Unity on ChAFTA

13 October 2015


SUBJECT/S: National Day of Unity; China-Australia Free Trade Agreement; National Security.

JIM CHALMERS: I’m really pleased to see that faith leaders are meeting with political leaders in this building today – people like the Welcome To Australia organisation, leaders of all kinds of faiths from around the country – meeting with all sides of the Parliament as part of the National Day of Unity. It is important when the fabric of our society has been stretched and tested like it has been in recent weeks and recent months, it’s important that we come together and build understanding between us. We are stronger and safer when we stand together.

The National Day of Unity is also an important opportunity for us to consider and to contemplate those other areas in our policies and our politics where we can find common ground. And today’s an important day in that respect when it comes to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

We’ll have more to say on this later today, after a Caucus discussion, from our spokesperson Penny Wong. We’ve said all along that we want a high quality deal that maximises Australian jobs and minimises exploitation. We do have an opportunity in this Parliament from today to come together, to find common ground, to put in place complementary safeguards and to move forward together in the national interest, so that we can implement a deal that Labor has said all along that we want to implement, but that we want to implement with the complementary safeguards that ensure that we’re doing what we can to maximise Australian jobs and minimise the risk of exploitation

JOURNALIST: Is Labor conscious though of perhaps scuttling the deal? It’s not just you and the Government of course, it’s China as well and whatever changes they might have to make.

CHALMERS: Well it’s been very clear for some time now that the complementary safeguards that Labor is seeking don’t require us to go back to the Chinese and renegotiate the deal. They just require us to sit down together in a spirit of bipartisanship to move forward in the national interest and the interests of Australian jobs. That’s been clear for some time now. We welcome some of the more positive noises coming out of the Government. We hope that the reports that we see in today’s papers are accurate about the Government’s willingness to sit down and talk with us. We do have a big chance in this Parliament – this week and next week – to come together, to put in place these complementary safeguards so that we can maximise Australian jobs in this economy.

JOURNALIST: Given that we’re talking about broad changes rather than specific ones, these are ones that Labor could have made while in Government?

CHALMERS: Look, even Andrew Robb has said that the sort of changes that we have flagged and that we will release later today are easily implemented. We all know – anyone that’s followed this debate knows – that the sort of changes that we’re seeking will not jeopardise the arrangements and the agreements that the Abbott and Turnbull Governments have struck with the Chinese Government. So we don’t anticipate any problems at the Chinese end. But we do have a big opportunity that we should grasp to get the best possible China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

JOURNALIST: What’s the next step if the Government rejects the safeguards you’ll introduce today. Where do you go from there?

CHALMERS: Well the next step is for us to release the detail of the amendments that we’re proposing. We are hopeful that the Government will sit down in good faith to discuss those amendments. Beyond that, it’s not worth contemplating hypothetical questions. We think that we can get a good outcome for the Australian people, particularly for the Australian labour market which, after all, is what we’re here to do – to promote the interests of Australian workers and the Australian people, to engage with China as Labor has for forty years – to make sure that we’re engaging in the region and getting the best possible deal for our people.

JOURNALIST: On anti-terror laws, would you be willing to consider trying control orders for fourteen year olds?

CHALMERS: Like a lot of people in our community, I’m very concerned that marginalised young people, disaffected young people, in communities like mine around the country are the potential targets of extremists who want to do our country harm. I’ve seen the reports and I’ve heard the reports this morning about possible Government proposals. We’ve not been briefed on those. We look forward to a briefing on any changes that the Government intends to make in this area. I think we’ve got good form when it comes to working with the Government to keep the community safe to ensure that where possible we’re on common ground so that we can stand together and make the country stronger and safer as a consequence.