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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12090

Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (19:48): It is always interesting to hear these debates and hear individual member's contributions. I point out the member for Durack claims it is great that the Labor Party has come to its senses and we have had this agreement zooming through parliament. But she might just want to reflect on the fact that if the member for Warringah had taken a less bellicose position in this parliament then perhaps we would have arrived at this position a lot earlier, because all the opposition has ever wanted is not to wreck this trade deal but to improve it. We want to improve it by protecting Australian jobs through labour market testing; by upholding Australian pay and conditions through a better wages system for 457 workers, for guest workers, for those with skills; and we want to maintain Australian skills and safety standards by ensuring that foreign workers have a relevant licence under Australian law.

These are all pretty straight forward things for the labour movement. If the government had sat down rather than taking a bellicose and obstreperous position then we would have arrived at this point a lot earlier. The government has got to take responsibility I think for the overall state of politics in this House—they set the tone. Now that we have—I am not sure if it is a new government or an old government—the Abbott-Turnbull government, we know eventually it is going to be the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. We have a ChAFTA-plus situation here today and that is a great tribute to Bill Shorten and it is great tribute to Penny Wong. I think a part of the work that we are going do is improve the 457 wages system, our immigration system and the state of visas in this country.

I heard previous speakers talking about the transformation of China and I always think that one should always remember Disraeli's point at this juncture:

What we anticipate seldom occurs: but what we least expect generally happens.

That was what Disraeli said. It is a useful thing to remember that economic transformation in the past is no guide necessarily for the future. I remember when I first got interested in politics there was a very good historian called Paul Kennedy, who wrote a book called The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. This book was all the rage around '91, '92 in Washington and in London. Foreign policy elites and the like were all reading it. It is quite a famous book and a very good book. It charts the rise of Europe but before that it documents the state of the world economy at the time and it pointed out that China was the largest economy at that time before the industrial revolution. So what we are, in a sense, returning to is the norm in terms of China. He was a great historian but he went on in the end of this book to make a number of predictions. It is very interesting that many of those predictions did not come to pass. Indeed, many of his predictions focused on the economic strength of Japan, which we now know fell into a state of very low growth, with zombie banks roaming around its economy. We no longer talk about Japan being an economic powerhouse; it is certainly still economically strong and still an important nation for the world, but we do not talk about it in the same terms that we talked about it in the late eighties and early nineties.

It is interesting, when you hear speakers talking about the growth in China, that very few of them talk about the Lewis turning point. I would point them to an article in the Financial Times titled 'China migration: at the turning point' written by a journalist who I had the pleasure of meeting when I was in China. He points to the fact that the Lewis turning point may well now have been met in China. He says in this article:

… economists say the most dynamic phase of China's transformation to an urban society is complete. The once-limitless pool of impoverished rural labour from areas like Guang'an is rapidly drying up.

The end of surplus rural labour—a significant milestone that economists call the Lewis Turning Point—carries profound implications for China's economy. As the flow of low-paid migrants into Chinese factories flows, workers demand higher pay, a phenomenon that has been evident for several years. This either drives low-end manufacturers out of business or forces them to raise prices, actions that could slow the export growth that has helped drive the country's economy for decades.

The article then goes on to quote:

"Labour and capital will become more limited and more expensive," says Ha Jiming, investment strategist for private wealth management at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong. "The economy will rebalance as exports slow due to rising factory prices. Investment will have to slow. That's exactly what we're seeing in real estate and manufacturing."

So we are now seeing a very different point in China's growth cycle, and behind that there is a looming political transition, of course, for the country as well. We now look at President Xi and see a strong leader, but we know that recently the Chinese Communist Party has been racked with the greatest and most open conflict that they have had really since Mao's departure, and we saw Bo Xilai, and many, many other senior Chinese figures, including some at the politburo level, being tried and imprisoned for corruption. And there is an open question, I think, in China about the rule of law and how that process is operating.

So China's future economically, politically and socially is an untold story. Its peaceful rise and its development are critically important for the world and for Australia, and we should not be myopic about the opening of these markets. Opportunities will depend on a wide variety of factors and, indeed, I think growth just because of tariff reductions will not necessarily occur. These tariff reductions are welcome for barley, pulses, wine and food, and all of those things are important for my electorate. But we will have to pursue those export opportunities. We will have to pursue prosperity. And it is critically important that we have a good relationship in the process, economically and diplomatically.

As I said before, we set out to make ChAFTA plus, to protect Australian workers. I have been in this House many times talking about the 457 visa program and about some of the backpacker visas and some of the abuses of that visa program, and I think so much of the angst about these trade deals is that they have mixed up trade with migration, and migration issues are topical in the Australian workplace at the moment. I think it is a very good thing that the members for Gorton and Corio are doing work on this issue in policy for the opposition, and I think we need to have a serious look at these programs, because they are, in some instances, operating as guest-worker programs, and terrible abuses are being made. That undermines Australian workers and undermines Australian jobs. But also those people who visit our country and often become permanent residents—about half the 457 visa holders who come here become permanent residents—are sometimes treated appallingly. They are forced to pay for the visas, and we see a bill in this House this week about that. They are forced to pay excessive amounts for accommodation. They are treated very, very shabbily at work, while having their visa and working conditions held over their head. I do not think that that is the mark of the Australian character or the Australian nation.

So it is completely understandable that workers, particularly in the building trades like electricians and carpenters—people who make things for a living—who are basically at the sharp end of that system, and who see a lot of egregious abuses, big and small, on their work sites, are sceptical—they are entitled to be entirely sceptical—about this government and its commitments. They rely on the Labor Party to force this government to put in place these protections for Australian workers, and they rely on us to do good policy work to offer to the Australian people when we come to an election and of course if we form government.

So, with those comments, to conclude: we did not set out to wreck this deal; we set out to improve it, and improve it we have. Bill Shorten and Penny Wong have been very productive and very constructive. The government, I take it, this week has been very productive and very constructive, and we should now get on and look at some of those other issues which are causing such angst in the Australian community.