Monday, 21 October 2019
Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019, Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019; Second Reading
These agreements give more rights to big corporations than to governments and to workers, and they should be opposed. These agreements are being negotiated by big corporations and their shills in the Liberal government, and it is appalling that now, when this wasn't even on the Notice Paper for today, Labor and the Liberals have done a dirty deal to rush this legislation through the parliament, over the very strong and legitimate objections of working people and non-government organisations right across Australia.
These deals are not simply about trade. If they were simply about trade, they'd probably be unobjectionable. And there's nothing wrong with having an agreement with Indonesia or Peru or Hong Kong—although I'll come back to Hong Kong in a moment—or any other country in principle. It's not about saying you can't strike a deal. The question is: what's in it? The question is: is the government, at the behest of big corporations, signing away rights that most people in Australia think are part and parcel of a democracy? When you look at this deal, the answer is yes.
It is no answer for Labor to come in here and say, 'We just negotiated a side deal with the government.' This is the very same government they've told us the last few weeks we can't trust because they're loose with the truth. Now apparently we have to just accept that it's all going to be okay because there is a side letter from the minister that promises to fix the problems. Well, no. What this dodgy side letter from the minister boils down to is that all the existing loopholes will continue to apply. The big win that has been negotiated out of this is that the existing loopholes won't be expanded. Well, whoop-de-doo. At the moment, the problem is that there are holes in these agreements that are big enough to fly plane loads of exploited overseas workers through. That is bad for the overseas workers because they end up here being exploited, working with the threat of expulsion from the country always over their head, and that allows them to be put through conditions most of us would find objectionable. It's also bad because it means local wages and conditions get pushed down. That is why unions who have looked at this deal have said, 'Hang on, there's something wrong here.'
The problem with the way these agreements are negotiated is that you don't get to see the text before it's put on the table and you have to either take it or leave it. The problem with these agreements is that even when the text is put on the table there's no independent analysis done. Alarm bells should be ringing for the government when the Productivity Commission and the Greens start agreeing about the need for cost-benefit analysis, but that is where we are at with these agreements because the government's come in here with all sorts of promises about how great these agreements are and the Productivity Commission is the first in line to stand up and say, 'Well, actually, if that's right, then test it.' Do some analysis and test it. Put forward a case to parliament before each of us is asked to vote on it, as Labor and Liberal are asking us to do in this rush deal here today. Put up some economic analysis that shows that there might be some benefit—but there's none.
We saw this with the ChAFTA agreement, when the minister at the time told us: 'It's all right. It's all going to be fine because there will be hundreds of jobs—600 or 700 jobs in the dairy industry in the first year alone.' That's what the minister said about ChAFTA. Well, no. Jobs in that industry have gone backwards. Even the spurious claims they make about previous agreements show you can't believe the spin. That's why they're not prepared to front up here with some kind of independent analysis about how great these deals are meant to be. The fact that they can't come in here with any analysis tells you everything you need to know. If you don't believe the Greens, listen to the Productivity Commission about it.
The Liberals come in here and say: 'We've got this great deal that we've negotiated on behalf of our corporate masters, and I'm sorry it is going to mean a few diminutions of your labour standards, workers; you'll just have to cop that. Sorry there are no enforceable labour chapters or environment chapters in this; you're just going to have to cop that.' You expect that from the Liberals. I say to Labor: stop caving in to the government. Let's stand up to this government and the dodgy deals that it does. The sooner we do that, and the sooner an alternative is presented, the sooner they'll be out of office. At the moment they've only got a one-seat majority in this place. Who knows what's going to happen and how many by-elections there will be; there are always by-elections during the course of a parliament. We could have this government out soon. But if you keep agreeing with them and giving them everything they want, then they'll just get emboldened.
To go to some of the specifics about this, there's the local advertising of jobs. One would think it's an unobjectionable principle to say that where there are jobs going here in Australia, we will advertise locally first. If we can't find someone locally then of course we can look overseas, because there's nothing in principle wrong with saying there might be skills gaps in Australia or that we want to have greater international cooperation, so we'll have a system that says people can come from other countries and work here. But the question is: what is in the agreement? You would think there would be something that says that you have to advertise locally first, but we know there's not, because we know there are whole carve-outs in this that say there can be new categories of people who don't have to go through that process.
When we look at the text with respect to other labour matters, there are some real questions about qualifications and standards. For example, most people would think, if you have Australian rules and restrictions around someone who is an electrician, that anyone who is going to work in this country has been through an actual testing process to know they can comply with those standards. What happens under these agreements, though, is that someone from another country—a sponsor; a big corporation—puts in application and says, 'It's okay; I vouch that so-and-so has the appropriate standards.' Do they have to go through a separate testing process? No. Does it have to be checked? Do they get assessed that they know how Australian electrical standards work? No. Someone sitting behind a desk does a paper check and, bang, they can come through.