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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 11977


Mrs McNAMARA (Dobell) (13:19): I rise today to support the Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015 and related bill. I do acknowledge those opposite for working with the government in supporting the legislative framework of this agreement. This bill mends the Customs Act 1901 to implement new rules for imports into Australia from China. These imports must comply with the rules of origin guidelines set out in the agreement, and, where they do comply, preferential rates of customs duty will be applied.

I also acknowledge the outstanding work undertaken by the Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon. Andrew Robb. Last June, Minister Robb announced this agreement, following lengthy negotiations with Chinese government officials. Minister Robb is to be commended on his achievements. The minister has not only opened the door for Australian businesses to enter the Chinese market but also opened unprecedented employment opportunities across Australia in those businesses which take advantage of the agreement. As businesses experience an increase in activity, the need for more employees will eventuate. In my electorate of Dobell, there are a number of businesses ready to take advantage of this agreement. With over 4,000 registered unemployed people as of June this year, I look forward to the employment opportunities eventuating.

In a historic day for Australia, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was signed on 17 June 2015. This free trade agreement enables Australian access to the world's fastest growing economy. More than simply being able to enter this economy, Australian business through the work of this agreement will hold preferential access. The Chinese economy is transitioning from a dependence on spending on infrastructure and exports to a service based economy. For Australian firms to be given preferential access into this economy is an achievement that cannot be understated. This agreement will bring enormous economic opportunity to our country and to each and every community. On this side of the House, we take seriously the need to grow our economy and provide jobs for all Australians.

As the member for Dobell, I am familiar with union campaigns. Whilst Dobell residents are familiar with the HSU and the misappropriation of members' fees, it appears the ACTU did not learn from this and embarked on a $30 million campaign funded by hardworking union members to spread lies and scaremongering. If the ACTU were genuinely concerned about job creation and opportunities for workers, wouldn't the $30 million have been better spent on employment and job creation programs?

In regard to ChAFTA, the truth is that this free trade agreement will create tens of thousands of jobs for Australians, add billions to our economy and improve our living standards.

Mr Conroy interjecting

Mrs McNAMARA: Sadly, none of this really matters to the unions, and none of this really matters to the member for Charlton either. This campaign has placed the entire China-Australia Free Trade Agreement at risk. The ACTU and, in particular, the CFMEU have deliberately embarked on deceptive behaviour for their own political benefit. In doing so, they have risked damaging Australia's relationship with our largest trading partner. To emphasise this: the two-way trade between Australia and China is valued at $150 billion annually. The economic benefits of this agreement do not appear to be the focus of the unions' campaign. Rather, they purport false claims of weakening skilled migration conditions.

The fact is that no legislative measure other than the Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill of 2015 is required. In discussion with those opposite, the confusion around the 457 visa program will be clarified with the requirement that companies now seeking to sponsor skilled workers on 457 visas under work agreements demonstrate their recent and genuine efforts to recruit local Australian workers first. In continuing to ensure that this agreement is in the best interests of Australia, those holding 457 visas who wish to work in certain sectors will need to obtain licences, registrations or memberships required under state, territory or Commonwealth law.

The dishonest scare campaign run by the unions comes unstuck and is proven to be purely political when we examine the difference between this free trade agreement and previous agreements. The labour market testing regime which was introduced by the previous Labor government already exempts a number of categories. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection guidelines ensure labour market testing for those categories which are not exempt. Safeguards in the labour market testing outline that employers must demonstrate Australians have been afforded first priority for jobs.

As I have mentioned, the free trade agreement between China and Australia is about creating new jobs for Australians and stimulating economic growth. Let us look at New Zealand's success with their FTA with China. New Zealand Prime Minister Key said:

I'm a massive proponent of free trade, and the benefits of our FTA have been 11 times greater than the most optimistic estimates.

He went on to say:

The numbers speak for themselves. Having negotiated an agreement that is high quality, you'd like to grab it with both hands. New Zealand will be quite happy if you don't.

International envy from New Zealand, which has enjoyed great economic success following its free trade agreement with China, is an excellent tick of approval to Minister Robb and a sign of the benefits to come. The benefits of this and other free trade agreement reach right across Australia. Naturally, the state and territory governments have been consulted in the discussions.

The Chinese market of more than 1.35 billion customers, with an increasing middle class, will be opened to Australian businesses. The Asian region—our direct neighbours—is full of opportunities for Australian business. This agreement will work in conjunction with free trade agreements already in place with Japan and Korea to ensure Australian goods and services are available to an expanding Asian market. The good economic news continues with the realisation that, if this agreement is up and running by the end of this year, a great number of sectors will benefit from a double whammy of tariff cuts—one in this year and again in January 2016.

In stark contrast, failing to ratify this agreement would deliver a heavy blow to the Australian economy. The National Farmers' Federation indicate that delaying this agreement would cost the Australian agricultural sector $300 million in 2016, with any number of negative flow-on effects to rural and regional communities. There would also be costs of $100 million to the red meat industry, up to $60 million to the dairy industry, $50 million to the wine industry and more than $43 million to the grain industry. The Financial Services Council has indicated that, if this free trade agreement were not to proceed, that would cost our economy more than $4 billion and almost 10,000 jobs in financial services alone by 2030.

As I reflected earlier, this campaign of dishonesty orchestrated by the unions, unfortunately, is in line with their usual practice of misinformation. An example of their latest antics is their campaign inviting government member to attend union prearranged ChAFTA debates. Like many members on this side, I relish the opportunity to correct the union lies being thrown around in my community. However, when the union invite me to an event, distribute brochures with my face and name all over it, and do not check my availability, seriously, how is that a fair and open debate and opportunity to refute their lies? This campaign against government members will now be somewhat redundant, given Labor's announcement in support of ChAFTA. How hypocritical: the unions want to debate their lies in an electorate scarred by the misuse of HSU members' money! Perhaps members would be better served through the organisers debating the proper use of union credit cards. If they are so concerned about overseas labour, then perhaps they should bring themselves up to speed on the recent activities of the previous member for Dobell in regard to 457 visas.

We all know too well how the union movement love to spread lies and disregard facts. We have all heard the lies regarding this free trade agreement—lies of scaremongering, particularly targeting our outstanding tradies. The most pathetic lie that I have heard to date from the unions would have to be that the China FTA will be bad for local jobs. To all the tradies who have been misinformed by the ACTU and their Central Coast union affiliates: tradies will not be replaced by Chinese labour. In fact, jobs will be created for Australian tradies. For Dobell businesses looking at expansion and growth into the Chinese market, such as SpotGo at Jilliby: growth leads to new jobs being created. In fact, it is anticipated that ChAFTA will result in tens of thousands of new jobs being created right across Australia. This free trade agreement does not change the required skill levels for Chinese visa applicants. It will not impact on workplace safety.

That it is bad for local communities is another claim made by the ACTU. This trade deal will create tens of thousands of jobs, add billions of dollars to our economy and improve living standards. The ACTU also claim this trade deal will undercut local rates of pay. Australian workers will continue to be given first opportunity for new jobs. As is currently the case, employers will not be allowed to bring in foreign workers unless clear evidence of need is established. The duplicitous campaign waged against this agreement is emphasised in the ACTU claim that this free trade agreement will exploit overseas workers. There will be no change to the Migration Act, and this free trade agreement will not allow Australian employment laws or conditions to be undermined. I do welcome those opposite working with the government in strengthening safeguards in regard to ChAFTA and working together towards ratification of this agreement. I commend this bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Irons ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.