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How not to negotiate a deal 101

By Steve Laing

Jennifer Wilson has written an excellent piece today on this particular story which I commend you to read, but I’d like to also ask you to consider it from the perspective of the capability of our government to undertake one of their key responsibilities – doing deals with other countries.

This week we witnessed a brand new diplomatic reality where the rule book has very truly been completely thrown out the window, leaving the behind the scenes non-combatants on both sides desperately trying to patch up the disaster caused by two “business men” who claim to know that they are both successful and clever. What a total joke.

The deal with the US to take some of the refugees from Manus and Nauru was a bad one in the first place. But to insist that it be honoured once Trump was elected was stupid beyond belief given his very public statements about refugees and immigrants, particularly those of a middle-eastern heritage.

As any capable negotiator will tell you, when negotiating any kind of deal, it is vital to have a BATNA, the ‘Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement’. Essentially what will you do if the deal you want won’t be accepted. Having no back-up plan leaves you very exposed if things change, and significantly undermines your negotiation position.

When the loose cannon became president-elect, a smart Australian government would have read the tea-leaves and taken the opportunity to step back and renegotiate the deal, because by pushing it through as they have done, they have managed to do exactly the opposite of what was intended, namely to significantly piss off the key person who represents arguably our most important security ally.

Now whilst it is true that the Turnbull government desperately wanted an opportunity to get out of the corner they have dug themselves with their gulags; and whilst Obama was happy to give them the opportunity, (because that’s what you do for your political allies – give them a chance to save some face domestically); the Turnbull government should have realized that this deal for Mr Trump would be about as popular as a turd in a swimming pool, and instead of pushing on, instead taken a serious rethink about their long-term strategy with these new facts in mind.

But instead, being desperate and having no BATNA, they hammered home on the deal, using a mechanism that might have worked when dealing with an honourable (and sensible) politician which is that when negotiated in good faith, you honour the deal agreed to by your predecessor. Unsurprisingly it has turned to shit.

The fact that it backfired spectacularly in Turnbull’s face revealed his business (indeed political and diplomatic) skills – somewhat sparse. Like Trump, Turnbull is used to negotiating from a position of power. Doing deals from that position makes negotiating bloody easy! You just turn the screws and you will get the deal you want. But in this deal, Australia is not the bigger partner. And Trump, being the larger partner, will inevitably achieve an outcome from this debacle that will be significantly in his favour. Trump now very clearly holds the cards, which he will play exactly as he wishes. He may agree to it (using the excuse that Obama had done it to save face at home), but he will want far more than a pound of flesh in return. In this situation, Australia’s most sensible approach would be to take the deal off the table, and start again – that is, and should always have been the BATNA, and it should now be put into play. But it won’t happen, because when it comes to doing deals, we are represented by the rankest of amateurs.

And in the background we have Whiney Pyne, and indeed other cabinet members, working hard, trying to polish this most foul of turds. ‘Turnbull is looking after Australia’s interests’ apparently. So pissing off your most powerful ally is looking after our interests, is it? First time I’ve heard that was a positive outcome.

As expected, this latest debacle in the ongoing series of cockwombling clusterflucks, is purely due to the laziness and incompetence of this government. Turnbull entirely deserves all the opprobrium he has garnered from this shamozl, but at what cost to Australia? And if this is the level of negotiating skills that our government ministers have, what exactly have we signed up for in the trade deals with China, South Korea and Japan? If there is perhaps one saving grace, and that is that the TPP is dead in the water. But it would be fair to conclude that in the rush to get agreements signed at whatever cost, we have been completely and comprehensively dudded.

Steve LaingSteve Laing – Steve is unaligned to any particular party, but cognizant of the reality that people are our biggest asset, so it makes sense to look after them. Uncomfortable with the ineptitude that permeates our current government, and yet sees such as the prevailing condition in our political system. Over the years Steve has worked for a number of different businesses, both corporate and small, and has experienced good and bad “policy” development and decision making, and seen the outcomes of such. Steve also has his own blog: www.makeourvoiceheard.com.



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  1. Phil

    A good read thanks Steve. The lack of information about the original deal made with Obama and the mixed and conflicting information on the current situation with Trump certainly points to a gigantic policy disaster with serious and quite horrible implications for the refugees. I agree on the doubts about all other negotiated deals that the Australian government has been secretively making.

    Trumps ascendancy for better or worse has now exposed for all to see, the inherent weaknesses in our useless and incompetent government.

    Notice now that Trump is driving climate science into a dark corner, that the Coalition is ramping up its ‘we love coal’ rhetoric – and bringing ever more criminal deniers into the tent. This is no democracy – it is a plutocracy.

  2. jim

    We have the worst government . since 1949 and it’s the LNP,……As the Australia Institute’s research in June found – across a broad range of economic measures, the Abbott/Turnbull government has performed the worst of any Australian government since 1949. Economist Jim Stanford’s report examines economic performance across 12 indicators – including GDP per capita, the unemployment rate, employment growth and the growth of real business investment and intellectual property investment …

    Inequality is growing,the suicide rate is growing and always does under the LNP…..https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2817-right-wing-governments-increase-suicide-rates/

    The only way forward is rid the world of right wing governments (like Australias LNP) this is the only way forward.

  3. Stephanie Cornwallis

    It strikes me that Trump’s annoyance with Turnbull might have been exacerbated by his perception of the name of Turnbull’s party. I mean, the ignoramus Trump wouldn’t have a clue that “Liberal”, in Australian politics, actually means right wing nut job. And “liberal”, in America these days, is a term of abuse. Perhaps Turnbull should rename his party “Tory” or something which actually describes what they are. Then try that phone call again. Worth a try.

  4. wam

    great read – cynics have no doubt of the negotiators haste in signing shows that andrew robb’s assignment was to get a signature. He was inept to start with and the result is not likely to be fair.
    The snippets of the china agreement where our tariiffs disappeared in 2015 but some the chinese keep for another 7 years and unlimited workers visas(the kiwis put a 100 per sector limit)
    automotive Electrician, Cabinetmaker, Carpenter and Joiner, Diesel Motor Mechanic, Electrician, Motor and Motorcycle Mechanic? Any of the 1.5 billion chinese has access to a two year visa without any skill testing or direct testing in those trades and moe?? not much future for the Aust labour market?
    labor went to water probably reluctant to challenge robb’s illness.
    ps Stephanie how about a royal republican???

  5. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Frump has insulted Australia. Trumble let him do it just like Steve has said because Muck is a push-over.

    But the worst part of it is that both the bastards have put the lives of suffering, innocent, vulnerable asylum seekers on Nauru in limbo for longer because of their political posturing.

  6. Steve Laing

    Yep. These must be the most expensive cheap votes the Liberals have ever paid for. Interestingly Trumble doesn’t seem to be copping the flack from the Yanks for the dumb deal – strange, given we instigated it. Clearly Trump is taking every opportunity to rubbish Obama that he can – I suspect because he felt that Obama totally humiliated him over the whole birther alt fact. BTW – Stan Grant totally owned Pyne last night on the 7:30. It was a delight to see a real journo at work on the ABC for a change.

  7. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Yes, Stan Grant was good. It was something unusual to see Pyne speechless! 🙂

    On Twitter, I’ve sent out some messages instructing the ABC to replace Leigh Sales with Stan Grant because of his enlivened interviews that don’t show LNP bias like Sales’ do. I’m expecting Michelle Guthrie to get back to me advising she has done as I have bid.

  8. helvityni

    Jennifer, I like that Stan Grant is persistent, his interviews of Turnbull and Pyne were very good, Turnbull was irritated, ‘how dare you ask me hard questions’, and it was the first time I have seen Pyne speechless, yet he can be most charming as well…

    Leigh back on Monday, no more 7.30 for me…

  9. helvityni

    …’charming’, that was meant for Stan, not Pyne.

  10. paulwalter

    In the end it has demonstrated just how easily both politicians will sell out their constituents, anyone in fact, on nothing better than vanity, self image and wounded ego, while human lives suffer for the whim of poseurs,

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