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Shadow Minister is concern US free trade agreement may result in loss of manufacturing jobs.



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THE WORLD TODAY

Tuesday, 27 July 2004

 

 

ELEANOR HALL: The federal government has been quick to try to capitalise on the comments by Labor’s Arts and Information Technology spokeswoman, Kate Lundy, that she is personally opposed to the US-Australia free trade agreement. Prime Minister John Howard has issued a statement saying Labor is splintered over the issue and blaming Mark Latham for lacking leadership. The Opposition Leader has again rejected that claim, saying Labor’s position will be determined after the Senate report is released next month.

 

But slowly members of Labor’s Left faction are going public with their feelings. Labor’s Industry spokesman, Kim Carr, is not rejecting the deal at this stage but he says he’s very concerned about the possible loss of manufacturing jobs and he’s highlighting the need for discussion about some sort of structural adjustment package. Kim Carr has been speaking to our chief political correspondent, Catherine McGrath.

 

KIM CARR: My position is that there are matters of great concern that have yet to be resolved. I’m looking forward to the Senate committee report which will provide us an opportunity to assess in more detail some of these unanswered questions. We have a really basic problem here, that there is a very wide range of opinion based on the modelling that the various people have undertaken, but Mr Macfarlane, the government Industry Minister, has gone missing in action—not one word from the industry department, no analysis, no study of the consequences of this agreement.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: Let’s look exactly at where you stand. Kate Lundy says: I’m not for it. What do you say—you are for it?

 

KIM CARR: I’m saying that there are some serious questions yet to be resolved, that the jury’s still out on the overall benefit or otherwise of this agreement. But what I can say is that in terms of all the economic modelling that’s being presented, despite the extraordinary range of opinions expressed, they all say there are problems in regard to manufacturing industry jobs. And I’ve seen from the government lots of talk about sugar … packages and other such things—no talk whatsoever about structural adjustment for manufacturing, no talk whatsoever about the possibilities of serious job losses in a range of industries—in automotive components, parts, brakes, clutches, transmissions, those sorts of things, rubber, chemicals and of course clothing and textiles.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: In terms of structural adjustment packages then, do you think that’s something Labor needs to look at—structural adjustment for manufacturing industries?

 

KIM CARR: It’s too early to tell yet, but it seems to me that if it’s good enough for the government to talk about sugar, in terms of structural adjustment for the sugar industry when it is not part of this arrangement, then it ought to be talking about what the possibilities are for job losses in regard to manufacturing industry.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: So do you think that the ALP’s in a position to really handle a robust debate on this? There is a lot of concern, particularly from your faction, the Left, and probably all, if not a great majority of the Left, are against it.

 

KIM CARR: We’re a mature party. This is an extremely serious matter. We are talking about the national interest here. This is an agreement that is something that has to be entered into with eyes wide open. It is something that will be around for a long time. It has serious potential for people in terms of their livelihood. It is appropriate that a social democratic party discuss the social implications of this agreement. It is appropriate that we do have a proper debate about these things, and that’s what we’re doing.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: Isn’t the difficult though in the end, if Mark Latham says: look, we have to support this, an election is coming up, we can’t afford to oppose it, the Left’s going to roll over and it’s going to be accepted?

 

KIM CARR: I have no doubt whatsoever that the caucus will reach a united position on this matter. I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be an agreed position come out of these discussions, and that’s what we’re basically engaging in at the moment.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: The government’s moved very quickly to take advantage of Kate Lundy’s comments this morning. The Prime Minister says Labor is split on the FTA and he’s blamed Mark Latham’s lack of leadership.

 

KIM CARR: Well, we have a situation in the Liberal Party at the moment where these fundamental questions reflecting upon the future of this country are not debated in the Liberal Party. We’ve seen no serious discussion about the policy options that are confronting this country. This is a party that at the moment has gone into deep retreat. The Labor Party is a different organisation. We’re a proud party, we’re a big party, we’re more than capable of having these discussions, reaching conclusions based on the evidence and the full range of evidence, and of course moving forward from there.

 

ELEANOR HALL: Labor’s Industry spokesman, Kim Carr, speaking there to Catherine McGrath.