Bill Shorten on the defensive after leak exposes Labor tensions over TPP


Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has denied Labor is divided over the TPP despite the leaking of caucus room meetings.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has denied Labor is divided over the TPP despite the leaking of caucus room meetings.


Bill Shorten is playing down divisions within Labor ranks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership despite the virtually unprecedented leaking of sensitive caucus meeting minutes revealing the depths of MPs’ anger at the free trade deal.

Labor resolved at last week’s party room meeting it would support the TPP’s enabling legislation but seek changes when in government, despite pressure from the left faction and unions.

While it was known 23 MPs and senators spoke for and against the trade pact in the meeting, the leaking of the minutes, which records MPs’ contributions to party room debates, has not happened in living memory. Despite being circulated to MPs and senior staffers, the minutes are remarkably tightly kept.

The minutes, leaked to The Herald Sun newspaper, revealed a number of MPs including frontbenchers taking aim at the trade deal’s waiving of labour market testing, making it easier to bring in foreign workers, as well as provisions allowing foreign companies to sue the federal government for compensation for policy changes.

Labor’s skills and apprenticeships spokesman Doug Cameron was quoted saying: “The politics are that working class people are insecure and Hanson is manipulating their insecurity. It is time we took a different view. This will cause problems for the working class in Queensland and Western Sydney.”

Former ACTU president Ged Kearney said attempts to protect local workers in the TPP were “weak and aspirational at best” while Queensland MP Cathy O’Toole, who holds Labor’s most marginal seat, said the “workers are being done over. We don’t want tradies to come in who are not skilled.”

‘Fair dinkum debate’

Mr Shorten said while Labor thought the TPP had serious deficiencies, it ultimately supported the deal because it would benefit farmers, the higher-education sector and steelmakers, and was confident it could address flaws when in government.

“What we saw was, I thought, a thorough and fair dinkum debate,” he said.

“What we should never do in Australia is confuse debate and disagreement with disunity. I welcome the full range of opinions being expressed in my parliamentary team, because we are in touch with everyday people. But what I don’t do is confuse that with disunity.”

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said Labor needed to come clean and reveal whether they supported Australian jobs or the TPP.

“Behind closed doors Labor politicians like Doug Cameron will admit the TPP is bad for working class Aussies but put them in front of the cameras and watch them toe the party line,” she said on Twitter.

“Looks like Bill Shorten and his multinational mates have the Labor Party on a very short leash.”

Drought summit

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his decision to cancel next month’s Council of Australian Governments meeting, which was meant to make progress on new agreements with states on hospitals and schools funding.

Labor said the meeting had been cancelled because the recent leadership change had thrown the government into division and chaos.

But the PM said he anticipated the dispute over school funding would be resolved by education ministers and treasurers ahead of the now-scrapped October 4 meeting date. COAG will meet on December 12.

“You know why we are not having COAG in October? Because we’re having a drought summit. That’s what I announced today,” Mr Morrison told question time.

“I don’t think you need to have a meeting if you don’t need to have a meeting.”