Labor split on backing China free trade deal
LABOR has split on whether to back a free-trade agreement with China as party heavyweights argue they have a better chance of taking office if it is opposed.
The $18 billion deal, which would give farmers, wine makers and service industries unprecedented access to one of the biggest economies in the world, looks set for defeat after Bill Shorten confirmed he would not support it unless safeguards were introduced for workers.
The Abbott Government hit back yesterday, framing the Opposition’s position as a test of Mr Shorten’s leadership.
Labor has split internally on the issue. Some, including those from Mr Shorten’s own AWU faction, believe they should vote down the FTA because they can run a successful campaign centred on Tony Abbott selling local jobs to China.
But it is understood senior frontbenchers, such as opposition trade spokeswoman Penny Wong, have argued Labor should support the deal or risk the party’s economic integrity. The Canning by-election in Western Australia on September 18 will help form Labor’s tactics. The CFMEU is raising its concerns about the FTA during the campaign.
In a speech to an ALP conference in Brisbane yesterday, Mr Shorten demanded the Government renegotiate the deal, a threat immediately dismissed by Trade Minister Andrew Robb.
“The deal needs to do the right thing by Australian workers,’’ Mr Shorten said.
“As it stands, the agreement would allow employers to fly in temporary migrant workers for infrastructure projects without having to first check whether Australian workers are available to do this job.
“Our concerns about jobs, about conditions, about workplace safety are legitimate.”
Mr Robb said Mr Shorten knew he was wrong.