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Transcript of interview Jon Faine: ABC 774: 3 September 2015: China-Australia Free Trade Agreement



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SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

  E&OE TRANSCRIPT RADIO INTERVIEW ABC 774 THURSDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2015

SUBJECT/S: China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

JON FAINE: Senator Wong good morning to you.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good to be with you Jon.

FAINE: Is your party’s problems with the Free Trade Agreement just about the free movement of labour, of workers?

WONG: There are a number of aspects of the agreement, including the investor state dispute settlement clause, we are not keen on. But the fundamental problem we have is that this agreement we think doesn’t have sufficient safeguards when it comes to Australian jobs.

FAINE: And what safeguards do you want?

WONG: We are up for a high-quality free trade agreement with China but as you said in your introduction we think this agreement does remove key safeguards in relation to labour market testing, that is making sure jobs are first offered to Australians before they can be offered to temporary migrants.

FAINE: So a boost in the compliance side of the immigration department would that solve the problem and that is all that is needed?

WONG: Look we have said for some time we are willing to sit down with the government to discuss how we can build safeguards around this agreement so that this agreement can go forward with bipartisan support.

FAINE: But what’s the answer to the question, is it just about compliance in which case some more bureaucrats, I don’t know, 20 public servants, 50 public servants, in the immigration department who scrutinise 457s more closely, if that is the only thing getting in the way well for goodness sake let’s do it.

WONG: No I don’t think it is just an issue of compliance. If you want to get into the detail let’s just go one step back. There are really three areas where we are primarily concerned. One is that the government, in relation to what is called the movement of natural persons, that is, as you said, the movement of people, has specifically removed labour market testing in the agreement for a range of occupations, a range of positions which include trade and technical skill level positions. Now that is there in the face of the agreement. Now, regrettably, the government has not answered criticisms about that provision. They have chosen to, frankly, shout at any Australian who has raised concerns about that. But that is quite clearly in the text of the agreement.

FAINE: Okay, Andrew Robb the Trade Minister will join me after the 9 o’clock news, I’m happy to put that to him, but I don’t want to get stuck on one micro issue. Labour market testing, absolutely happy to raise that with him, what else though is the problem? You say compliance isn’t the problem, labour market testing is part of the problem, what else?

WONG: Well the second area where we are concerned is in relation to investment facilitation agreements. Andrew says labour market testing will be required. That is not set out anywhere in the agreement or in the side letters. We want to build safeguards around that. And the third area is in the skills assessment of tradespeople including electricians.

Now I do want to make this point and you might wish to put this to Andrew Robb, Andrew said on the ABC yesterday ‘I don’t need to negotiate with anyone.’ Now what I would say is even John Howard understood that to achieve bipartisanship on an important trade agreement, being the US free trade agreement, that he had to negotiate with the Labor Party. We were up for that discussion. And the government, instead of yelling at anybody that raises these concerns, should come to the negotiating table.

FAINE: Okay but they shouldn’t just have to negotiate with China, they have to negotiate with the Labor Party? I mean this is, it might be something, given that when you are in the office you were negotiating as the government, it should be something that you don’t just flick the switch to political opportunism?

WONG: Well Jon I can tell you this, a Labor Government would never have negotiated an agreement which allowed this level of exclusion of labour market testing in relation to

Australian jobs. The reality is this agreement goes much further than any other trade agreement and as much as Andrew might try to pretend otherwise, that is the case.

FAINE: Okay so what you are now doing is opening up a new argument. You are actually saying that this is industrial relations reform for Australia disguised as a free trade agreement.

WONG: No I am saying that this agreement enables temporary migration from China much greater access to our labour market than any other trade agreement that has been done.

FAINE: But you are saying they are trying to get through the back door of the free trade agreement what they won’t do through the front door of WorkChoices.

WONG: Well no, they are your words not mine.

FAINE: I am asking you if you agree with that.

WONG: I am saying that I think it is a pretty fundamental proposition that Australians expect jobs to be offered to Australians first if people are able to do them.

FAINE: Sure but are you accusing the Government of trying to reform Australia’s industrial relations system through a free trade agreement?

WONG: No, I am saying to the Government that you have brought back from Beijing a trade agreement which we think risks Australian jobs. We want a discussion about how we build safeguards around it because you have gone further in allowing access to the Australian labour market than has occurred in relation to any other trade agreement and no amount of denying that can contradict the facts of the agreement itself.

FAINE: Alright well I will put those matters to Mr Robb the Minister for Trade who will join us after the 9 o’clock news. Thank you indeed for clarifying exactly what your party’s concerns are this morning for us. Senator Penny Wong, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment.

ENDS

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