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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12061


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (17:34): China is the most populous nation on earth, a vast nation of 1.35 billion people. It has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, with gross domestic product having more than doubled in the past six years. It is now the world's second largest economy, and it is only a few years away from overtaking the United States of America as the largest economy on the planet. Every year, tens of millions of Chinese enter the middle class. China is now Australia's largest export destination. Australian exports to China have more than tripled in value since 2007. One in every $3 earned from Australian exports is now earned from trade with China.

With this Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015 we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build on these strong foundations by breaking down the remaining barriers to trade with China. This bill enacts the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which will remove 95 per cent of the remaining tariffs on Australian exports to China. This agreement is big news for my electorate of Ryan, for reasons that I will shortly explain after a brief digression.

Many members like to praise the intelligence of their electorate, but I have the numbers to prove it. According to the 2011 census, Ryan is the most educated electorate in Australia. There are more education professionals in my electorate than in any other electorate in Australia. We also rank in the top 10 for health professionals and for design, engineering, science and transport professionals. What this indicates is that the local Ryan economy is very much a service economy. Thousands of locals work as professionals in the Brisbane CBD or at large local institutions such as the Wesley Hospital and the University of Queensland.

With apologies to my rurally-based colleagues, in my view, it is the service economy rather than agriculture or mining that offers the greatest opportunity for further export growth. Already, one in $7 earned from exports to China are earned from service exports. After iron ore, coal and gold, education related travel is the fourth largest Australian export earner in the Chinese market. With the slowdown in mining, the service economy share of exports to China will only grow further. For the service economy, this agreement is crucial. China is already Australia's largest export market for education services. But this agreement will ensure the trade relationship is further strengthened and deepened.

Within 12 months of the commencement of this agreement, an additional 77 Australian private higher education institutions will join the 105 Australian providers already listed with the Chinese Ministry of Education. This will act as a gateway to substantially increase their visibility among prospective Chinese students and will boost the number of Chinese students who choose to study in Australia. Even more Australian institutions may be added in the future.

In further good news, education ministers have signed memoranda of understanding to ensure improved higher education qualifications recognition in both countries, as well as enhanced mobility of students, researchers and academics. These moves will cut red tape and reduce barriers to trade. There are also commitments to further discuss how to increase student and teacher exchange between Australia and China and to increase marketing and recruitment opportunities for Australian education providers in China.

All of this is in addition to the links already being established through the New Colombo Plan, under which young Australians are being assisted to study and undertake training in nations in our region. Almost one in five students in the 2015 cohort have elected to undertake study in China and Hong Kong.

Beyond education the Australian health and aged-care sector will benefit from the easing of restrictions on establishing Australian owned hospitals in the major cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, as well as the populous and relatively affluent provinces of Jiangsu, Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan.

In construction and engineering, China has guaranteed market access to Australian companies established in the Shanghai free trade zone. And, in the area of legal services, Australia has secured a world-first agreement on commercial association between law firms. Within the Shanghai free trade zone, Australian law firms will have the ability to establish commercial associations with Chinese law firms and will be able to offer Australian, Chinese and international legal services without restriction.

There is no doubt that this agreement is good for my electorate and also good for Australia. It will boost growth in industries that employ millions of Australian workers. With the livelihoods of so many Australian workers and their families riding on trade with China, successive governments, including Labor governments, have been working towards improving Australian access to Chinese markets. The benefits of the agreement are clear and obvious to any fair-minded observer.

We have seen former Labor Prime Ministers, former Labor trade ministers and serving state Labor Premiers show their support for this agreement. The Australian newspaper has compiled a list of Labor luminaries who support the agreement. Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews said:

The free trade agreement is something that I support, that our government supports.

Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said:

Of course I support the free trade agreement with China … our largest trading partner.

ACT Labor Chief Minister Andrew Barr said:

Free trade encourages jobs growth. It’s not free trade but the Australia/China preferential trade agreement will be good for … exporters.

Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke said:

The party must not go backwards on this issue—the party and the trade union movement. Talk of opposing it is just absolutely against Australia's best interests.

Former Labor leader Simon Crean said:

… we diminish our opportunities for jobs going forward if we do not sign this agreement.

Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr said:

Our analysis of the FTA is that any incoming Labor government would have all the mechanisms it needs to protect … Australian workers.

New South Wales Labor leader Luke Foley said:

I agree with Bob Hawke when he says that the China-Australia free trade agreement should not be torpedoed.

And, finally, Tasmanian Labor leader Bryan Green said:

Labor wants to see this FTA deliver good outcomes for China, good outcomes for Australia and good outcomes for Tasmanian workers.

Industry groups have lined up to support it, as have the lion's share of informed financial and political commentators.

Sadly, there is a lonely island of opposition to this agreement. The incorrigible dinosaurs of the CFMEU have kept up their record of opposing every piece of worthwhile economic reform in recent memory. This time they have managed to outdo themselves by running a marketing campaign of startling intellectual dishonesty and thinly veiled xenophobia. CFMEU advertisements have been blanketing the airwaves, darkly warning of invading armies of foreign labour, legions of shonky Chinese electricians and wave after wave of substandard products. This, of course, is complete nonsense and has been debunked many times over.

I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition has been convinced to back this agreement. It is the right decision for working Australians and it is the right decision for Australia's long-term economic future. I commend the Minister for Trade and Investment for his tireless efforts to secure this agreement. I commend this bill to the House.