Tuesday, 15 September 2015 09:00

Oz-China FTA deal a political football

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (centre) and Trade Minister Andrew Robb with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (centre) and Trade Minister Andrew Robb with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Australian farmers are piling pressure on the Opposition Labour Party to support the proposed free trade with China.

With the Australian Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, warning that China could walk away from the deal, the National Farmers Union has joined calls for bipartisan support to pass the enabling legislation through Parliament.

The NFU says the trade deal will not allow Australian employment laws or conditions to be undermined; instead, it will create more job opportunities.

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called the Australia-China FTA a “dud deal that would affect Australian jobs and lead to an increase in cheap Chinese labour being brought in”.

Robb says Shorten is siding with militant unions in blocking the deal.

“Make no mistake, if Labor seeks to obstruct this deal, China will walk away and pursue other opportunities with our competitors in places like South America; this would be a dreadful outcome for our economy,” says Robb.

Some Labour stalwarts, including state premiers and former MPs, are backing the proposed FTA.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey says the FTA was a landmark deal and an opportunity not to be missed. 

“The premiers’ decision to back the China FTA is a win for common sense. We now call on their Labor colleagues in Canberra to follow suit and ensure the China FTA pass with bipartisan support. This is an opportunity to grow Australian jobs, businesses and our nations’ economy.” 

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Adam Jenkins says for the dairy industry this agreement could not be more important. 

“It is a deal vital to our export-oriented industry as it strengthens our place in the international market. By gaining access to the largest dairy importer, ChAFTA allows us to remain competitive with major exporters such as New Zealand, Europe and the US,” says Jenkins.

The history-making free trade deal was signed in June earlier this year by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and China’s commerce minister Gao Hucheng following a decade of negotiations.

The deal will ensure that 95% of Australian exports to China will be duty-free; tariffs on dairy, beef and seafood are set to be eliminated within years.

But Australian trade unions worry the trade deal will undermine local jobs and increase unemployment.

The ACTU says the trade deal will make it much easier for employers to bring in Chinese workers without having to advertise jobs to local workers.

Tuohey says the misleading campaign by the union movement risked more than just the opportunities for farmers to grow their export potential – it also jeopardised increases in Australian jobs and businesses. 

“This is a blatant scare campaign instigated by the union movement.  We need to look at the facts here… this is a game changer. To delay the China trade deal means a lost opportunity for all Australians,” says Tuohey.

No you can’t – council

A Victoria town council has rejected a Chinese company’s plan to set up a milk business.

The multi-million dollar Ningbo Dairy Group project would include a 1000-cow farm and a bottling plant to produce fresh milk for Chinese consumers.

But the Bass Coast Shire Council in south Victoria last month unanimously rejected Ningbo’s plan.

The Gippsland community strongly objected to the project; the council received about 430 objections.

The seven-member Bass council refused Ningbo’s planning permit application, despite its own advice to the contrary, mainly on the grounds that the barn and milk-bottling shed -development were “incompatible and in conflict with surrounding land use”.

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