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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 85


Senator KETTER (QueenslandDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (17:34): I rise today to indicate my support for this motion on free trade agreements. When it comes to trade and jobs, it's only the Labor Party that can be trusted to harness the benefits of global trade for the good of Australian workers. We will not be lectured by the Centre Alliance in relation to ethical standards. We have a very principled approach when it comes to the benefits of global trade, yes, but we also have to ensure that the interests of workers are taken into account.

When it comes to this government, one thing is for certain: they don't have the interests of workers at heart, so we can't trust them to frame a system of trade that benefits workers. The Liberal-Nationals have already proven that they don't have the interests of Australian jobs at heart when it comes to trade. There are a number of areas where they have fallen down. They have allowed companies to bring in foreign workers without first checking whether there's an Australian who can do the job, by waiving labour market testing requirements. They've also included clauses that allow foreign companies to sue the Australian government through the ISDS provisions. So it's no wonder that Australians have lost some degree of trust when it comes to these trade agreements. It's quite clear that we need to fundamentally change the way Australia negotiates these agreements, and Labor has a way forward in that regard if we have the honour of being entrusted with government at the next election.

Let's not forget that this is a government that was responsible for the trade union royal commission, which was an ideological assault on organisations that seek to improve the lives of workers. We're talking about the interests of Australian workers. This is a government that has not the slightest interest in the interests of workers. How quickly did the former Abbott government rush to institute a royal commission into the trade union movement? They were elected on 7 September. Barely six months later we had the Letters Patent signed for the royal commission. But, at the same time, we have a government that turned its back on the rorts and rip-offs in the banking and financial services sector, voting against the banking royal commission again and again—26 times, I think—until the banks told them, 'Let's get it started.' I think it was current Prime Minister, during the course of that, who at one point made the comment that these calls for a royal commission were merely a populist whinge.

This is a government that's also tried to undermine industry superannuation funds, a world-class system with which we've entrusted the retirement savings of Australian workers. It's important that that system looks after the interests of Australian workers, and the industry super system does that. But this government has sought to undermine the industry superannuation fund sector through attacking the governance arrangements by seeking to impose the one-third independent director requirement on industry funds when it's been quite clear that industry funds, with their employer and employee equal representation model of governance, have delivered high returns for workers and outperformed the funds operated by the major banks.

When it comes to the interests of workers, again, I just want to highlight the fact that this is a government that's refused to restore penalty rates to those 700,000 or so Australians who rely on them and who have had those penalty rates cut. These Australians rely on penalty rates to make ends meet. This is a government that espouses the headline economic growth numbers but fails to address stagnant wage growth and declining national savings rates. I recall that it was Prime Minister Morrison, when Treasurer, who indicated that stagnant wage growth was the single greatest threat to our economy. And this is a government who, up until they knifed the Prime Minister—again—wanted to give billions of dollars in tax breaks to big business and the banks, relying on trickle-down economics to create hypothetical jobs. I could go on and on about the dismal track record of this government when it comes to Australian workers and their jobs, but let's be clear: this government has form, so we are entitled to be worried that those opposite will be looking out for the big end of town when it comes to trade, paying little regard to the interests of ordinary workers in the process.

Labor, on the other hand, has a strong track record when it comes to trade. We remember the legacies of the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments when it came to opening up Australia's engagement with the world. Time after time Australia has proved that we are more than up to the challenge of competing on the global stage, particularly when it comes to ensuring the creation and preservation of Australian jobs through trade policy. The tariff reforms of the Hawke and Keating era, difficult as they were at the time, helped deliver Australia a record 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth. An analysis by the Centre for International Economics last year suggests that the average Australian household's real income is now $8,448 higher because of these historic reforms. And Labor's strong commitment to trade will continue under a Shorten government if we are fortunate enough to be elected at the next election.

I want to outline now, for the benefit of the Senate, some of the features of federal Labor's trade policy, features which will boost the transparency and analysis of trade agreements. I note that Senator Patrick touched on some of these things, but I do think it's important to reiterate the fact that if we want more people to support free trade and open markets we've got to be more open and honest with people. At the moment, trade deals are negotiated in secret with not enough input from parliament, industry, unions, civil society groups or the community. Labor will change that.

A Shorten Labor government would, if elected, build on measures that we've already announced to boost the transparency and analysis of trade agreements by strengthening the role of the parliament and by briefing the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties at the end of each round of negotiations and providing it with the government's statement of objectives for negotiation for consideration and feedback. We'd also improve the system by legislating to establish a system of accredited trade advisers from industry, unions and civil society groups who would provide real-time feedback on draft trade agreement texts during negotiations. We'd also improve the system by providing public updates on each round of negotiations and releasing draft text during negotiations where this is feasible and by legislating to require an independent national interest assessment to be conducted on every new trade agreement before it is signed to examine the economic, strategic and social impact of any new trade agreement.

We do have opportunities right on our doorstep. As the Asian region continues to grow and develop, Australia is poised to capitalise on providing the goods and services that the emerging Asian middle class desire. Such trade improves the lives of those in our region and makes Australian workers wealthier at the same time. It's one thing to negotiate a free trade agreement, sign a piece of paper and, as this government all too often does, have a party—pat themselves on the back—but it's quite another thing to deliver for Australian producers the access that is promised by the agreement. And I want to mention the fact that, when visiting a number of farms last year, I was impressed by the degree of frustration that exists out there, particularly amongst blueberry growers, about the fact that we have somewhat stalled access to the China markets. A lot has been promised. A lot was in the portfolio of Mr Joyce at the time to address that, but unfortunately Mr Joyce was sitting on his hands and not getting the access for farmers in Australia. I point out here that Labor is on the ground listening to what our producers want and need.

A future Shorten Labor government would, if elected, continue to open up trade opportunities while also opening up transparency. This sunlight will help to ensure that any future deals do not undermine our labour market or compromise our sovereignty and that the economic impacts and benefits are well understood. We will commit to economic modelling of all free trade agreements before they're signed and 10 years after ratification so that the full impacts of a trade agreement can be assessed. This is very sensible, in contrast to those opposite. It will help reassure the Australian public about the benefits of trade but also help them be realistic as to the transitions that might occur because of these agreements. At the moment there is a stark contrast between what Labor is offering and what those opposite are currently failing to deliver. You have a coalition that's divided, chaotic, unstable and prepared to politicise key economic institutions for their own advantage, and you have a future Shorten Labor government prepared to improve transparency and model the impacts of future trade agreements.