House debates

Monday, 17 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

11:45 am

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

Thank you for the indulgence of the House. I do apologise for missing my call earlier, in continuation from what I started to speak about when this House last sat, last Thursday. As I said last Thursday—and over the weekend my position hasn't changed—I do remain, like many Australians, skeptical about our free trade agreements. As one person put to me, we should really call them 'trade agreements', not 'free trade agreements'. We don't have any independent economic modelling around these agreements that actually demonstrates the benefits of these agreements. Quite often with these agreements we talk only about what goes out of our country; we don't talk about what comes into our country.

I'd like to start with what goes out of our country. We always headline with Japan, with China and now with the TPP how great these agreements are for agriculture. But, as anybody who works with people in the regions and talks to our farmers knows, the people say that, while agreements are okay, what about the non-tariff barriers? With all the fanfare around the China free trade agreement, all we got in my part of the world, when they talked up wine, which is a big industry for us, was a seminar on how to maximise your opportunity into China. Small, independent boutique growers don't have the capital to start building those relationships, and a once-off seminar isn't enough. And they're not really benefiting from the last agreement that we spoke about in this place—the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. One of the other headline areas was how this is great for rice. Let's just talk about the rice industry for a moment. In a non-drought year—and I say that because at the moment we are in a drought year—80 per cent of our rice is exported. That sounds really good until you learn that that's only two per cent of the world's entire rice market. And that rice, that two per cent, is already going into the top market in Japan and into the top markets in Asia, because our rice, our sushi rice, is the best rice. Its quality is up there.

So, is there really a new benefit in relation to this cut in tariffs for rice? What we then ask when it comes to agriculture is, what is coming into our market?

We need to look at what is coming into our market and the jobs that are being put at risk in those manufacturing sectors. There is real concern in our country about the pressure that we're putting on our local manufacturing. Those concerns are real, and we should listen to those. That is why Labor's proposal to do independent economic modelling is needed. Australians want to know that they are getting a good deal out of these agreements. We don't know that with the TPP. I would urge this government to do that economic modelling, to put this bill on hold and to do that independent economic modelling, as Labor has proposed, so Australians can know the truth about this agreement.

I also speak in favour of the amendments that have been put forward by the opposition that are saying we need to get the labour market testing right. Waiving labour market testing for contractual services for six new countries in this agreement will actually make things harder for locals seeking local jobs. It's a problem we have in our country; we have a problem with our temporary visa program in our country. Weekly, we hear of another case of worker exploitation. People who've come here in good faith to work are being exploited by dodgy labour-hire companies and by unscrupulous employers. We cannot, in good conscience, expand allowing people to come into this country, without any proper labour market testing, until we stabilise the temporary work program that we have in our country. It is, to me, alarming that we are now debating whether we should allow electricians to come into this country when they say they've got complementary skills but we don't know if those skills are up to the Australian standard.

Throughout Australia, we are meeting people, working in areas like the renewable energy industry, who are coming in on a temporary work visa—the companies are not even offering those jobs locally—and are working to build solar power plants. It's happening in the town of Tieri in Central Queensland. They have set up a camp—it is literally a camp—where workers from Eastern Europe are coming and staying. We don't even know if they're being paid in Australian currency. We suspect they're being paid in a currency from overseas; it goes into their overseas bank account. They come here, they're working, they don't associate with the town, they very rarely spend money in the town and they may or may not go home. This is happening right now. This government is completely ignoring the fact that we do have breaches, day after day, of our temporary visa program.

Last week I also highlighted—and this is an ongoing issue with Chinese plasterers—the people who are here on a temporary visa arrangement, who have gone in and in good faith done work, but are not quite aware of what their conditions are or what they should be paid. They're temporary workers, so how would they know? They have worked on the Royal Hobart Hospital and they have worked in other places in Melbourne, and they have not been paid. They weren't paid for nine weeks.

Mr Ciobo interjecting

The minister interjects and says that this has nothing to do with the TPP and the legislation before us. It actually does. If we don't have our temporary work visa program up to standard and if we don't have the safeguards in place, we shouldn't allow more workers to come in to be subjected to that level of exploitation. Let's clean up our backyard first. Let's fix our IR system. Let's fix our temporary work visa system before you invite more workers into this country who could quite possibly be exploited.

It brings me to highlight a couple of the countries that are on this list. We're talking about Vietnam; we're talking about Malaysia. In the chicken processing industry, the boning work that goes on in chicken processing is almost all Vietnamese-Australian workers and Vietnamese workers. If they are Vietnamese-Australian, they have quite possibly had 10 years of worker exploitation before they actually get their permanent residency. It's happening in chicken processing in my electorate. People are bussed up from Melbourne to work in the chicken factory. For the people who are here from Vietnam, we don't quite know all of their visa arrangements. It chops and changes. Some of them are on protection visas or bridging visas. Some of them are here on worker holiday visas. Some are here on tourist visas and shouldn't even be working. There's a real grey, hidden area with what's happening. Until we get the safeguards in place, we should delay moving forward on this legislation. We need to make sure that any guest worker who comes into our country has this support and that protection.

I just want to highlight a couple of myths about our free trade agreements. They relate not just to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement but more broadly to all agreements. The government and the Liberal National Party like to really talk about the jobs and say that these agreements will be jobs boosters. They are not. The TPP, in this case, will result in more jobs being outsourced. It won't actually be a jobs booster. It's estimated that we'll lose up to 40,000 jobs by 2025. That's not a jobs booster. That's a jobs loss. Another myth is that it won't make it easier for temporary workers to come to Australia. That is not true. We know that temporary hire migrants will be able to come into our country from six additional countries.

Government members interjecting

I hear the interjections of those opposite. Again they are going to accuse us of being racist and xenophobic. We are absolutely not. I think it is outrageous that, because you come into our country as a temporary migrant worker, you're paid less. I think it's just outrageous that you have workers who come into our country who are paid less because of the country that they're from. How does that happen? How is it possible that people are paid less? There is an award minimum in a lot of these industries. These labour hire companies pay the award as a minimum. Some of the workers don't even get that. Until we fix up workplace relations and resource the Fair Work Ombudsman properly, we should not allow more and more workers to come in. We've got to get those foundations right first. We need to make sure that any jobs that we have are offered to Australian workers first. We need to make sure that, if there is a local job, it goes to a local first. We also know that there is a link: if you directly employ someone, you're more likely to get an Australian to put their hand up for that job because they know they will have job security and the right working conditions.

What's raised opposite is that we are very concerned about the ISDS clause. Labor believes that Australia should negotiate its trade agreements without these clauses. We have committed that in government we would seek to remove any ISDS provisions, and we have put that commitment in this amendment we have moved. People are concerned about this. People don't like the idea that an overseas company can sue their government for pursuing policy that is in the best interests of Australian people. We also seek in this amendment to reinstate labour market testing for contractual service suppliers in existing free trade agreements—all of them. We need to have the very basics of labour market testing. I believe we need to strengthen our labour-market-testing laws. We need to make sure that all of the labour market clauses that we have are genuine and are ensuring that we are making companies look for local workers first. Labor have also said in our amendment—this is something that the government should do immediately—that all new free trade agreements should be subject to independent national interest assessments before going any further. I urge the government to do that today. If you believe that this is a job booster, prove it. Do the independent labour market testing, because all the research we've seen is that it's actually going to cost Australian jobs.

We have also said we want to legislate to create an accredited trades advisory program where industry, unions and civil society groups would provide real-time feedback on a draft agreement during negotiations. We have also said we'd strengthen the role of parliament in trade negotiations and increase the participation of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. These are all practical steps that would see a better free trade agreement.

As I said, I share the concerns of most Australians, who are quite sceptical about agreements, particularly by this government. We should not be signing off on any agreement that has no labour market testing in it. We should ensure that any agreement protects local jobs, protects and enhances local industry, and doesn't trade it off in a simple transaction. We do have good industry here in this country, and we need to do our utmost to promote it and to protect it, not just in agriculture but across the board. But, most importantly, before the government goes down the path of waiving labour market testing, it needs to stop and think about the treatment of those workers in this country, fix the migration program, fix the temporary worker program and give the Fair Work Ombudsman the resources to investigate the unending reports of worker exploitation of people who have come here in good faith to work.


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