FiveAA with Leon Byner on ChAFTA

22 October 2015


SUBJECT/S: Safeguards in the China-Australian Free Trade Agreement

HOST, LEON BYNER: Jim, what is it that you've changed in the Free Trade Agreement that now has exhorted you to pass it?

SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TRADE, JIM CHALMERS: Well, thanks for having me on the program Leon. As you know, throughout this process, we've argued that we want a China agreement that maximises Australian jobs and minimises the risk of exploitation. So we've been working, through Penny Wong and others, to achieve what I think are some pretty significant concessions from the Government. There are new legal safeguards now that wouldn't have existed were it not for our efforts. And those safeguards are around making sure that the local labour market is tested before foreign workers are brought in, there's some important changes in terms of making sure that the pay and conditions of workers brought in from overseas don't undercut local wages, and there's also some important achievements when it comes to the skills and safety standards, and occupational licensing of people who work here. So I think the concessions that we were able to get from the Government in the last week or so are important, they are significant, and they make the deal much better than it would have been were it not for our involvement.

BYNER: Now are these concessions in the agreement itself, or somewhere else in the law?

CHALMERS: They're in the migration law. They're just as legally binding in the Act, they basically change some of these things from optional extras to legally binding obligations. I think that's really important. So we've put them into the regulations of the migration law. They're just as binding as they would be anywhere else in the law.

BYNER: I've got the National Secretary of the CFMEU, Michael O'Connor. Michael, you ran this big campaign. Does what Jim say allay your fears?

NATIONAL SECRETARY OF THE CFMEU, MICHAEL O'CONNOR: Well, not completely. But first off, what Jim says is right - there have been some significant concessions achieved by the Labor Party. Andrew Robb has had to concede that there were major flaws when it came to labour market testing and protecting the Australian labour market. He's had to concede that by agreeing to a whole range of regulations. But there's still issues with this agreement, and the Union will obviously still continue to campaign around those issues. But at the end of the day, this agreement - the faults of this agreement - are the responsibility of the Government. It's interesting to see that Andrew Robb came from a position of criticising the Union and the Opposition and other stakeholders, from calling us a bunch of racists that were ignorant and didn't know what we were talking about, to making a whole range of regulatory changes which are important. But this agreement still has some issues. But I have to say, there's been some significant gains here and we'll grab those and we'll keep on campaigning.

BYNER: When you say you'll keep on campaigning, does that mean another advertising campaign, or what does it mean?

O'CONNOR: Well, obviously that could be the case. But what we have to do here is we have to make sure - there's a whole range of things we can do in the migration act to do with visa workers, generally. ChAFTA can't fix all those issues, but we need to continue to speak about what's happening to visa workers, stop them being exploited, protecting our labour market. So we need changes to our IR system, changes to our migration laws, and I think we've also through the advertising campaign really highlighted to the Australian community that there needs to be more debate about trade agreements. Bilateral trade agreements in itself, we think, don't deliver much. We support open trade, proper trade, but when you have bilateral agreements, which are clearly devices that deliver little, except, from our point of view, just open up our labour market to be exploited and that's not a great thing in itself.

BYNER: Well, Jim Chalmers, do you agree with Michael?

CHALMERS: I think that Michael and his Union have made a very constructive contribution all along.

BYNER: Do you agree with what he just said though?

CHALMERS: Well, I agree that the concessions we've been able to achieve are significant. And I also agree we can always do more to make sure the system is as tight as possible so that we're looking after Australian workers. So I do agree in principle with what he said there as well.

BYNER: Well, Jim Chalmers and Michael O'Connor, thank you.