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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12093


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (19:59): I would like to take this opportunity to commend the excellent work of Minister Robb and his team in the department for the work that they have done. Since the 2013 election, the coalition government has made significant progress on a number of major trade agreements. Of course the legislation before the House today, the Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015, relates to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, or ChAFTA, as we affectionately call it. We have also seen some incredible progress made on the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.

I understand that Minister Robb, after his very famous stand-off with the United States over intellectual property protections for medicine in the TPP, has returned to Australia to engage with the Labor Party on some of the finer points of this agreement. I am very pleased to see that the sensible solution has been reached—one that, if I may borrow a phrase from the minister's earlier statement, provides clarity and comfort with regard to some of the issues those opposite raised. Now that we have finally seen the Labor Party come to the table in good faith and discuss this in a rational way, I call on those elements of the union that have been so aggressive in debate, particularly the CFMEU and the MUA. I would like to see them deal with this agreement on a sensible level.

Speaking as the only coalition representative of the Northern Territory in this place, I would like to take a few moments to outline why I have been so enthusiastic in my support of this agreement. Australia, as we all know, is an island nation, so the terms under which we engage in international trade will always be a significant factor in determining the nation's overall wealth and the quality of life that our citizens enjoy, and nowhere more so than in the Northern Territory.

China is Australia's largest two-way trading partner. That in itself may not be surprising. Anyone who has ever shopped in Australia would be familiar with the 'Made in China' tags and stickers on so much of our merchandise. What may be surprising is that Australia exports to China more than twice as much as we import. On 2014-15 figures, we sold $107.6 billion worth of exports to China. That is nearly one third of our total exports. China, by contrast, sold $52.1 billion to us. Whenever we discuss the details of this legislation and we talk about the drop in tariffs on certain products, it can sound like small change. To keep it in context, what we are really talking about is nearly one third of Australia's export market. China has more than 1.3 billion people and a rapidly growing middle class, as many of my colleagues have commented on. If we, through this agreement, can boost that trade by even a few percentage points, that change will ripple across 1.3 billion consumers, totalling one third of our export market.

In terms of the Northern Territory, beef production is big business. Historically, we have relied on live-cattle exports to Indonesia, so irreparable damage was done to that market when the Labor government banned the live exports to Indonesia in 2011. Since then, though, the beef industry has diversified. We are finding new markets for exports of live cattle. A $90 million abattoir has opened just outside of my electorate and the focus will be to process boxed beef. Currently, live cattle attract a 10 per cent tariff in China that will be eliminated in just four years under ChAFTA. Processed beef tariffs of up to 25 per cent will be eliminated over nine years. What does this mean? It means that for 1.3 billion Chinese people Australian beef will be more competitively priced on supermarket shelves and in restaurants. If just a small portion of the 1.3 billion people switch to Australian beef, we will have created enormous growth in the sector.

Meat and Livestock Australia have crunched some numbers on what the China free trade agreement could mean for the beef industry. By their calculations, once the agreement is fully implemented, beef production could increase by $270 million every year. In the 2013-14 financial year, the Northern Territory exported $3.2 billion worth of gas. That figure is only going to grow as projects such as INPEX come online from 2016 and ConocoPhillips looks beyond the Bayu-Undan development. The China free trade agreement will lock in tariffs at zero per cent for this multibillion-dollar industry.

You might ask: what benefits are there when we already have no tariff? Put simply, it eliminates risk. The minister for Northern Australia and I toured both the INPEX and the ConocoPhillips facilities a couple of weeks ago. To give you an idea of the scale of these investments, the INPEX facility is five kilometres from the front gate to the seafront and then there is more than 800 kilometres of subsea pipe to the gas field in the Timor Sea. To build new facilities in that industry, we are talking about tens of billions of dollars. This is an investment in an industry where prices of the product produced can fluctuate. With ChAFTA, locking in tariff-free trade with our single-largest trade partner, we are removing one more risk. We are increasing business confidence and we are making it more likely that future developments will go ahead.

If I had the time, I would go through every industry in the Northern Territory and talk about the benefits that the agreement will bring, such as for pearls, for instance. We export $20 million worth of pearls every year. A 21 per cent tariff would be eliminated over four years. I spoke to James Paspaley about this tariff reduction and he was really delighted. He is very happy. The Northern Territory has a couple of boutique producers creating buffalo mozzarella. That is exactly the sort of product that could sell as a luxury in the China market. I do not believe that they export yet, but New Zealand's dairy exports to China have grown by 864 per cent since they implemented a free-trade deal. I am sure that the Territory's producers would appreciate access to that market.

In terms of services, the Territory has expertise in management, mining and extractive industries, aquaculture, agriculture, civil works and construction. All of those companies and the people in the area will now find it easier to work in China. I want to emphasise that because this point has been absent from a lot of the discussion around the agreement, particularly the points raised from those opposite.

The China free trade agreement is bilateral—it works both ways. Access will be improved for our specialists and professionals who need to work in China, as it will for the equivalent Chinese people who need to work in Australia. This approach to limited labour mobility is not new, and it will not mean, as the trade unions have suggested, that Australia will be swamped with Chinese workers—no more than we were swamped with Chilean workers when we signed a free trade agreement with that nation.

The 457 visa system will remain in place. The wages and conditions of anyone working in Australia will continue to be protected, and anyone working in this country will need to demonstrate that they have the appropriate skills to work in that field. Amendments negotiated with Labor will introduce additional clauses regarding mandatory reporting of cases where licences, registration or permits are refused or withdrawn.

China already has free trade agreements in place with a number of countries, including Pakistan, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru, Costa Rica, Iceland and Switzerland. Every day in Australia that we do not have this agreement puts us at a trade disadvantage against these nations. By contrast, getting this legislation through before the end of this year will pay a double dividend to Australia. If enabling legislation for the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement can pass in this calendar year, then the first year's tariff drops will come into effect on that day. The second year's tariff cut would then come into effect on 1 January 2016.

The legislation before us today is the enabling bill for one of the most significant trade agreements this House has ever debated. China is already Australia's largest single trade partner, and this bill will turbocharge that relationship, allowing greater access to markets and investment for both China and Australia. For my home, the Northern Territory, this will give our exporters a boost and will mean lower prices for both business and individual consumers.

In conclusion I want to reiterate that the regulations we are introducing will ensure labour market testing is required in all circumstances, before foreign workers can be brought to Australia. This means Aussie workers will always get first go and a fair go at applying for Australian jobs. It also means foreign workers will be able to enter the country only if no Australian worker is available to fill the role they are taking up. It is important to note that this has always been the case, in terms of policy, but now it is going into be regulated. It is for this reason that Labor is now supporting the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. This puts paid to union claims that the China free trade deal will lead to foreigners stealing Australian jobs. It never would have, but that did not stop the scaremongering. These regulations will make doubly sure that that is the case.

I strongly commend this bill to the House. I am really pleased that Labor has finally come to the table and are supporting this very important deal for Australians, to ensure that we create the jobs we need for the future.