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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11574

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (15:25): I seek leave to make a statement in connection with the tabling of the report.

Leave granted.

Mr KELVIN THOMSON: Essential features of the Australian way of life—work for all who want it and a fair day's work for a fair day's pay—are today threatened as never before, and young people in particular confront an axis of financial evil: insecure work, housing unaffordability and student debt. One of the key causes of this threat is the proliferation of temporary migrant worker programs, which barely existed just 15 years ago but have mushroomed in the past 15 years to the point where we now have over a million people in Australia on temporary visas that give them work rights. While the downside of these programs has never been higher, this government is in the business of surrendering forever our democratic ability to regulate and reduce them. It is my strong conviction that trade agreements should be about tariffs and quotas; they should not be setting our migration policy, our policy on health and safety, our food labelling policy and so on. This is both the right and the obligation of democratically elected governments.

It has not been easy to get to the core of the China free trade deal. Misinformation from its advocates is everywhere. First we were told that the China FTA does not change existing protocols about labour market testing. That is rubbish. This FTA puts an immediate end to labour market testing for engineers, nurses, electricians, motor mechanics and a total of 215 occupations that are currently subject to labour market testing. It also puts a permanent end to labour market testing for a further 400 occupations. Then we were told that the China FTA is the same as other FTAs that have been signed, so it would be racist and xenophobic not to sign this one. But the China FTA is not the same as other FTAs. In the Chile FTA the definition of contractual service suppliers refers to 'high-level technical or professional qualifications, skills and experience'. This was watered down in subsequent deals to persons with 'trade, technical or professional skills and experience', with the words 'high-level' and 'qualifications' being omitted. The ASEAN and Malaysian FTAs, which Labor signed in government, provided labour market testing exemptions in the 457 visa program for very limited categories of foreign nationals. The China deal gives labour market testing exemptions to all Chinese nationals in the 457 program.

And there is more. The initial period of entry for contractual service suppliers in the Japan and Korea FTAs is one year. It is four years for the China FTA. The China deal has no labour market testing for Chinese 'installers and servicers' in the 400 visa program; other deals do not. The China deal has a memorandum of understanding on investment facilitation arrangements; other deals do not. The China deal has an investor state dispute settlement provision; the Chile deal does not, and the Japan deal does not. The China deal has no labour rights chapter; the China deal has no environment chapter. The China deal has a side letter that removes mandatory skills assessment for 10 skilled trades, including electricians, motor mechanics and carpenters; other deals do not. The China deal has a memorandum of understanding that provides young Chinese with 5,000 work and holiday visas each year; other deals do not—there is no reciprocal arrangement for young Australians to work and holiday in China. Rather than genuinely debate these serious concerns, the government seeks to shut down debate by throwing around offensive and inaccurate jibes like 'racist' and 'xenophobic'. The unions who have raised these concerns are much more multiracial and multicultural than this government will ever be.

The one lame argument we hear when we expose the truth that labour market testing is being removed is that labour market testing is not important and that temporary migrant worker programs are protected from exploitation by minimum salary requirements. But every second day we hear a tale of exploitation of temporary migrant workers which shows these requirements are worthless. Migrant workers get ripped off all day, every day, uphill and down dale. Now that Labor proposes to lift the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry comes out and says, 'No, we don't agree to that!'

Each new trade deal undermines workers' positions and rights a little more than the one which preceded it. And make no mistake: if this deal is ratified without the protections which Labor has suggested, it will create a precedent for other countries such as India. Traditional allies like the US and the UK will not tolerate China and others getting labour market testing exempt 457 visas when their nationals do not get the same privileges—nor will other Asian countries. The discrimination line will be used to extend 457 labour market testing exemptions right around the world, and labour market testing will fizzle out and die.

So trade agreements are being used as a battering ram against the working pay and conditions of Australian workers, and greedy employers and agribusinesses are complicit in this attack. If the new Prime Minister is genuinely different from his 'Dr No' predecessor and genuine about a new era of glasnost and perestroika, he will agree to accept the measured and reasonable safeguards which Labor leader Bill Shorten has proposed. If he does not, the China agreement should not proceed.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): In accordance with standing order 39(c), the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.