any legislation once tabled while noting that the ALP took a policy to the last election which was also opposed to ISDS provisions.
However, Mr Clare said Labor's position was strongly inclined towards free trade agreements to the extent that it had recently supported both the China and Korea bilateral agreements even though they had contained ISDS clauses. He said while undesirable, the provisions were not in themselves, "deal breakers".
Among the other options under consideration in the wake of the Trump retreat is the possible inclusion of Indonesia.
"Well, the original architecture was to enable other countries to join," Trade Minister Steve Ciobo told.
"Certainly I know that Indonesia has expressed a possible interest and there would be scope for China . . . indeed other countries, to consider joining and to join in order to get the benefits that flow as a consequence."