House debates

Thursday, 13 September 2018


Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018, Customs Tariff Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:36 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you. So the point that I make is this: in other parts of the world, countries do stand up for local workers being able to perform that work. In November, for example, during my visit to Singapore, I learned that the Singaporeans, under the free trade agreements that they've struck, have systems set up to ensure that, before local workers are overlooked, they're given the chance to (1) know the job is there, (2) apply and (3) be trained up to meet the need of international firms operating in Singapore. This is not something that is radical or different to what is happening on other parts of the planet. It should be something that happens here. This government has been quite prepared to wave away labour market standards as they pertain to the protection of local Australian jobs. We've said that this is something of deep concern to us. We have been saying that we need to ensure that this changes into the future.

These are the types of things, these elements in the agreement, that we have said need to be changed. We've said that the parliament and the public should be updated after each round of negotiations on trade agreements—which is what we're arguing in our second reading amendment—and that economic modelling should be commissioned for all new free trade agreements. This is important. As I said earlier in my contribution, it is one thing to say that trade is good, but it is another thing to actually prove it. We have been saying for ages that international economic modelling should underpin these agreements. It hasn't been done for this one.

As the shadow trade minister indicated in his contribution earlier today, there have only been a few places where this agreement has been tested, including through the Victorian state government, which has tested the agreement and said that on balance no sector should lose out and has been able to provide some evidence on this agreement. But it shouldn't be left to individual state governments to do this. This should be part and parcel of any trade agreement that is being put forward to the nation's parliament and, importantly, to the Australian community, so that their confidence in trade can be increased rather than there being constant questions about whether free trade is fair trade. So economic modelling as a condition is very important.

We do need to see the types of things that the shadow minister outlined—for example, establishing a system of accredited trade advisers by drawing from business, unions and the civil sector, who can provide much more real-time feedback on how trade agreements are looking to shape up or what they're likely to have an impact on and be able to deal with those things early on; having an independent national interest assessment conducted with every new trade agreement; and strengthening the role of parliament in trade negotiations themselves. Instead of having our parliamentary committees look at these things after the agreement is done and dusted and we've gotten to a point where we're pretty much told to take it or leave and we don't have scope to influence the agreement, having them involved a lot sooner is important. For too long we've just accepted that that's the way things should be done. Yet parliaments in other parts of the world have been prepared to take a much bigger stand on being told through the course of negotiations what's being done and what's being pressed for in terms of the national interest and then testing how the national interest has been served through trade agreements. This is the stuff that has to change.

The opposition has put forward, I would say, one of the most far-reaching reforms to the way we do trade agreements—because, again, it is one thing to say that trade is good; it is another thing to prove the benefits. We do need to see that change; otherwise, we will see more and more, in the public debate and the political debate, the fringe groups get up and, as is often the case, work off fear and anxiety to get people worked up about the way things are going, in order to build up their political capital, to build up their political strength and to gain a voice on the floor of parliament—because they've managed to spook the heck out of people by making claims about trade that don't necessarily stack up to the evidence. The only way to deal with that is to have the proof, to be able to take people along with us and be able to say that it's in the national interest and demonstrate that it actually is in the national interest, instead of seeing people being ripped off or believe that they are being ripped off.

I would also make the point that trade has been a very difficult issue for our side of politics—and it has been for many years. When we on our side of politics were going through these reforms in the eighties and nineties, we never took the position that said, 'We can't do this because our base doesn't support it.' We argued the case that it was in the national interest and it was the job of parliamentarians to go out and argue the case and win people over. The contrast with the other side of politics is interesting. Their example of this is on the issue of climate change, where they've argued, on issues relating to that, that they can't possibly see certain things done because their base wouldn't cop it. If you want any further proof of that, look at the member for Warringah's book, Battlelines, in which he goes on a regional tour and hears the comments of Liberal Party members about the issue of climate change. The weather vane on climate change himself changes his position numerous times, but in the end he lands on a position not because it's in the national interest but because it's in the political interest.

The contrast couldn't be clearer. We certainly were aware of how sensitive this issue was, especially for working-class families, but we needed to be able to put in place measurers to help people on the way through. We recognise that, as a result of the changes, we've seen over a quarter of a century of economic growth come through, in part because we changed the way we did business with the rest of the world. This stuff is important in the longer term. You can either have the type of consolation that the member for Kennedy will reach out for that will give you the short-term comfort that doesn't do the longer term interests of the country any good, or you can be fair dinkum about saying: 'Yes, this change is going to have an impact on the way through. People do need to be looked after. We can do things better and we can get a better outcome as a result of it.' As I said, the fringe groups that we see in this place that will try and spook the heck out of people don't sustain us in the longer term and should not be the ones we should necessarily lean or gravitate towards. Ultimately, we should be realistic about what people's concerns are, deal with them and make sure the country is better off in the long term as a result.


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