Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

CHAFTA

I rise to speak about the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I rise as a proud member of the Labor Party and as a proud Labor representative in this place. I am proud because it was the Labor Party that first embraced a relationship with China. Gough Whitlam led this country to step into spaces where we previously had not gone. That is something that has set this country up for the prosperity that we have seen across the last 40 years. It did not stop there. When it comes to free trade agreements and when it comes to free trade, the Labor Party has a very proud history. So it is with some concern that I read the papers and talk to people about this China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and the way it is understood in the community. I say from the outset that everybody on this side of the chamber understands the importance of free trade and the importance of the Chinese markets for the future prosperity of this country. However, it is not the responsibility of those of us on this side who, with an eye to fairness as well as future prosperity, want to take a good hard look at this agreement and ensure that it delivers for all Australians. Yes, we do have issues with the trade agreement, as it stands, without enabling legislation, which would ensure and safeguard Australian jobs, would put safeguards in place to protect visiting workers, and would ensure that this trade agreement delivers for all Australians.

It is an interesting space when we see, from question time to question time, those opposite accusing Labor and accusing the labour movement of running a scare campaign. I would suggest that those opposite look much more closely, at themselves and at their record in government in two years, at why the Australian public have a trust issue with them. They established themselves, with that very first 2014 budget, as a government that did not have an eye on fairness, as a government that seemed to lack an understanding and whose priorities were clear. It was very clear in that budget that their priorities were not about ensuring fairness for everyone.

Of course, we are also caught in a space in time where the narrative, the rhetoric, has been about lifters and leaners. It has been about punishing people. It has been about suggesting people 'get a better job' if they cannot afford to buy a house. We have had a Treasurer tell us 'poor people don't drive cars'. These are the reasons the Australian public are looking warily at the trade agreements being entered into by this government, and they are doing so with good cause. This agreement does, as it stands, have issues.

 

Labor are prepared to work with the government to find the solutions, and we think that we have found ways that will simply and easily mean that we can embrace the positives from the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement while safeguarding Australian jobs. There is no doubt that the investment facilitation arrangements and the movement of natural persons erode the role of one of the key safeguards in the 457 visa system, which is labour market testing. This needs to be ensured.

The safeguards that Labor are suggesting would be complementary to ChAFTA. I would encourage this government to embrace this opportunity to deliver on free trade and to deliver safeguards to Australian workers. What we are suggesting is entirely consistent with ChAFTA and will not require renegotiation of the agreement. It can be done through legislation. This means that ChAFTA can enter into force at the earliest opportunity, which, of course, will fast-track the positives that may come from the free trade agreement.

In short, Labor will support ChAFTA and Australia's economic engagement with China while making improvements to support local jobs, maintain workplace skills and safety standards and deter exploitation of overseas workers. It is imperative that the Australian public have confidence going into this trade agreement. It is imperative that the government embrace Labor's suggestions, come to the table and rebuild some trust with the Australian public.


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