It was as dreary as listening to the formulaic assessments of political economy by an unreconstructed Leninist. But Sunday morning with Steve Ciobo, Australia’s trade minister, was such an occasion.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, withering away on the branch of false optimism, has been an instrument of deserved suspicion and opprobrium from popular movements across countries suspicious about the paternalistic follies of their governments. It was precisely opposition to such a proposed agreement, negotiated in total secrecy away from the prying eyes of public interest groups, that fuelled the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump during the 2016 US presidential elections.
Even Hillary Clinton, whose husband was a vital figure behind initiating the North American Free Trade Agreement during the 1990s, began to chew some of the anti-free trade cud close to her ignominious defeat.
No free trade faith quite matches the monomania of Australian governments. Since the 1980s, liberalising and opening the economy has been an unshakeable trajectory, a punishing, stripping dogma that insists that being economically open is liberally good, and closed, parochially bad.
While other states have wised up to the idea that total openness is a recipe for local instability, estrangement, and disaster, the Australian response has been unshakeable: keep borders open and corporations content, except when it comes to refugees who arrive by boat. As Australian Prime…