Senate debates

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Questions without Notice


2:29 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to Senator Payne, the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Investment. Minister, within 12 months of taking office the Abbott government concluded free trade agreements with South Korea, Japan and China. While celebrated as a win by the government, to many the speed was alarming, suggesting a new trade minister keen to get runs on the board may have given concessions beyond what was in the national interest. It seems these concerns were justified. In the case of the China free trade agreement, we will permit Chinese companies investing just $22 million into Australian based projects to bring in their own workers without having first to advertise for local workers. Minister, given the threat this poses to Australian jobs, will the government reconsider negotiating this aspect of the agreement?

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Madigan for the question and the advice to my office that he was intending to ask a question. The government is very proud of its record on trade, and since taking office in 2013 we have secured three crucial trade agreements which cover almost half of our exports. In particular the landmark free trade agreement with China will open up massive opportunities for Australian resource, agriculture, manufacturing and service industries and will create thousands upon thousands of jobs into the future.

It is unfortunate, Senator Madigan, that the most militant union in Australia are continuing their effort to derail the agreement by repeating what are utterly false claims. It is simply a disingenuous campaign by the union, and I do think it is unfortunate if you have been dragged into the orbit of that campaign by their misinformation. With all due respect, the claims that they make and that you have repeated this afternoon are not correct. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection guidelines, as I said yesterday, make it crystal clear that employees must demonstrate a labour market need and prove that Australians have bee provided first opportunity at the jobs. In other words, jobs for Australians come first. Temporary visa arrangements under ChAFTA are consistent with Australia's existing immigration and employment frameworks, and the suggestion by the unions that the government would enter into any agreement that deprives Australians of the first opportunity for jobs is, frankly, ludicrous.

The ChAFTA is a job-creating agreement that provides unprecedented access to the world's second biggest market. I am advised that the office of the Minister for Trade and Investment has offered to provide Senator Madigan with a briefing on the agreement, and that offer, of course, still stands for Senator Madigan.

2:32 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The agreement with China also removes requirements for mandatory skills testing for 457 workers in a range of occupations, including electricians and mechanics. The explosion in Tianjin last week is the most recent example of a public health catastrophe brought about by regulatory failure in China. Why on earth has the government agreed to allow Chinese electricians and other tradies unfamiliar with Australian safety standards onto Australian work sites?

2:33 pm

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Again, the assertions that the ETU and its fellow travellers are perpetuating in their dishonest campaign are completely false. The ChAFTA does not change the required skill levels for Chinese visa applicants to work in nominated occupations in Australia. It is not going to risk Australian jobs or community safety. What the ChAFTA does is bring China into line with the skills assessment pathway that we have required for most other countries for those occupations. Chinese visa applicants will still need to provide evidence that they have the requisite skills, qualifications and work experience as part of the visa application process. Chinese visa applicants will also need to obtain any federal, state or territory licences or registrations and be engaged in accordance with Australian workplace law, including awards and workplace health and safety. (Time expired)

2:34 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The latest joke doing the rounds is: if you're short of a quid, put a blank cheque in front of Mr Robb, and he'll sign anything! This might be amusing if it were not for the devastating betrayal of Australian workers involved. Minister, what is being done to ensure that in future negotiations Minister Robb and his team show a bit more backbone in standing up for the rights of Australian workers?

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me say very clearly that I have the utmost admiration and respect for Trade Minister Robb and the extraordinary work he is doing on behalf of this government. The whole process of the development of the ChAFTA was a process of actively seeking stakeholder views and considering those throughout the negotiations. Those stakeholder consultations actually began in 2004 with a call for public submissions. The department held consultations and discussions with over 700 stakeholders and, following each negotiating round, DFAT contacted stakeholders to update them and seek further views ahead of the next round. The consultations that occurred in Australia and among Australian businesses in China were positive, with the feedback supportive of an FTA with China.

Mr Robb has secured an outstanding agreement that will position Australia for jobs growth in the decades ahead. I have mentioned before the endless list of endorsements and testimonies from Australian businesses and industries, and they are testament to that. (Time expired)