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TPPA so deep a secret not even the minister knows what’s in it

‘Yes Ministering’ a non-minister in Senate Estimates

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Australia’s bureaucrats appear to have learned the lesson from ACTA’s slow-motion train wreck in Europe, and aren’t letting the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) anywhere near something as unpredictable as a parliament.

Under questioning by The Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlam, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee was told that neither foreign minister Bob Carr nor trade minister Craig Emerson have seen the negotiation text of the TPPA.

Here’s where the exchange, between Ludlam and Hamish McCormick (deputy CEO of the Australian Trade Commission) starts to sound like an episode of Yes, Minister. From the transcript posted by Ludlam (the official Hansard version doesn’t seem to be available yet):

Ludlam: “Are you aware of whether or not the foreign minister has seen the current negotiating texts for the agreement?”

McCormick : “I do not believe he has.”

Ludlam: “Is that because he is relatively new to the job? Should he have? Will he?”

McCormick: “No. The agreement is the responsibility of the minister for trade.”

And then:

Ludlam: “Has the trade minister seen it?”

McCormick: “An FTA agreement, when completed, will be approximately 1,000 pages long. As I said, it is not an agreement that is on the table for anybody to have a look at.”

As far as El Reg can tell, the Department is telling Senator Ludlam that the foreign minister hasn’t seen the text of the agreement because that’s the job of the trade minister, who hasn’t seen the negotiating text because … well, just because.

The department also told Ludlam – as we already knew and as is increasingly irritating to those citizens that care about such things – that the text of the agreement remains “confidential between the parties”, and “Nothing has a status until it has been agreed at the end of the negotiations, so anything that people talk about is purely speculation.”

So there you go: there’s no need for public debate on TPPA because there’s no agreement, and when there’s an agreement, we’ll all get to have a look at it, except by that time the negotiations will have ended. ®

Bootnote: My thanks to the reader who located the full Hansard transcript, here. ®

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