Farmers 'wedged' on ChAFTA: Sterle

31 Aug, 2015 05:00 AM
WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle.
Farmers will think the unions are picking on them but that couldn’t be further from the truth
WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle.

AUSTRALIAN farmers are being “wedged” in a “ridiculous political argument” over labour provisions in the China/Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), says WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle.

Senator Sterle has served on the Rural and Regional Affairs Committee for more than a decade, participating in some of the farm sector’s most controversial inquiries, including wheat exports deregulation and animal welfare standards in live animal exports.

At last week’s public hearing in Canberra for the red meat processing sector inquiry he Chairs, he objected to Fletcher International Exports Managing Director Roger Fletcher’s demand that Labor “not rob farmers” of the ChAFTA.

Mr Fletcher told the inquiry trade was “vital” to the nation’s sheepmeat industry and farmers increasing need for the China trade deal needed to be ratified.

But Senator Sterle said he also backed the ChAFTA because it improved market access for Australian farmers by cutting trade tariffs, to increase their viability.

However, he said he wanted to see a “mandatory” labour market testing provision included in the agreement, to protect Australian workers.

Explaining his position to Fairfax Media, Senator Sterle said farmers were being “wedged” by the Abbott government’s ferocious counter-attack on the unions’ assertions that ChAFTA failed to protect local workers.

“What I’m saying is, we are all for our farmers increasing every opportunity they can to better their markets and export more product to make their businesses more sustainable,” he said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for farmers and an opportunity to grow the nation’s exports.

“But where the government is being a bit mischievous – and all we’re asking for – is for a mandatory provision to be included in the agreement, in terms of labour market testing.

“We should never wedge our farmers but unfortunately our farmers are being wedged in this ridiculous political argument that’s going on at the moment.”

Senator Sterle said his simple message to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Trade Minister Andrew Robb was, “just add one word to the agreement, ‘mandatory’, to make the labour market testing mandatory”.

He said the Australian farming community and food processors needed to understand the Abbott government’s attack on the unions for expressing concerns about inadequate labour provisions in the ChAFTA was “terrible”.

“The government’s position in this debate makes it seem like one half of Australia is against our farmers but that’s just not right,” he said.

“It’s a shocking position to put any Australian into and the sooner they can include mandatory labour market testing in the ChAFTA you will find there will be no argument and we’ll all rejoice together.

“Unfortunately this is pitting farmers against other workers; it’s a terrible argument and no government should do this.

“Farmers will think the unions are picking on them but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Senator Sterle said during WA’s severe drought in 2006 and 2007 many farmers were able to earn income by working Fly-in-Fly-out (FIFO) on the construction of various mining projects, in the north-west and around Geraldton.

“It’s very well documented that many farmers donned the fluoro vest and the fluoro shirt and went FIFO during the drought and thank god were able to keep themselves employed because the farm couldn’t,” he said.

“But there is a massive amount of workers who are not farmers and they will be affected if we allow this ChAFTA to go through, without the ‘mandatory’ wording.

“The agreement clearly says there is no requirement for labour market testing for a project over $150 million and most projects are way over $150m.

“They could be building a hospital too, not just a mine.

“We are denying a generation of kids who may be employed in construction, or engineering, or metalworking, or forklift drivers or storeman, or whatever, the opportunity for a job at the expense of bringing in foreign workers first.

“I just want to make it very clear to the farmers we’re not the enemy.

“If the government says we’re lying and scaremongering and all of that, well they can put the word ‘mandatory’ in the agreement and that will give certainty and say Australian jobs will be thought of first.

“You could never say I’m anti-farmer but this has all got down to a union versus farmer argument.

“There needs to be some sensible discussion on this.”

However, Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey said union claims about the ChAFTA were “complete and utter rubbish” which was a view backed by former Labor leader Bob Hawke last week.

“This is a classic scare campaign being fuelled by Bill Shorten,” he said.

“It’s all about politics for the unions - it’s got nothing to do with Australian jobs.

“In fact, their behaviour is going to cost Australian jobs.

“The truth is these agreements that open up trade with other countries are to the benefit of Australians and Australian jobs.

“They’ve got to advertise in Australia, they’ve got exactly the same requirements as they did when Labor was in government.

“That is, if they’re going to invest $5 billion here, in building new plant and equipment, they need to advertise to Australians and, if they can’t find Australian workers, then they can default to other workers from overseas.

“That’s exactly the same situation as occurred before.

“So, what the unions are doing is running a scare campaign against what was Labor policy.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Jock Munro
31/08/2015 5:34:31 AM

Yes Sterle headed the show trial senate enquiry into wheat export deregulation. The Labor and Liberal senators were indistinguishable in their desire to see the growers lose their single desk. Key players from the above were Cormann,Heffernan and several Labor luminaries. A low point in Australia's agricultural history.
Chick Olsson
31/08/2015 6:02:16 AM

Glen Sterle is actually right here. He is also a decent man with an honest interest for farmers rights.
31/08/2015 7:20:30 AM

Glen Sterle has no credibility on this issue. The opposition to CHFTA being talked up by the ALP and the Greens is a protection racket being run by these mobs to divert attention from the stench seeping out the Royal Commission. The CFMEU has not covered itself in glory at the Royal Commission which has already seen charges laid against its operatives. As for Chinese labor, it won't be the first time it's been used to build great industries in this country - following on from the Gold rushes cheap Chinese labour built western NSW either by putting in watering points and clearing country.
31/08/2015 11:51:52 AM

Why is no one addressing ISDS? Does it apply to all forms of investment such as Shenhua or CSG? Will we have the ability to determine our laws or will those investors get the right to do so and do they apply to more than medicines?
31/08/2015 1:42:49 PM

Pete Mailler has interesting insights here too. The NFF has compromised itself and the fixation on the short term gains clouds the future. NZ farmers not too happy with their Chinese trade deal these days as the honeymoon wears off. Have a look at this. s/burrs-under-my-saddle/fta-campa ign-misguided/2741729.aspx
Jock Munro
31/08/2015 6:56:00 PM

Glen Sterle let down the nation's wheat growers in the single desk debate.
1/09/2015 12:31:49 PM

He might well be a decent bloke Chick, however Jock is right on the money regarding Sterles behaviour through the wheat senate Inquiry, I was there and saw him in action. He didn't seem as concerned about the transfer of ownership of the nations grains industry as he is about the unions losing their power base on mining sites. Did all those cockies that apparently went FIFO during the last drought do so with the permission of the union movement ?
John Carpenter
1/09/2015 3:42:49 PM

Senator Sterle must feel like Robinson Crusoe,the only one left in LABOR who knows the meaning of the word "reform".However passing up the opportunity to sign an FTA with what will very shortly be the world's largest economy because of the word "mandatory" would be really stupid.Heavens knows these FTA's are far from "free' but as a small insignificant trading nation we should take whatever we can get.China is basically doing us a favour in order to wean us off America.
Rob Moore
1/09/2015 4:32:09 PM

Good point Mark2- I had my "sea change " in 2008 & did 9mths in Gladstone.( Remember back then - all you needed was a pulse to get a high paid job).I worked bloody hard & got it out of my system.....I know for certain that "Cockies aren't welcome" - now that things have tightened up dramatically.I submitted to Roma RRAT& it is going to be more "window dressing " with no intent! I have presented "whistleblower "info re fraudulent levies( this should give them all some indigestion) re processors voting on MLA governence!Aust Govt Solicitor MUST give me an answer= significant STORY yet to come!
John NIven
1/09/2015 6:56:40 PM

wtf for P.M.
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