Senate debates

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Fair Trade (Workers' Rights) Bill 2013; Second Reading

11:55 am

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Democratic Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

The speech read as follows—


Today I rise to introduce the Fair trade (Workers' Rights) Bill 2013.

This is the first in a series of Fair Trade Bills I intend to introduce in the hope of bringing us closer to that mythical 'level playing field' we are told we enjoy through our international trade agreements.

The Fair Trade (Compliance of Imported Goods of Imported Goods with Australian Standards) Bill which addresses the appalling state of imported goods that are never brought up to meet Australian Standards before being sold to the consumer, should be introduced next Thursday. Two further Bills, on Intellectual Property and Patent Protection & Biosecurity and Food Standards will be introduced in the next session, which I presume will be after the coming election.

All these Bills are aimed at making Australian Manufacturers and Farmers more competitive in the face of a flood of imported goods that are grown and manufactured under conditions against which Australian producers simply cannot compete.

However today sees the introduction of the first of these Bills. The Fair Trade (Workers' Rights) Bill is a simple piece of legislation.

Its basic intentions are twofold.

First it aims to demonstrate that the Australian people care about the rights of workers, not only in Australia but across the world.

Second, it aims to make Australian industries more competitive in our home markets and to protect the jobs of Australian workers and small businesses.

I know some will say this Bill cannot work because we cannot legislate for countries other than Australia. To some extent that is true, however, that is not what this Bill seeks to do. What is constantly overlooked in our trade negotiations is that we can legislate on which products we accept into this country and the circumstances under which we will accept them.

Successive Governments, whether ALP or Coalition have failed to ensure a future for Australian manufacturing and farming.

Politicians of both sides have always been happy to don a hard hat and a high vis-vest and pose for a photo opportunity inside a factory or sitting astride a tractor but once the cameras go, so does the zeal of the politician.

How many times have we heard the cry that Australian manufacturers and farmers are on a level playing field with our competitors, that our international markets are growing and that our Free Trade Agreements are bringing us prosperity and a bright future?

Well, Mr President, I don't know where this vision of prosperity is coming from unless they see it at the bottom of the ever deepening holes we are digging around this country. I can guarantee that most Australian workers have a different vision, and no amount of political rhetoric will change that.

Put simply, there is no level playing field. We know it and the Australian people know it. And what's worse our international competitors know it and are only too glad to exploit it.

Today, instead of raising the standards of imported goods to the levels of quality equal to that of Australian manufacturers, we are expecting Australian producers to compete against low quality goods that are produced under under-regulated conditions and in many cases using workers who are afforded few if any basic workers rights. The idea seems to be, that since those workers are out of sight they should be out of mind.

Fortunately most Australian workers, unions, manufacturers and farmers are appalled at the idea of our workers conditions being eroded because our governments support trade agreements that deny basic rights to fellow human beings.

How is it that almost every Australian can see the injustice, not to mention the economic stupidity, of this tactic while governments of both persuasions cannot?

I agree this tactic will result in a level playing field; but do we really want it if it's achieved by making Australian workers as poverty stricken as their overseas counterparts. Better to bring them closer to the conditions we enjoy.

Mr President, I don't think we should be playing with the lives and livelihood of our manufacturers and farmers.

I introduce this Bill in the hope it can address some of these vitally important issues and will seek the agreement of all parties to improve our competitiveness while addressing the rights of workers both here and overseas.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.