The Courier-Mail

RE­NEE VIELLARIS

LABOUR­ING OVER CHINA TRADE DEAL

- re­nee.viellaris@news.com.au

BARNABY Joyce loves a roast. Eat­ing them, and giv­ing them.

When the then Na­tion­als sen­a­tor claimed the price of the na­tional dish would sky­rocket to $100 un­der La­bor’s emis­sions trad­ing scheme, it was the be­gin­ning of the end for com­mu­nity con­sen­sus on a price on car­bon. The ALP, who con­tin­u­ously had to de­fend in­tro­duc­ing a “great big new tax’’, was fum­ing. It strug­gled to ex­plain a com­plex pol­icy in a sound bite while Coali­tion MPs cap­tured the public’s at­ten­tion by warn­ing them the Sun­day lamb roast was dead.

Five years later, the Coali­tion is strug­gling to be heard on the com­plex de­tails of its Free Trade Agree­ment with China.

“Chi­nese com­pa­nies will be e able to bring in an en­tire work­force from over­seas … with­out even advertisin­g for lo­cal work­ers first,’’ the Elec­tri­cal Trades Union has told ral­lies through­out the coun­try.

It has claimed Chi­nese elec­tri­cians will not have their qual­i­fi­ca­tions as­sessed, which will en­dan­ger any Aus­tralian who uses elec­tric­ity.

Op­po­si­tion Leader Bill Shorten, who will likely, ul­ti­mately, sup­port the deal, is, for the time be­ing, be­ing coy. He has raised con­cerns about the rights of Aus­tralian work­ers.

“This is a get square,’’ says one La­bor Party tac­ti­cian, who ar­gues the Coali­tion is get­ting what it de­serves.

Another La­bor source says the ALP can use the FTA to scare the be­je­sus out of the elec­torate lead­ing up to the next elec­tion – help­ing para­chute Shorten into the Lodge. Mean­while Ab­bott is trum­pet­ing the multi­bil­lion­dol­lar deal. Chi­nese tar­iffs will be phased out, mean­ing Aus­tralian prod­ucts and ser­vices will be cheaper and more sought af­ter by a 300-mil­lion strong mid­dle class in China. But it also en­ables China to ap­ply to bring in its own work­ers. This is where the ten­sion lies.

Nonethe­less, busi­nesses, in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions, com­merce groups, for­mer La­bor le­gends and cur­rent ALP pre­miers have said the deal is a good one.

And it can be re­vealed to­day Master Elec­tri­cians Aus­tralia – an elec­tri­cal con­trac­tor as­so­ci­a­tion that has ral­lied against the im­por­ta­tion of cheap Chi­nese elec­tri­cal prod­ucts – is back­ing the deal.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Mal­colm Richards has dis­missed con­cerns about so-called dodgy Chi­nese qual­i­fi­ca­tions, re­leas­ing an eight-point process show­ing how dif­fi­cult it would be for Chi­nese elec­tri­cians to work in Aus­tralia.

It in­cludes strin­gent test­ing and su­per­vi­sion. Re­gard­less of their ex­pe­ri­ence, a Chi­nese elec­tri­cian will only re­ceive a pro­vi­sional li­cence, which re­quires them to be su­per­vised for 12 months while com­plet­ing Aus­tralian train­ing. Then the visa-holder can ap­ply for a full trades­per­son’s li­cence with a state or ter­ri­tory li­cens­ing au­thor­ity.

“We don’t have any fears of this deal. (There will not be) hun­dreds of Chi­nese elec­tri­cians flood­ing into the coun­try,’’ Richards tells In­sight.

“If this deal pro­ceeds, there will be thou­sands more Aus­tralian jobs. It is a very de­pressed mar­ket at the mo­ment. It’s very easy to cre­ate a fear cam­paign. The feel­ing starts when a par­ent of a son who can­not get a job as an elec­tri­cian (is told about the deal).’’

Richards says it is dif­fi­cult to get a 457 visa to work as an elec­tri­cian in Aus­tralia and doubts many Chi­nese would come.

Richard Holy­man, owner of Martin and Plea­sance, which man­u­fac­tures nat­u­ral medicines and has sites in Queens­land, Vic­to­ria and NSW NSW, say says an FTA with China would add up to $10 mil­lion to his busi­ness each year and add a fur­ther 40 peo­ple to his 140-strong work­force.

“I don’t em­ploy any­one on a 457 visa and I don’t in­tend to,’’ Holy­man says.

“I don’t un­der­stand how any­one could ques­tion this ar­range­ment with China.

“Just take New Zealand, they’ve got the run on us two years ago.’’

He says Black­mores, another nat­u­ral health brand, was worth about $400 mil­lion be­fore New Zealand’s FTA and now it is worth $2 bil­lion.

Sally McPher­son, of Sun­shine Coast-based busi­ness iSeekPlan, which matches earth­mov­ing com­pa­nies with con­struc­tion and min­ing projects, also wants the deal to go ahead. McPher­son says the min­ing in­dus­try needs a stim­u­lus hit and a deal with China would spark in­vest­ment in ex­plo­ration.

But Aus­tralian Coun­cil of Trade Unions sec­re­tary Dave Oliver says the FTA “is re­ally a dud deal that sells out lo­cal jobs par­tic­u­larly when we have an un­em­ploy­ment rate with a six in front of it’’.

He cites claims lev­elled against 7-Eleven that for­eign na­tion­als in Aus­tralia were be­ing paid be­low the min­i­mum wage.

“We’re ab­so­lutely (wor­ried) they (Chi­nese work­ers) could be sub­jected to ex­ploita­tion.’’

While Oliver has sup­port over his con­cerns over the 7-Eleven case, the dif­fer­ence is those work­ers were on stu­dent visas, not the more re­stric­tive, more scru­ti­nised 457 visa.

Op­po­si­tion trade spokes­woman Penny Wong, on ABC Ra­dio, said: “We do think this agree­ment does re­move key safe­guards in re­la­tion to labour mar­ket test­ing, that is mak­ing sure jobs are first of­fered to Aus­tralians be­fore they can be of­fered to tem­po­rary mi­grants’’.

But the Gov­ern­ment says labour mar­ket test­ing is guar­an­teed and in a state­ment to the Joint Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Treaties In­quiry into the FTA with China, For­eign Af­fairs and Trade deputy sec­re­tary Jan Adams tried to lay the mat­ter to rest on Au­gust 17.

“Em­ploy­ers seek­ing to spon­sor an over­seas worker un­der an in­vest­ment fa­cil­i­ta­tion ar­range­ment (which sits along­side the FTA) … must demon­strate a labour marked need and prove that Aus­tralians have been pro­vided first op­por­tu­nity through labour mar­ket test­ing, which in­cludes pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence of sig­nif­i­cant re­cruit­ment ef­forts.’’

With over­whelm­ing sup­port for the China agree­ment from a plethora of for­mer La­bor lu­mi­nar­ies and cur­rent state lead­ers, fed­eral La­bor risks another roast­ing if it con­tin­ues to op­pose the FTA.

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 ??  ?? BIG DEAL: (Clock­wise from top left) China's Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping shakes hands with Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott af­ter sign­ing the China-Aus­tralia Free Trade Agree­ment in Can­berra in Novem­ber last year; union and com­mu­nity mem­bers rally for changes to the...
BIG DEAL: (Clock­wise from top left) China's Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping shakes hands with Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott af­ter sign­ing the China-Aus­tralia Free Trade Agree­ment in Can­berra in Novem­ber last year; union and com­mu­nity mem­bers rally for changes to the...

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