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
Colleagues, with great pleasure I rise to speak to this particular piece of legislation, the Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018. Not only is it important for my electorate and for Australia; it's also important for me at a personal level. It's important because it's a matter of good governance. Good governance, as I've said a number of times this week, is based on transparency and evidence based policy. There are a number of aspects of this particular bit of legislation that are not transparent and do not seem to be based on good evidence. My call to the government is to give us some transparency and give us an independent assessment and an economic analysis of this particular trade arrangement.
Let me give you some background about why I propose that. Before I was a member of parliament, I was involved and active in an organisation called Australian Women in Agriculture. As part of that organisation, we had a brief to pay attention and increase our understanding of trade and how it impacted on our ability as farmers, in particular, to make money and to sell our produce. As part of that involvement, at that time the then Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, invited me to join the Australian delegation to go to Doha in 2001 and be part of the World Trade Organization ministerial discussions. It was an eye-opening experience of not only how the WTO worked but how bilateral and multilateral trade agreements worked. It set me on a train to pay a lot more attention to our trading agreements and how they worked.
Through my career following that particular experience and my involvement with the Australian Women in Agriculture, I became an active member of the Victorian Farmers Federation. In fact I was elected as the regional councillor for the VFF. Through that period I also became actively involved in the National Farmers' Federation and paid a lot of attention to some of the trade deals we were negotiating. It became clear through that representative role that trade deals were not straightforward, particularly in agriculture. They involved trade-offs, and there were winners and losers. It was one industry against another, and the industries that normally won were the ones that were well organised, had good lobbyists and good access to ministers and were able to make their case. Frequently the ones that lost were exactly the opposite. It struck me that we could do this better in agriculture and that we could balance the winners and losers with a lot more skill if we put our intelligence to it. So I certainly applied my intelligence to it in agriculture, in research and with economic background.
I have come to understand a little bit about how some of these trade negotiations happen. In the first instance, the agriculture industry would put up a bid that, if we can open market X, Y and Z, we would increase our income by QRT. Then another industry says, 'Yes, we could do similar,' and then we have the argy-bargy going on. In my experience, we start with a base-level negotiation but, by the time we get to the final trade-off, all the equations have changed from our base-level negotiation. What I ask with this TPP is that we become transparent with the outcome that we get, so that we don't have farmers saying, 'Well, we know where we were at the beginning, but we don't know where we got to once the trade-offs were made—who won, who lost, how much and what the calculations were.'
The TPP is so important. For me, it opens up trade in the Pacific rim, where, as my career developed, I did a lot of work—and I would still hope to have good contacts with these countries—and I know how important trade is for the economic growth of Australia and our neighbours. I want to make sure that we not only balance who wins and who loses but also manage the unintended consequences and improve the knowledge base of our farming community and our elected agricultural representatives, in particular, as they go into these negotiations. As a member of parliament representing a regional community, I want to be able to go back to my community and say, 'This was the process; here's the analysis; here's what we expect to happen; and in X years time we are going to review it against those assumptions and, where we need to make changes, we've put processes in place to make those changes.' I don't see any of that in this legislation. To me, it's totally possible, it's not costly and we could do it. What I would like is for the government to open up the discussion around this piece of legislation and for my colleagues in the Labor Party to pay some attention to how we can actually grow our collective knowledge as a nation about how the trading process works.
I'm conscious that my colleague from Bendigo wants to have a few words before we finish. So, in bringing my comments to a close: there are enormous benefits from the TPP for Australia and for my electorate. However, it is not transparent and we do not understand the assumptions made. So my request to the government is that we pay some attention to the requests that have been circulating around the House for an independent assessment and some process of understanding the impact on employment conditions and also the transparency. I look forward to hearing the minister summing up the debate and his response to the request from not only me but also many of the crossbenchers.
In the few moments that we have left in this sitting week, in rising to speak on the Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018 and related bill, I want to echo some of the concerns raised by this side of the House and also to support the amendment that was moved by the member for Blaxland. I continue to be very concerned about the fact that we have another free trade agreement put before us that does not adequately deal with labour market testing. As a bit of a reminder and a bit of background, I spoke in this place about the impact of the China free trade agreement. Those in the government pointed to me and others on their side and said, 'Xenophobic'—xenophobic for raising an issue that says that Australia should have a policy where we put locals in local jobs first, that we would not look for temporary overseas workers unless it is established that there is a genuine skills shortage. It just makes common sense that, if there were, for example, constructions jobs, nursing jobs or any other jobs in this country in any industry, we would advertise locally first and, if it is established that there is a genuine skills shortage, we would then look overseas for those skills on a temporary basis and invest in skills. A temporary skilled migration scheme in an industry in this country should last for as long as it takes to train an Australian to do that job—so in nursing, four to five years; in construction, depending upon the course.
Unions have repeatedly raised the impact of not having proper labour market testing in these agreements. It is disappointing for those on this side of the House to know that, in the China and Japan agreements, we didn't have those safeguards in place that we are now seeing in this agreement. I want to take the opportunity to put on the record that, as we speak, there has been an agreement in Hobart regarding the Chinese migrant workers who were here on a variety of different visa arrangements. John Holland has finally agreed to pay them. They haven't been paid for nine weeks. This is what happens when we don't have proper safeguards.