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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12120


Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (21:48): I rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015 and related bill. I found that contribution somewhat staggering in some regards. The member for Makin seems to intimate that, because you trade with someone, there is no need to look at or liberalise those trade agreements. I wonder what the member for Makin would have made of the Hawke and Keating legislation that removed tariff barriers and those sorts of issues in the 1980s in order to liberalise the trade regime. After all, we were trading with those countries before, weren't we? No need to reduce tariffs or anything else, because we were trading with them anyway! The point is that we want to increase that trade.

The member also made note of the issue of jobs in saying that the government giving ground on this issue indicated that these were valid concerns. The simple fact is that, once again, getting this agreement through the parliament was critical. A lot of jobs are highly dependent on the legislation for this deal getting through by the end of the year. Quite frankly, we were not going to be hijacked and held hostage to demands as far as all sorts of Labor amendments were concerned, but we certainly conceded on some, not necessarily because they were valid but simply because Realpolitik means that sometimes you have to cut a deal to get legislation through.

In terms of increasing trade or not with a free trade agreement, one need only look at what happened in New Zealand and the massive increase they had in their dairy penetration into the Chinese market compared with Australia to see the value of these free trade agreements. In unlocking the experiences of the past and looking to the future, one must recognise that every vote against ChAFTA is a proxy vote for protection—and that is essentially what the member for Makin is arguing. A vote for protection is, as Churchill put it, a vote to give governments the right to rob Peter to pay Paul and to charge the public a handsome commission on the job.

I wish to remind the House that, according to the Leader of the Opposition, this is the year of the big idea. In such a year, one would expect or would be forgiven for thinking that there would be hundreds of ideas. But what is the Labor reality? Five. One idea every two months—staggering! This is indicative of the Labor Party more generally. They are reactive not proactive. They are negative, small-minded and backward looking. They are a jealous, envious bunch who believe that the quickest way to the fruit at the top of the tree is to chop that tree down, not to climb the tree. Labor are leaners not lifters. This ChAFTA debate has been and is a litmus test for Labor's current leadership. It is instructive that in government Labor resisted a union campaign against the original scheme and a host of Labor elders such as Martin Ferguson, Simon Crean, Peter Beattie, John Brumby and Bob Carr, among others, as well as a raft of business leaders, have welcomed the agreement.

While Labor and the unions claim that there may be some benefits in delaying the agreement or seeking to revisit provisions relating to the labour market in a few years, there are undoubtedly huge costs, too. The National Farmers' Federation has estimated that if an agreement is not put into force by the end of 2015 it could cost the sector $300 million, mainly through having to pay additional tariffs. And Australian industries will continue to suffer as major competitors, such as New Zealand, continue to enjoy preferential treatment after having already signed agreements.

This historic agreement is a game changer in so many ways. It truly is more than the sum of its parts. For to really grasp the magnitude of the win that we have here, one really must look to the many positive spillover effects of trade. Trade is the greatest diplomatic tool we have. Trade is one of best defences, for to trade is to know. With the familiarity earned through trade there comes an understanding. The language of war should never enter the debate about trade. The transactions of trade, like the quality of mercy, are twice blessed, and confer benefits on both parties.

China is already the largest single market for Australia's service exports. To date, this has been dominated by education, travel and tourism. In 2014, education, travel and tourism exports to China constituted over 60 per cent of Australia's total services export. China is our largest source of international students—about 29 per cent of the total. And it is our largest source of tourism expenditure—18 per cent of the total. Australia's export of other services to China has been less impressive to date. However, ChAFTA lays the foundation for much faster export growth across many services.

Chinese consumers have not just burst into the middle class; they have embraced online retail more than just about any other country. Online retail accounted for around 10 per cent of overall sales at the end of 2014, with spending at almost half a trillion dollars during that year. This means that the Chinese online retail market is now larger than that of the US. It is forecast to rise to 13 to 14 per cent by the end of this year. By contrast, online retail accounts for around seven per cent of sales in Australia and around the same proportion in the United States.

Never before has it been so easy for Australian businesses of all sizes, across just about every industry, to reach new and expanding markets in China. I know that in my electorate of Tangney this historic deal with China will mean new market opportunities for the architects, software designers, teachers, accountants, financiers and universities. I know too that everyone, and not just our hardworking professionals, will benefit from lower prices resulting from the reduction or removal of many tariffs on everyday items. So this trade deal is absolutely consistent with what the coalition took to the election in 2013. It is the product of the coalition government honouring our commitment to the Australian public to deliver relief of cost-of-living pressures and to create new opportunities for economic growth.

The Labor Party would rather that we shrink the economic pie, close our doors and bury our heads to the world of the 21st century. The union campaign against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is a mixture of misinformation, confusion and xenophobia. But it does hide an uncomfortable truth: labour market protectionism encourages the exploitation of foreign workers. The ACTU argues that ChAFTA will 'shut out locals from jobs'. They point to three controversial provisions. The first is the elimination of labour market testing for Chinese workers in the 457 visa program. But, quite frankly, the requirement has always been a ticking-the-box waste of time. An independent review last year found that it was pointless and cumbersome. There is no evidence that unemployed Australians in any way benefit from this regulatory hurdle.

Another controversy relates to skills requirements. The unions say ChAFTA means that foreign tradies could come to Australia who do not meet Australian standards. But the skills requirements under ChAFTA are exactly the same as for most other countries we accept skilled workers from. ChAFTA just removes a discriminatory higher bar for Chinese workers. The higher bar still applies, I might add, to a small number of other developing countries.

The final controversy concerns major projects. A side memorandum to ChAFTA establishes a new type of labour agreement: 'investor facilitation agreements' that allow major infrastructure projects to bring in foreign workers. But we already have similar labour agreements. The essentials of the law have not changed. Claims that ChAFTA changes existing major project wage requirements are simply wrong. To the extent that there is exploitation in Australian immigration, it is because employers are able to use restrictive visa conditions—demanded by unions to protect Australian workers—as a stick to wield against foreign visa holders.

This is not the occasion for a history lesson, but we should never forget that the history of our two nations is long, rich and complex. We could not imagine modern Australia without China's contribution to our people, our culture, and our prosperity. And perhaps above all, in our darkest hour, when our foes were literally on our doorstep, when our cities were under direct military attack—then, at that tipping point in our history—China was our staunch, indefatigable ally.

I note that Labor will not pay heed to history but will be true to it—and theirs. For as Churchill once said:

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): It being 10 pm, the debate is adjourned.

House adjourned at 22:00