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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12102


Mr GRAY (Brand) (20:37): I rise to speak on these bills which implement the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The bills are the Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015, which will provide free and preferential rates of customs duty on most Chinese originating goods and will maintain excise equivalent rates of duty on certain alcohol, tobacco and petroleum products, and the Customs Tariff Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015, which amends the Customs Act 1901 to introduce new rules of origin for goods imported from China to allow these goods to enter Australia under preferential Chinese tariff rates.

There has been a lot of stuff and nonsense spoken about Labor's attitude to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Political opponents on our left and on our right have tried to position Labor as anti-China and anti-trade. That is stuff and nonsense, indeed. Labor and China go back a long way. In 1949, Ben Chifley supported the admission of the newly formed People's Republic of China to the United Nations. Today is of course the anniversary of the death of the great Gough Whitlam. In 1971, Gough led a Labor delegation to Beijing which saw the first high-level political contact between Australia and China in over two decades. When he addressed the Australian parliament in November last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged that Prime Minister Whitlam's decision to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1972 is the foundation of our strong relationship today.

Northern Australia and Western Australia, particularly, have defined Australia's modern relationship with China, from the Channar iron ore agreement in the 1980s to the North West Shelf LNG sale to China in 2002. I also go back a long way with China. As Labor's National Secretary I enthusiastically built relationships with the All-China Youth Federation. Later, I was a part of the North West Shelf team that worked with Prime Minister Howard to conclude the world's first LNG sale to China in 2002.

Our country and our people have benefited from bipartisan, practical, measured and realistic Asian engagement. That is why the last Labor government commissioned the Australia in the Asian century white paper—a plan to seize the opportunities and navigate the challenges of Asia's rise to ensure that we all win. Labor are the party of free trade and trade liberalisation. We recognise that reducing barriers to trade boosts growth, creates jobs and gives consumers greater choice and lower prices. Labor have been the great moderniser of Australia's economy and our relations with the world. It was Labor that brought down the post-war tariff barriers, floated the dollar, deregulated the banks, established the free trade agenda, initiated the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and argued for the creation of the G20.

Significantly, the China-Australia trading relationship is, at its heart, a Western Australian-North Australian and China relationship. That is because the state of WA and northern Australia export most to China. WA's iron ore, LNG and other hydrocarbons, minerals, food and fibre comprise the lion's share by value and volume of Australia's trading relationship with China.

As we embrace the Asian century, Australians must understand that there is competition from other countries. This is also their Asian century. There are many other countries eager to become suppliers to China and many eager economic partners for China to select from. Indeed, as we speak here today, President Xi Jinping sleeps at Buckingham Palace. The Queen of Australia will use all of the royal British trappings to sell a British economic partnership with China. So we do need to compete.

People I meet, by and large, want to support a free trade agreement between Australia and China, but they want one that supports jobs and working conditions here and in China. I led the work developing the former Labor government's enterprise migration agreements, or EMAs, so I understand the power, productivity and benefits of flexible migration agreements for big projects. I also argued publicly for that policy position and for us to have the world's best practice in our migration laws and to have migration laws that support safety and, importantly, productivity.

I also know that the investment facilitation arrangements in this agreement are not EMAs. EMAs were designed for resource construction projects valued at $2 billion or more and a peak workforce of a minimum of 1,500 workers. IFAs will allow Chinese workers to be engaged on Chinese funded infrastructure projects worth more than a mere $150 million.

As part of the free trade agreement negotiations, Australia and China have also agreed to drop mandatory skills assessments for Chinese workers in a range of trades. Like so many of the temporary migration changes, the motivation for this change, and its impact, was poorly explained. The framework for managing them is now improved. I thank Minister Robb and the Prime Minister for this, and I congratulate my colleagues for wanting this outcome.

What has been most frustrating is that the government keep getting the important details of ChAFTA wrong. The Minister for Foreign Affairs in this place said that the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement would remove tariffs on Australian iron, Australian gold and Australian crude petroleum and LNG exports to China. These commodity exports, of course, already have zero tariffs. Ms Bishop was simply overselling, even misstating, the effects of ChAFTA.

The ChAFTA will deliver benefits for the Australian economy—the western and northern Australian economies in particular—by improving access to the Chinese market for our exporters in agriculture, mining and resources, education, manufacturing and services. The ChAFTA will be more helpful for certain sectors and not as helpful for others.

The Productivity Commission has said that the increase in national income from free trade agreements is likely to be modest. While such agreements can reduce trade barriers and help meet other objectives, their potential impact is limited and other options may be more cost-effective. But one thing is for sure: we cannot allow our competitors even a small trade advantage. Strengthening our relationship with China is an important and bipartisan national policy objective and a national advantage. There is deep and fundamental bipartisan support for a China-Australia Free Trade Agreement that supports and creates jobs and that makes our community proud of our parliament.

Labor depart from our political opponents only in our desire to ensure the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement supports and creates Australian jobs as a first priority. The government initially responded to Labor's genuine concerns about the labour provisions in the agreement with bluster and even extreme xenophobia rather than facts. It is time that we all recognise that name-calling will not substitute for real debate or allay concerns about anything, let alone this trade deal. Labor has consistently argued for safeguards in three specific areas: labour market testing, protecting Australian wages and conditions, and upholding workplace skills and safety standards. Today, Labor and the government have negotiated new legal safeguards in each of these areas without the need to renegotiate the ChAFTA.

Over the past decade many trade ministers have worked very hard to make this trade deal a reality, and we should pay tribute to Mark Vaile, Warren Truss, Simon Crean, Stephen Smith, Craig Emerson and Richard Marles. In particular, I pay tribute to my friend Andrew Robb for the great work that he has done in our national interest to deliver this agreement in a way that will bring benefits for Australia. I thank the Prime Minister. I thank the Labor leader. I thank Penny Wong. The work that they have done to bring a compromise to our parliament is simply exemplary. It shows us at our best in this place.

I also thank the leaders of the resources and agricultural sectors who thoughtfully trusted Labor to deliver on the ChAFTA. In government, Labor helped to negotiate the ChAFTA and, in opposition, here we are helping to secure the passage of ChAFTA through this parliament. I am pleased to support these bills and to vote for this agreement and to congratulate all of those ministers who, over all of those years, have worked in our national interest to deliver an agreement that is as good as it can be.