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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 8942


Mr CONROY (Shortland) (12:51): I rise to speak on what is known as the enabling legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018, and the shadow minister's second reading amendment. Previous speakers have spoken about why Labor has agreed to support this bill. I'm not going to go to that; I'm going to go to my deep concerns about elements that are within the free trade agreement and why it's so important that Labor have committed to fix those things when we're in government. This agreement yet again demonstrates that this government is intent on giving away the sovereignty of this nation. It is intent on trading away things that matter to the vast majority of Australian people for gains for certain sectors.

I will first go to investor-state dispute settlement clauses. This agreement extends to Canadian companies the right to sue the Australian government if the Australian government makes policy decisions that impact on their profitability, a right that Australian corporations do not have. The extension of ISDS must be opposed. It restricts the sovereignty and the ability of this place and the Senate to legislate for the welfare of all Australians. We only have to see what happened when Philip Morris challenged Labor's plain-packaging tobacco laws through the Hong Kong free trade agreement.

ISDS is a cancer. It's a cancer that attacks the sovereignty of democratic governments. It's a cancer that other governments around the world are standing up to. I welcome and applaud the move by Jacinda Ardern's Labour government in New Zealand to work to remove the ISDS clauses in free trade agreements. I welcome the EU's very strong stance on it and the fact that the EU has ruled that any trade agreement that has ISDS has to go through ratification of all EU parliaments because it is such a significant attack on the sovereignty of those parliaments. So I am deeply concerned that this government seems intent on giving away ISDS and empowering foreign corporations to have power over this parliament, because that's what ISDS does.

My other grave concern around the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is around labour market testing. The labour mobility clauses really diminish the ability of this parliament to regulate immigration policy. This is another trade agreement where this government is trading away immigration policy in return for gains for particular sectors.

Mr Katter interjecting

Mr CONROY: I'm hearing interjections from the honourable member for Kennedy. He would be slightly more credible if he didn't continue to offer confidence to the government that gives away those rights. If the member for Kennedy were really serious about getting more progressive trade policy, he might think about why he continues to back this government. That demonstrates the inconsistency of the member for Kennedy on this matter. Only the impotent are pure.

Mr Katter: Point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Sorry, member for Shortland. Member for Kennedy?

Mr Katter: I have been misrepresented, Mr Deputy Speaker. He has said that I continue to support this government with these policies, but it was his government that introduced all of the free trade policies—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order. I thank the honourable member for Kennedy, but the member for Shortland has the call.

Mr CONROY: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I talked about the member for Kennedy continuing to offer confidence to a government that has sold out this nation by including labour market testing exemptions in this trade agreement and that's a matter of fact. That's a fact. This is incredibly worrying that we see an exemption from labour market testing being rolled out to six countries—Canada, Peru, Mexico, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. This diminishes our ability to regulate temporary skilled migration in our country and that is very worrying. It is driving massive job insecurity. We have over a million people in this country who have work rights on temporary visas.

I support permanent migration. Permanent migration has made this nation. I'm a proud child of migrants but they should be permanent migrants with all the rights that native-born Australians have. They should have all the rights—the right to strike, the right to unionise, the right to get the same pay—and those rights aren't afforded to those on temporary skilled visas. Those workers have no rights because they have no bargaining power. At a flick of a thumb, an employer can basically sack them and they get deported overseas. That's why it's so important that, before we allow temporary skilled visas to be issued, the employer does three things: first, they demonstrate the position cannot be filled by an Australian at the market rate of pay—not the minimum rate of pay but the market rate of pay; second, they pay the migrant, the visa holder, the market rate of pay, not minimum pay; and, third, they actually invest in training so an Australian can fill the job in the long term. This agreement undermines that by exempting labour market testing for visa applicants from those six countries.

Just as worrying is skills recognition. This agreement means a Peruvian electrician's qualifications must be accepted as the same as an Australian electrician or a Chilean or a Mexican electrician or a Canadian electrician. It is abhorrent that we don't have skills testing because that goes to a safety issue that both the industry group for the electoral industry and the trade union representing the electrical industry, the ETU, have raised a huge concern over. This, yet again, is this government giving away our immigration policy. This is a party that is supposedly so strong on border protection, but it's giving away our immigration policy for gains for certain sectors, particularly its supporters in the agricultural and resources industries, and its giving away our immigration policy to reward its mates in mining and agriculture, and I think that's deeply problematic. And that's why it's so important that Labor has given a commitment to end this.

Labor will do two things. If we're privileged enough to win government, if we are lucky enough to win government, the new minister for trade, the member for Blaxland, will immediately start to renegotiate this agreement. He will negotiate side letters with the six nations that have this labour market testing exemption to get that removed so that we can continue to apply labour market testing to temporary skilled migrants coming from those six countries and he will also negotiate with Canada to remove the ISDS clause. This can be done with side letters. I'm very encouraged that the minister for trade in a future Labor government—if we're privileged enough to be elected—will work on that very quickly and directly. That's an important step to fixing up this Trans-Pacific Partnership, something this government won't do, something this government cares nothing about.

The second measure which I'm even more enthused about is that a future Labor government will implement the most progressive trade policy this nation has seen in the last 40 years by undertaking a number of measures. They include a legislated prohibition on future trade agreements containing waivers of labour market testing, prohibiting future governments from negotiating trade agreements that waive mandatory skills testing and prohibiting future governments from including ISDS clauses in trade agreements. That is incredibly important.

Mr Katter interjecting

Mr CONROY: I'm hearing gibbering from the cheap seats over there. The truth is Independents can't deliver this. The member for Kennedy can't deliver this. The member for Kennedy has been in this place since 1990 or 1993. I honour his long service to the nation, but he hasn't changed a trade debate one iota because he can't form government. He had a three-year window in a minority government when he could have done something, but yet again he didn't do something about it. That's why I'm so proud that a future Labor government will end this.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): Just a moment, please. The member for Kennedy on a point of order.

Mr Katter: Point of order: I claim to be misrepresented. He said I've made no change—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: There's no capacity. You can make a personal explanation later on, Member for Kennedy. You no longer have the call. I give the call to the member for Shortland.

Mr CONROY: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seem to have hit a sensitive spot with the member for Kennedy. The truth is that a future Labor government will ban the negative parts of this Trans-Pacific Partnership and what we saw in the China free trade agreement. A future Labor government will prohibit any trade agreement from containing waivers of labour market testing, waivers of mandatory skills testing and inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement clauses. That's a very important improvement. I welcome the shadow trade minister's initiative.

The shadow trade minister also indicated that a future Labor government will implement other reforms that will improve the trade debate in this country. He will legislate, if he's lucky enough to be elected, to establish a system of accredited trade advisers from industry unions and civil society groups which will provide real-time feedback on draft trade agreement text during negotiations. It's true that we have the most opaque trade negotiations of any advanced nation. Look at the system in the US. There are regular briefings of congress during the negotiations, accredited trade advisers and a panel that is briefed about trade negotiations and provides feedback on trade negotiations as they progress, and that doesn't undermine their negotiating position; it informs their negotiating position and improves the outcome for those nations.

A future Labor government will also legislate to require an independent national interest assessment to be conducted on every new trade agreement before it's signed to examine the economic, strategic and social impact of any new trade agreement. And, if we're privileged enough to be elected, a future Labor government will also strengthen the role of parliament in trade negotiations by increasing the participation of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties by providing JSCOT with a statement of objectives for negotiation for consideration and feedback and providing JSCOT with a briefing at the end of each round of negotiations. Again, these are important reforms that will improve trade policy in this nation.

In conclusion, I remain very concerned about aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership—aspects that go to the sovereignty of this nation and aspects that go to whether we can provide secure, well-paying jobs for all Australians. I am relieved that a future Labor government will fix those issues in both this trade agreement and all other agreements. That's really important. I want to finish by contemplating again the impact of attempts by people to move cheap amendments that don't do anything. Those amendments can't apply to a trade agreement that's negotiated between 11 countries. The hard decision here was about whether to support a trade agreement—whether to support it and try to fix it or vote it down. That was a very hard debate held within the Labor Party room and it was witnessed here today in the chamber. But I'm confident that a future Labor government will pursue a progressive trade policy that will improve the results for Australia from these trade agreements, protect fundamental worker rights and maintain the sovereignty of this parliament and future parliaments, and that's incredibly important. You can be pro trade liberalisation without agreeing to every trade agreement. That's why I'm so heartened by the shadow minister's commitments around future legislative reforms in this area.