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Monday, 9 November 2015
Page: 8018

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (17:58): I will respond on behalf of the opposition to the amendments moved by Senator Whish-Wilson. The first point I would make is that they say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, so I suppose we should be flattered that Senator Whish-Wilson has done such a good cut-and-paste job of including Labor's exposure draft amendments in relation to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. You did not do your own work, Peter—you just cut and paste the exposure draft that we put out.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Back ): Senator Wong, direct your remarks through the chair.

Senator WONG: I am sorry—Senator Whish-Wilson cut and paste what we put out. We put it out for very good reason—because we did think there were policy issues in relation to labour market testing which ought be resolved, and we achieved an outcome. We achieved an outcome by negotiation with the government around the matters that were canvassed in Labor's exposure. We have achieved outcomes which have legal force by way of regulation, and I will go through some of those again briefly.

I would take issue with one point that the minister made. I do not want to misquote her, but she made some comment about labour market testing continuing to be required. The government removed labour market testing under the chapter 10 provisions of the China free trade agreement in relation to a number of levels of employees—business executives and intracorporate transferees—which is, I think, unremarkable. It is uncontroversial—or it might be for Senator Whish-Wilson, but I think broadly it is not controversial. The government also removed labour market testing under the chapter 10 provisions for trades occupations—and that is a new thing in trade agreements. It is not the case in past trade agreements that labour market testing at that level has been removed. What is disappointing is that at no point has the government articulated the economic rationale for that.

Having said that, what we thought was important in the face of the very important economic relationship with China was to ensure that we achieved real safeguards by way of negotiation with the government. We went through a process of putting out draft amendments—which, as I said, Senator Whish-Wilson has now picked up—having a negotiation with the government and achieving the outcomes. I will go through them very briefly. Firstly, in relation to labour market testing, the outcome we have achieved is labour market testing on all work agreements—so not just the IFAs, investment facilitation arrangements—that are referenced in the China free trade agreement, which I think is a good outcome and it is included in regulation. I thank the government and Mr Robb for indicating that to us.

We sought a range of work agreement safeguards, and, again, a new regulation will be made which references the safeguards that Labor were seeking. In relation to Australian wages and conditions—and this goes to the chapter 10 issue—we were cognisant of the provisions of the ChAFTA and the fact that it was not going to be possible for the government to renegotiate those provisions. For this reason, as I outlined in my speech in the second reading debate, we have achieved an additional safeguard, which is in regulation that is legally binding, the requirement that the market salary requirement in what is called the TSMIT, the temporary skilled migration income threshold, must be assessed against enterprise agreement rates. We regard that as an important and significant safeguard.

In addition, in relation to skills assessment, as I went through in my speech in the second reading debate, we achieved significant improvements to the visa conditions and criteria in relation to individuals coming in on 457 visas who hold occupational licences or must hold occupational licences. I will not traverse again the additional visa conditions which have now been included and which we regard as a significant strengthening of the regulatory regime, because I did so in detail in my speech in the second reading debate. The opposition will not be supporting the Greens' amendments, because we believe that the outcomes that Labor identified some time ago in relation to these issues have been significantly resolved by way of the agreement we have achieved with the government in relation to the China free trade agreement.

As the opposition have also said, there remain issues in the temporary migration sphere. We have seen the exploitation of workers and we have seen the underpayment of wages. Many of these cases have been publicised in the media. These are issues to deal with the broader temporary migration framework, not specifically with the China free trade agreement, and we certainly believe that there is more work to be done in that area as we go forward. But I thought it was useful for me to outline the opposition's position in relation to the Greens' amendments.