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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26441

Senator HARRIS (11:44 PM) —No. I move One Nation amendment (3) on sheet 4367 revised:

(3) Page 3 (after line 11), after clause 3, insert:

6 Protection of textile, footwear, apparel and leather industries

No action by way of customs tariff reductions may be taken under this Act or its regulations that has an adverse impact on the textile, footwear, apparel or leather industries.

This is one of the major areas of concern that has been raised by the workers around Australia. They see very clearly the difficulties that their fellow workers in the United States have been subjected to. When NAFTA came in there were a subsequent 600,000 jobs lost in the United States itself. We saw, as a result of NAFTA, American companies translocating down to the edge of the Mexican border. The senators who were in the chamber over the last successive days will be well aware of the number of companies that have translocated as a result of that. What is actually facing our workers in the textile, footwear, apparel and leather industries is exactly what those American workers faced as a result of NAFTA.

I find it amazing that our Labor senators can sit in the chamber and agree to a piece of legislation that, as a result of the free trade agreement, is going to alter the customs tariffs that will be payable on textile, footwear, apparel and leather industries. Currently, some of those existing tariffs stand at up to 20 per cent until 2005. They are all going to be reduced under this legislation to as low as five per cent and the job losses from those reductions will be quite substantial. The government will say to us, `That is balanced by the increase in jobs in the other sectors.' I say to the government very clearly: tell that to somebody who is currently working in any of those industries.

Some of the workers have indicated their concern. I have an AMWU petition which does not comply with the normal requirements of Senate petitions, so unfortunately it cannot be tabled in this chamber as a petition. It very clearly states:

Mr Howard—

Don't trade away our jobs

The US Free Trade Agreement will destroy Australian manufacturing jobs

It is addressed to senators and the Leader of the Opposition and it was faxed to the Hon. Mark Latham, Senator Stephen Conroy, Senator Brandis, Senator Cook, Senator Ridgeway, myself, Senator Boswell, Senator Ferris and Senator O'Brien. Those workers say:

We are writing to you with deep concern about the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

This agreement, if ratified, will have disastrous consequences for our manufacturing industry.

Since we are a small country with an economy that is roughly 4% of the US economy, we are not participating on a level playing field. If we open ourselves to the US markets with no tariffs or protection, it can only mean the loss of thousands of jobs.

The manufacturing industry in Australia has declined dramatically over the last 20 years as many companies have moved offshore to the low wage manufacturing economies of Asia. The Free Trade Agreement will mean a further decline particularly in high-value manufactured goods, because we will be competing with the most powerful and technologically advanced manufacturing nation in the world.

In closing, they say:

I urge you to vote down the legislation to have the agreement ratified.

We now know that that is not going to happen. Within the context of these petitions, there are over 1,000 signatures from businesses right across the board. I will just flick through and pick up a couple of them. Autoliv, VARIAN, Trico—some of these have employees in the hundreds. Blackwell and IXL have a considerable number of employees. Lockwood—all of their employees are concerned about it. VisiPak—the list just keeps on going. We are getting such a reaction from the employees of so many companies around Australia who are concerned that as the reduction in tariffs comes in, their jobs go out of the door. That is the reason why One Nation believes that it is important that the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation (Customs Tariff) Bill 2004 be amended so that no action by way of customs tariff reductions can be made that would impact on the textile, footwear, apparel or leather industries.

Question negatived.