The Courier-Mail

La­bor split on back­ing China free trade deal

- RE­NEE VIELLARIS

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.

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