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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12085


Mr MARLES (Corio) (19:26): I rise to support the Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015 and acknowledge the significant moment this represents, both in the economic history of our country and in the way in which this parliament has operated to deliver the best outcome that we can deliver in terms of the way in which the China free trade agreement will operate.

The Australia in the Asian century white paper that was delivered by the former Gillard government was, in my view, one of the most important economic narratives that came from the Rudd-Gillard era. Its thesis was that, as a small country of 23 million people, we were unlikely to be able to maintain our standard of living unless we were an active trading nation and that what we had on our doorstep was the most significant social phenomenon that we are seeing in the world today, and that is the rise of the Asian middle class, and we are particularly seeing that in China. That represents an enormous opportunity for the Australian economy in terms of providing both goods and services to that rising middle class, in circumstances where ours is of course an economy geared to providing goods and services to our own middle class. You cannot be in that space without having a free trade agreement with China, which is why we have, on this side of the House, always supported the idea of a China free trade agreement and why we pursued that throughout the Rudd-Gillard era.

And all of that, of course, is an extension of what you saw during the Hawke-Keating governments—a much greater integration between Australia and the East Asian economies. We saw that with the establishment of APEC, which was one of the critical achievements of the Hawke-Keating era. You can go back further, to the Whitlam government. Indeed, Gough Whitlam as Leader of the Opposition in 1971 visited China—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): I can go back that far too. I don't think you can!

Mr MARLES: Indeed. And, in this month in 1973, as the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam visited China and began the process of establishing diplomatic relations between us and that country. Indeed, we can go further—I do not know whether you can do this, Mr Deputy Speaker—back to 1947 and Doc Evatt's participation—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: No. You got me!

Mr MARLES: in the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi. The Chifley government was focused, in the immediate postwar era, on seeing Australia's future embedded in Asia and the need for us to participate in that growing economy. The foresight then and that line of action that you have seen through successive Labor governments demonstrate the fact that a China free trade agreement—what we see before the parliament now— and what we saw with the Australia in the Asian century white paper are part of a long Labor tradition, both of liberalising trade and of engaging with Asia.

I saw this firsthand when, along with the then trade minister, Dr Emerson, I led a trade mission to China on behalf of the Australian government—the Australia-China 2.0 Trade Mission—back in 2011. We went to Guangzhou but we went to a series of secondary cities as well—Changsha, Wuhan, Chengdu, Jinan and Chonqing—and saw the enormous opportunity coming from the growth of the Chinese middle class.

This was a trade mission that had 100 Australian businesses across a range of activities, many involved in services. It included John Bilmon, from PTW Architects, who was the principal architect involved in designing the famous Water Cube where the swimming events were held at the Beijing Olympics. He saw the opportunity of providing his services to the Chinese economy. We had people who were engaged in environmental services, education, training, banking and the list goes on.

As trade minister I had the great opportunity of visiting Beijing, in July 2013, when I participated in the negotiations for the China free trade agreement. I remember being advised by the department of the dairy industry and what this agreement would mean for them. It is an instructive example about the opportunity this represents for the economy as a whole. Back in 2008 the dairy industries in Australia and New Zealand were about the same size. That was the year New Zealand signed its free trade agreement with China. In the five years between then and 2013 we saw a massive increase in New Zealand dairy exports to China—something like a tripling of those exports—to a point where that industry was almost twice the size of the Australian industry just five years later. In 2013 there were 40,000 Australians, I was advised, working in the Australian dairy industry. That example demonstrates the opportunity to be gained from this agreement, and you can replay that in respect of beef, wine and a whole lot of agricultural services.

That is an instructive example of the opportunity this China free trade agreement represents for Australia's economy. It needs to be, and we have always believed it has been, a critical economic plank of our future strategy for goods and services—the opportunity for Australian universities to participate more in China, the opportunity for Australian banks, architecture firms, law firms, environmental services and the like. The opportunity of a free trade agreement with China is immense.

That said, the precise agreement arrived at by this government is not the one a Labor government would have negotiated. There were legitimate concerns, we felt—as did many in the union movement—around the labour-mobility clause and its capacity to be open for abuse. It is in that respect that I place on record my admiration for the work of our shadow trade minister, Penny Wong, in the negotiations she has undertaken with the government on the way the government will engage with the existing free trade agreement, in respect of these issues. What she has negotiated—and I need to acknowledge the trade minister, Andrew Rob, in the same breath—what both have negotiated is labour-market testing to be applied across all work agreements.

When we are talking about 457 visas, in relation to the market salary rate test that is applied to 457 visas, the government is willing to have a situation where enterprise-bargaining agreements are referenced as the benchmark. That is not just in respect of 457 visas issued in relation to this China free trade agreement, it is across the whole regime of 457 visas. It ensures that where people are working in Australia and requiring an occupational licence, that becomes a condition of their visa.

These are significant changes to the arrangements that will apply in respect of the China free trade agreement, which have been negotiated by Senator Wong and the trade minister; it is to the credit of both of them that this has occurred. This agreement will provide much better safeguards for Australian workers. It goes—I do not pretend to say it goes the whole way—some of the way in dealing with the legitimate concerns that have been expressed by many, including those in the union movement.

In the same breath, I put on record my admiration, as well, for the leadership of Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, in respect to the way in which this has been handled. It has not been easy. We have always supported the idea of a free trade agreement with China. We have been deeply engaged with it. It is part of, in many respects, a Labor tradition going back to the Chifley government. But we did have legitimate concerns in respect to the labour-mobility clause and the way in which the Leader of the Opposition has handled this, and the outcome is an enormous credit to him. Ultimately, it is a credit to this parliament. As a result of his work, the work of Senator Wong, the work of the trade minister and the work of this parliament we will have a much better China free trade agreement being implemented in this country.

There remains an issue in relation to the whole space of those from overseas working in Australia, under temporary work arrangements, on temporary work visas. That is part of the context in which we have concerns about this particular agreement. We need to ensure that the visas we have operating in Australia that provide for temporary work do the job intended. We have work rights afforded to people who are here studying, which is appropriate. People on student visas should be able to undertake some work, in order to sustain themselves, while they gain a qualification from one of our fantastic educational institutions. But where we see students' work rights overshadowing their ability to study, that not only undermines why those students are here but also short-sells the great education-export industry we have in this country.

We have seen working holiday visas being industrialised in some instances, where people who come here are engaging in a lot of work and not much holiday under a visa which is about trying to promote a cultural exchange and to give people the opportunity to live in Australia and experience life here for a period of time. And, of course, 457 visas play a critical role in our economy in dealing with skills gaps. But where you see labour market-testing arrangements fail, that has the effect of skilled Australians missing out.

All of this needs to be looked at very carefully. We need to make clear a fundamental principle in this country, which is that if you work in Australia you should be working under Australian conditions of employment. And the concerns that have been expressed by many, including those in the union movement, are very legitimate in relation to this. As the Leader of the Opposition stated in his speech this morning, both myself and the member for Gorton, the shadow minister for employment, will be reviewing this issue and looking at ways in which a future Shorten Labor government can reform this sector to give rise to a much fairer outcome for those who are working here in such a way as to prevent the exploitation of those people and to better resource our industrial relations system so that it can enforce a circumstance where those who do work in the Australian labour market do so under Australian conditions of employment.

But as a whole, today is a good day. It is a good day for our parliament in how those of us in this place have worked together to get a much better outcome than was originally proposed. It is a good day for our economy, because we will see a China free trade agreement put in place with all the consequent opportunity that that represents for our businesses in supplying goods and services to that rising Chinese middle class. And it is a great day, I think, for the leadership of both parties in being able to work out the arrangements which are being consecrated in the legislation before us today.