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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11573


Mr TAYLOR (Hume) (15:18): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the following reports: Report 154:Treaty tabled on 17 June 2015, incorporating dissenting reportsand Report 155: Treaties tabled on 11 and 12 August 2015, incorporating a dissenting report:.

Reports made parliamentary papers in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr TAYLOR: by leave—Report 154 contains the committee's review of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and report 155 covers two treaty actions: Australia's denunciation of the Convention Relating to International Exhibitions and Protocol of Signature, Paris, 22 November 1928; and Australia's ratification of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank articles of agreement, Beijing, 29 June 2015.

The China-Australia free trade agreement has generated significant public attention. China is currently Australia's largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth $160 billion in 2013-14. One hundred and seven billion dollars of this trade is exports, and that number is going up fast. Our exporters stand to gain greatly from reduced export costs from this agreement, just as we expect businesses and households to pay less for our $52 billion of imports. Together with the trade agreements with Korea and Japan, ChAFTA will open up the major Asian markets to Australia's consumers and industry.

ChAFTA has been described as a watershed—a transformative agreement—and it is expected to deliver significant commercial benefits to a wide range of sectors. The committee found that many industries, including dairy, beef, wine and fishing, are expected to benefit substantially from its implementation. Our service industries, too, are set to capitalise on the opportunities presented by China's growing middle class and its ageing population. The committee is acutely aware that Australia is losing market share in the burgeoning Chinese economy because of China's existing free trade agreements. Some of these FTAs are with Australia's biggest and most important competitors such as New Zealand, Chile and ASEAN. The negotiation of an FTA with China appears the most realistic option to combat Australia's growing competitive disadvantage while getting ahead of other competitors like the US, Europe and Canada.

The labour provisions in ChAFTA have been the subject of much debate. The core issues involve Australia's immigration framework for temporary workers. This is an area of law where the detail really matters, and the committee was presented with often diametrically opposed views. Adding to the confusion, a number of separate issues tended to be conflated, both in the public perception and in the evidence to the committee. No-one is disputing the need to give priority to Australian workers and to be absolutely confident that foreign workers have the required skills to do a nominated job. The real question is whether the current framework achieves this, even with the overlay of ChAFTA.

After careful consideration, the committee is satisfied that the safeguards within Australia's existing immigration and employment frameworks will mitigate all concerns raised. The current framework ensures that companies that are sponsoring foreign workers demonstrate genuine labour shortages and that workers have the requisite skills to do the nominated job. It also ensures that foreign workers are subject to Australian wages and conditions. The additional layers of red tape that some are calling for are unnecessary and will simply make Australian businesses less competitive and less productive at a time when we need a competitive business sector.

The committee believes that the current safeguards are effective within the investment facilitation agreements or otherwise. However, we do make the proviso that the government organisations that are responsible for ensuring compliance must be adequately resourced. The committee wants to ensure that the full benefit of ChAFTA is realised by Australian businesses and industry. Our existing free trade agreements are underutilised, with only 19 per cent of Australian exporters making use of them. To achieve the promised economic growth and beyond, which we believe is possible, more steps must be taken to increase uptake. To this end we have recommended that work on alleviating non-tariff barriers be prioritised and accelerated. We also recommend that increased effort be made to educate and support Australian businesses and industry to understand and access free trade agreements. The committee supports ratification of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

Turning to report 155, the committee also inquired into the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Articles of Agreement. The primary purpose of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is to address the need for infrastructure funding across our region. A multi-trillion-dollar shortfall for infrastructure spending in Asia is expected in the coming years. New infrastructure will drive growth and jobs, providing opportunities for Australian trade and business. If Australia becomes a founding member of the AIIB it will be able to influence key decisions and policies as the bank becomes established. The committee supports Australia's ratification of the treaty actions in this report and recommends that binding treaty action be taken.

Before I conclude I would like to thank the committee members and the previous chair, Mr Wyatt Roy, for their engagement and hard work during these inquiries. On behalf of the committee I commend these two reports to the House. I move:

That the House take note of report 154.