QUEENSLAND LNP MP Ken O’Dowd has hit back at union attacks on the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) after his Gladstone office was picketed by protesting trade unions earlier this month
Reports on the number of protestors varied but participants like the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union claimed more than 1500 workers, trade unionists and concerned community members attended and vented their concerns about the ChAFTA.
CFMEU Queensland secretary Michael Ravbar told the rally the China deal was not in the interests of working Australians as it allowed companies to undercut wages and conditions for Australian workers by exploiting overseas labour.
But Mr O’Dowd said the union claims “are wrong and they are definitely barking up the wrong tree with these ridiculous claims”.
“I want to be clear when I say that the China Free Trade Agreement is not intended to threaten Australian jobs,” he said in the House of Representatives last week.
“The FTA is intended to boost jobs and opportunities for Australians.
“The FTA will not reduce immigration safeguards.
“It will not permit overseas workers from working in Australia below any standard that we have already set.
“It will not put Australians out of work.
“We are not changing the required skill levels for Chinese visa holders to work in Australia.
“We are streamlining and improving access to skill assessments.”
Mr O’Dowd said the Coalition had been clear with its position on free trade but “the silence from the Labor Party has been deafening”.
“If they support the unions in attacking a landmark deal that will have wide-ranging benefits to the broader community, then they should clearly state their policy,” he said.
Mr O’Dowd said the ChAFTA would encourage investment in Australia and reduce tariffs on industries like tourism, agriculture and the energy and resources sector.
“Australia has eight other free trade agreements in place, which all have similar provisions to the Chinese-Australian agreement and there are still jobs for Australians, and plenty of jobs in most cases,” he said.
Treasurer Joe Hockey said the Abbott government’s new FTA’s with Japan, Korea and China would give Australian businesses – including the farm-sector – greater access to the world’s fastest growing markets.
“Together, these countries offer a customer base of 1.5 billion people,” he said during a speech to business leaders last week.
“That’s 1.5 billion opportunities to get out there and have a go; with more opportunities on the horizon as we look to India.
“Our political opponents don’t see this opportunity.
“As you all know, right now there is a militant trade union campaign against the Free Trade Agreement with China, supported by the Labor Party.
“They’re not willing to look past short-term point scoring to see the tremendous opportunities this agreement brings to all businesses — small or large.
“They’re putting at risk Australian jobs, and they’re putting our future at risk.”
Mr Hockey said Investment Facilitation Arrangements around the deals would not reduce the current migration safeguards or preference overseas workers over Australian workers.
He said the IFAs do not commit Australia to any concessions on existing 457 visa requirements as there would be an overarching framework to consider requests for overseas workers provided no qualified Australians are available.
Companies that gain approval for an IFA will have significant conditions to meet before they can hire even one overseas worker, he said.
“They will have to give Australians the first opportunity to put their hands up,” he said.
He said it would also be mandatory for companies to consult stakeholders during that process including unions.
“By next year, we expect the three FTAs will create thousands of extra jobs and that figure will continue to grow every year,” he said.
“Those are the facts.
“They expose what is a dishonest campaign — a campaign of lies — and one that puts our relationship with our largest trading partner at risk.”
Mr Hockey said within 15 years, China and India would be home to two billion middle-class consumers providing “a tremendous opportunity…right on our doorstep”.
“For the cheese maker in Victoria; the vintner in South Australia; the cattle farmer in Queensland — their goods will enter China duty-free within the next few years, axing tariffs ranging from 12 to 25 per cent,” he said.
“And for our fruit and veggie farmers, many products can now enter Korea duty-free — which previously would have been slogged up to 24 per cent.
Those are a few of what is a cargo-load of examples, and without doubt they show enormous benefits for our primary producers.
“The men and women who, for so long during the last century, carried the nation on their back.
“This is, once again, their time.”
Mr O’Dowd has urged anyone interested in seeking more information on the CHAFTA to visit the DFAT website at:
http://dfat.gov.au/trade/agree ments/chafta/Pages/australia-chin a-fta.aspx.