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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12081


Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (19:04): The China-Australia Free Agreement that was negotiated by the Abbott government was a good deal for Australian businesses. But Labor's amendments and improvements make this a good deal for Australian businesses and for Australian workers. The Liberals always forget about the workers. They always forget about the little person. The original ChAFTA forgot about Australian workers. In fact, it disadvantaged them.

We have this side deal, this memorandum of understanding, which provides for investment facilitation agreements. These agreements are new. They have never been negotiated in a free trade agreement in the past. They provide for Chinese companies that fund infrastructure projects above a threshold of $150 million to bring in foreign labour without testing the Australian market, without first offering those positions to Australian workers. You can see how this government forgets about Australian workers. Labor's general amendments to some of the migration regulations will address this injustice.

I want to congratulate Senator Penny Wong, our trade spokesperson, who has managed to negotiate some substantial amendments to Australian regulation to fix this injustice that was done to Australian workers. With these new provisions in the migration legislation, before entering into a work agreement which includes these investment facilitation agreements, the subject of the MOU, the responsible minister will be required to have regard to whether the agreement will support and create Australian jobs—so this is an Australian jobs test; a labour needs statement provided by the employer demonstrating why they need to utilise temporary skilled migration; a training plan adopted by the employer showing how they will improve the skills of local workers; and whether the 457 visa workers will be able to transfer skills to Australian workers. Also included in this package is an overseas worker support plan, showing how the employer will provide 457 visa workers with support and assistance during their stay in Australia, including information about workplace entitlements and community services.

These additional amendments will also provide the minister with the power to impose additional safeguards on work agreements to ensure that they have a positive impact on Australian jobs. They will also require the minister to publish a register of work agreements entered into and to report annually to the parliament on the operation and impact of those work agreements. These are additional protections that Labor has negotiated on behalf of workers to ensure that their interests are not forgotten under this China free trade agreement.

The agreement that was made by the Abbott government also potentially undercut Australian workers' wages. Again, Labor have sought to rectify this. We have done this by pegging the standard work visa to the relevant EBA rate of pay. So the enterprise bargaining agreement that is relevant to the particular industry that the 457 visa worker will come into will be pegged to the rate of pay in that particular job. That will be enshrined in regulation. This is a safeguard to stop Australian wages being undercut by these deals.

Labor are also protecting Australia's workers' interests when it comes to the licensing, qualifications and standards of foreign workers who may come to work in Australia. The China free trade agreement would have relaxed a lot of those protections that exist to do with the certification and licensing requirements of workers from overseas, particularly those at a trade level. In the past, there have been free trade agreements done where there has been a relaxation of some requirements at a more senior level but never before with tradespeople. The China free trade agreement went to a new low when it came to this sort of thing. Because of this, Labor opposed this deal. We have been able to strengthen the visa conditions for overseas workers in licensed occupations by strengthening the enforcement of the skills assessment and occupational licensing requirements by creating new criteria and conditions for 457 visa workers in occupations where it is mandatory to hold a licence, registration or membership. The new criteria will require visa applicants in these occupations to either hold the relevant licence when they apply for the visa or demonstrate that they meet the requirements for obtaining a licence. These criteria will need to be met for the minister to grant a 457 visa.

The new visa conditions will require 457 visas holders in licensed occupations: not to perform the occupation before obtaining a licence; to obtain a licence within 60 days of arriving in Australia; to provide the department with documentation showing they hold the licence and showing any conditions or requirements imposed on their licence before they perform the occupation; to comply with any conditions on the licence; not to engage in any work which is inconsistent with the licence or conditions imposed on the licence; and to notify the department of any changes to their licence or the conditions imposed on their licence. This is a set of important protections that will ensure the integrity of Australia's licensing and trades qualification system when it comes to, in particular, tradespeople such as electricians, carpenters and plumbers. Once again, this represents Labor protecting the interests of Australian workers when it comes to these sorts of deals.

These are positive amendments that Labor have been able to secure. They are not specific to one particular trade deal; they apply generally. We are not discriminating against one group of workers at all. They will apply generally. So we have been able to improve not only the conditions associated with this particular free trade agreement but also the conditions associated with other free trade agreements. That is a positive step for Australian workers. On the whole, with this deal you will get freer trade between Australia and China but also greater protection of the interests of Australian workers. Under Labor you get a better free trade agreement. The benefits will flow not only to businesses but also to Australian workers and their families.

I want to make some general comments in respect of the provisions of the agreement. The focus has generally been on goods and agricultural products. There have been some positive advances in freeing up trade and having greater access to markets for Australian products. That is good. But I believe that the real benefit from this trade agreement will come in the area of services. China now has the world's largest middle-class. It occurred this year that they surpassed the United States. There are 110 million people in the middle class in China now and there is a growing demand for services. The China free trade agreement will grant Australia and Australian businesses the best offer that they have made on favourable service commitments in a free trade agreement. This is a big advance for Australia. Aside from Hong Kong and Macao, Australia will have the greatest access when it comes to services in the Chinese market, providing those services to the largest middle-class in the world.

Associated with this is a 'most favoured nation' provision in the agreement, which means that, if China were to negotiate a better deal with another nation, the deal would be reciprocated with Australia. This will mean improvements in a number of areas, particularly legal services. Australian firms will be able to establish commercial relationships with Chinese law firms in the Shanghai economic zone. Australian businesses will get access to a new market for economic services and the ability to advertise on particular educational websites throughout China. Telecommunications businesses, financial services businesses and tourism businesses will benefit from this as Australia supplies, constructs, renovates and operates wholly owned Australian hotels and restaurants in some parts of China. Importantly, this will also apply to aged-care and healthcare services.

Like Australia, China has an ageing population. It will have one of the largest populations above 60 years of age in the future. There is a big opportunity for Australian aged-care providers and health service providers to access that growing market. As I said, as the Chinese middle-class expands, that appetite for services—aged-care services, in particular—is going to grow. The focus has been on agriculture and goods, but there also needs to be a focus on the service agreements that are made through this because I believe that they are a great advance for Australia.

On the whole, it is a positive result for Australia. The amendments that Labor has been able to secure ensure that the benefits of this trade agreement flow not only to businesses but also to Australian workers and their families. We have been able to ensure that businesses have greater opportunities in Australia, but we have protected the integrity of Australian workers' wages and conditions from the competition that is inevitably going to come from Chinese and other sources of foreign labour into the future. It represents Labor getting a better free trade agreement for Australia.