Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015

It is a great pleasure to rise to speak on these bills, which implement the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015. As we have heard from everyone who has been speaking about this agreement, trade is essential for Australia's economic future. 

Labor understands that. It is in our national platform. As we say in our national platform:

More trade is a pathway to a high-skill, high-wage future for … Australians.

Labor has been engaged in trade liberalisation forever. We are the party who deregulated the economy in the eighties. There was a dramatic transformation of the Australian economy in the eighties thanks to those initiatives. They were very challenging initiatives at times, and very confronting as we transformed our economy from a very high tariff, protectionist economy to a low-tariff or no-tariff economy that was deregulated in so many ways. As I said, it was very challenging for many, particularly on our side and particularly for workers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry, where, essentially, that whole industry was deregulated and tariffs, very gradually, were reduced to virtually zero. It is challenging to make the transition to a deregulated economy, an open and liberalised economy and an open and liberalised trading environment, but Labor has been courageous in the past. As I said, we made those enormous achievements in the eighties. We are the party that signed up to GATT in the forties. We are the party that materminded APEC. We are the party that masterminded the Cairns Group. We are the party that masterminded what is now the Indian Ocean Rim Association. We have a very strong track record on trade liberalisation, and we have shown it. We have proven it in terms of the multilateral architecture we have set up, the organisations and forums we have set up to advance trade liberalisation and economic cooperation from the forties right through to the eighties and today.

As we have heard so much about over the past two days, China is an incredibly important market for Australia. It is already our No. 1 trading partner, and it accounts for a third of Australia's merchandise exports. It is already the world's second largest economy and is set to become the world's biggest economy during our lifetimes—right here in the region, the biggest economy in our lifetimes. It is a major new market, with hundreds of millions of increasingly affluent, increasingly middle-class consumers who want goods and services. We are seeing it with China and we are seeing it with India. And it is going to be an enormous source of valuable investment funds that Australia will need to create and grow new business opportunities and jobs in the future.

Asia's middle class now numbers around 500 million and is expected to increase more than sixfold in the next 15 years. And, as I said, it is not just China. There has also been growth of the middle class in India, a country I have a very strong affinity with, having been posted there in the 1990s. I will be back there over the weekend for the inaugural Australia India Leadership Dialogue and am very much looking forward to taking part in that. But we have this burgeoning middle class in the region—in Indonesia, and it has been in Singapore for some time. I think people tend to focus a lot on China because it is so huge, but there is also have India, which is also incredibly huge and where there is very much a growing opportunity, particularly with the middle class and particularly in demand for a broad range of consumer goods and services.

As I said, there are 500 million people in the middle class in Asia, on our doorstep, and by 2030 that will be 3.2 billion middle-class consumers in Asia, or 66 per cent of the world's middle class. A large slice of that is in China, and also in India. This is going to translate into rising demand for a range of products and services across a broad range of areas, including areas where Australia does very well. I am talking about food, about education— and not just higher education but vocational education. We are world leaders in vocational education, and there are great opportunities there, as well as in tourism, health, aged care, and financial and professional services. There are huge opportunities for cultural services and curatorial services, and helping both China and India to showcase their stories to their own people and to the world. We are world leaders in curatorial services, as well as in archiving and preservation, and I think there are real opportunities there, and real opportunities for Canberrans.

Also in wine: my sister is a winemaker, and her husband is a winemaker. She is the first female master of wine in Australia, and her husband is frequently in China. He has just come back from winning a scholarship there. He is frequently in China engaging with winemakers there. Again, the wine industry in China is growing exponentially, so he is there as a consultant providing advice, and he is also part of this scholarship now to, hopefully, win a prize for making the best wine from Chinese grapes.

On vitamins, I had a conversation with Marcus Blackmore about a month ago. I spoke to him about Young Endeavour, because he is actively involved in that. He was telling me that the demand for vitamins has grown by 200 or 300 per cent. It has been extraordinary—and very sudden. When Chinese people come to Australia one of the first trips they make is to one of Marcus Blackmore's shops or to a chemist to buy his vitamins, and the shelves are cleaned out. So, on the demand for vitamins, I think we have a good appreciation of what we can export now, of what is in the market, but I do not think we have even begun to wonder what can be exported in the future in terms of the opportunities out there.

As I said, there are many, many benefits to this agreement, and it does create significant opportunities for Australia. It will give Australian businesses greater access to the market. Under ChAFTA 85 per cent of Australian exports by value will enter China with no tariffs immediately. This will rise to 95 per cent when the agreement is fully implemented. China will remove or significantly reduce tariffs on Australian beef, sheep meat, dairy products, horticultural products, wine, barley, seafood and processed foods. These sectors employ more than 200,000 workers. So, there are many benefits, and not just benefits for today's businesses, today's winemakers, today's producers, today's service providers and today's architects but also intergenerational benefits.

I think Labor's concerns about some elements of this agreement have been well covered. I just want to talk about the fact that we entered into negotiations to ensure that there are a number of complementary safeguards in this agreement. That was designed to address concerns that were coming back from our communities. In my electorate I recently held a forum on the TPP with the member for Perth and the member for Rankin. It was very well attended. The discussion did not focus only on the TPP but also on ChAFTA and trade agreements more generally. Concerns were raised in a broad range of areas, and we have addressed those concerns in negotiating these safeguards.

These safeguards will require employers entering work agreements with the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to conduct labour market testing before turning to overseas workers. Labour market testing requires employers to show that local workers are not available before they turn to 457 visa workers by providing evidence that they have advertised the jobs. We have also secured a government agreement to a series of additional safeguards for work agreements. These safeguards include requirements for employers to demonstrate that there is a labour market need to use 457 visa workers, to adopt training plans showing how they will train local workers to address skills shortages and to adopt overseas worker support plans showing how they will support 457 visa holders, including by providing information about workplace entitlements and rights.

We have also secured a major improvement in market salary rate requirements for 457 visa workers. It is a key safeguard designed to ensure that 457 workers are treated fairly and that temporary skilled migration does not undercut Australian wages and conditions. I think that is very important and a significant improvement to this agreement. It requires that 457 workers are employed on market salary rates and that wages and conditions are no less than those for a local worker performing the same job in the same location.

We have also secured agreement from the government to add new visa conditions for 457 workers in occupations where holding a licence is mandatory under state and territory workplace skills and safety laws. The new conditions will require 457 visa holders in these occupations not to perform the occupation without holding the relevant licence, to obtain the licence within 90 days of arriving in Australia, to comply with any conditions imposed on the licence, not to engage in any work or duties that are inconsistent with the licence and to notify the department in writing if they have been refused a licence or if their licence has been revoked or cancelled.

Before I conclude I want to touch on the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in this agreement, because there are legitimate public concerns over the impact of these provisions on public policies, particularly in areas of health care, public services and environmental protection. These concerns have not just come from my community and the broader community; they are also from mainstream economic and legal experts, including the Productivity Commission, The Economist, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia Robert French, former head of the AIG and Reserve Bank of Australia board Heather Ridout and numerous academics.

We have led the way in arguing against ISDS provisions and in government we adopted the policy of not including these provisions in trade agreements. In opposition we continue to oppose ISDS provisions in trade deals because we do not believe the government should have included ISDS provisions in ChAFTA. If we are returned to government, we will seek to review all of Australia's existing ISDS provisions in trade and investment agreements with our trading partners.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to everyone involved in this significant agreement. I want to pay tribute to Simon Crean, to Craig Emerson, to Richard Marles, to Andrew Robb and to Penny Wong. Trade has always been a crucial part of Australia's economic world. It is vital to Australia's prosperity and growth in the future. This agreement will ensure that we will continue to grow and prosper. Australia has many products, services and skills that we want to share with the world and we are looking forward to the opportunities provided by this agreement for China to further explore our innovation and excellence.

This agreement, as I said, is not perfect. It does not address all of our concerns, but it will realise significant benefits for Australia for generations to come.

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