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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6080

Trade with China

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:58): My question is to the Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister inform the Senate of the government's response to the current misleading campaign about the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement allowing unqualified workers into Australia?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:58): I thank Senator Johnston—a passionate advocate for jobs, trade and growth in the Australian economy—for this question. The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement emphatically does not change the requirement for Chinese workers working in Australia to meet Australian standards. There is, though, quite a misleading campaign underway in relation to this. It is a misleading campaign coming, it seems, from none other than those opposite, led by the man who pretends to be the alternative Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Shorten. Mr Shorten, last week, was in Western Australia. In Western Australia he said:

… if we're going to bring in plumbers who might come and work on your house or electricians who might go into your roof, what we want to make sure of is that their skills, and training and safety knowledge are up to Australian standards.

They will be up to Australian standards, because they will have to meet exactly the same standards in terms of qualifications and skills as any other 457 worker coming into Australia or indeed as any Australian undertaking such jobs. This is a complete fabrication by Mr Shorten. I heard Senator Wong, in response to Senator Cash's answer before, talking about people who just keep fibbing. It is Mr Shorten who is fibbing and it is Senator Wong who is fibbing. Mr Shorten backed it up the following day, last Friday, when he said:

… it is important that their skills and accreditation … that their skills and safety standards are up to Australian standards.

They will be. Under ChAFTA, wages and employment conditions will apply just as they do to anyone else working in Australia. Relevant licensing requirements will apply, including identity, work history, qualifications, references, documents and the processes under Trades Recognition Australia. Australians can have confidence in the plumbers, electricians and others who may work under this agreement. (Time expired)

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (15:00): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister assure the Senate that unqualified electricians from any country, including China, are not allowed to work in Australia or to threaten the safety of Australians?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (15:01): I can absolutely confirm to Senator Johnston that there are no circumstances in which unqualified electricians or other tradespeople would be entitled to work in Australia. We have been working to try to make sure that those who spread these falsehoods understand that they are wrong. Relevant departments, including my own, have been correcting a number of inaccuracies and meeting with people who are making these claims about unlicensed workers operating in Australia. They even met with the Electrical Trade Union on 8 July to attempt to set them straight. But I note that they continue their misleading campaign. They are running robocalls around the country, claiming, 'Electricians who do not meet our licensing or registration standards will still be able to enter Australia and do electrical work.' This is just wrong and false. What is worse though is that they are running it as a scare campaign. They say that people's property, safety and, most importantly, people's lives are at risk. This is a complete falsehood from the unions, from Mr Shorten and from all of those opposite. (Time expired)

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (15:02): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister outline to the Senate the benefits the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement will bring by opening up more opportunities and jobs for Australians?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (15:02): The benefits are immense, and those opposite should acknowledge this and stop their campaign of lies and fear in relation to ChAFTA. China is a trading partner with a trade program with more than $150 billion, a services market worth $7½ billion, but with enormous potential to grow that market. We can see across agriculture, resources and energy, banking, health and aged care, and professional services, including, importantly, education and training, enormous opportunities to grow trade with China.

In the education space, ChAFTA provides an opportunity for more Australian education providers to access Chinese students and to provide more opportunities for those Chinese students, with an additional 77 providers in the first instance, with more, we hope, to come. On full implementation, 95 per cent of Australian goods exported to China will be tariff free. So it is up to those opposite to decide whether they will run the fear campaign or start listening to people like Bob Hawke and— (Time expired)

Senator Brandis: I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.