Leon Byner: I believe he’s in Kuala Lumpur, the Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb; Andrew it’s good to have you on the show.

Andrew Robb: Thanks very much Leon.

Leon Byner: Why is it racist for Australia to preference our workers over foreign labour?

Andrew Robb: It’s not racist, in any sense.  The thing that marks the union campaign as highly xenophobic and racist is that the same provisions which apply to the Japanese Free Trade agreement – which just went through the parliament six or seven months ago – the Korean Free Trade Agreement, the Chilean Free Trade Agreement – which Labor signed when they were in office – so many of our other agreements, the same provisions are in the Chinese agreement. 

What is different about China?  Why do they have a problem with Chinese not Chileans coming to Australia under 457s?  Why did they run ads and tens of thousands of robocalls to people’s homes across the nation the night the Free Trade Agreement was signed with China? That also happened to be the evening that we’d released all the detail; they had no opportunity to see any of the detail, they’d made up their minds, they’d prepared their ads.  This is a campaign I think, that is designed to lift union membership off the back of a xenophobic attack on the Chinese.

Leon Byner: Earlier this morning Penny Wong was on radio and basically what she’s saying is that in the China FTA, the compulsory market testing is explicitly removed.  She argues that Immigration can insist on it, but they don’t have to, but it’s explicitly not in the agreement.

Andrew Robb: Well it is in the agreement.  It’s in the agreement in exactly the same way as it’s in the agreement with the Japanese Free Trade Agreement which Labor supported, the same as with the Korean Free Trade Agreement.  They are the same provisions that apply now, and did apply under Labor.  I was not stupid, I knew that if we inadvertently had some provision in the Chinese deal that was different to that which applied before, that it would prompt this sort of reactionary behaviour and would give ammunition to our opponents – the anti-trade groups in particular like Patricia Ranald – so I was absolutely determined to make sure there was not a cigarette paper between the sorts of labour market provisions that already exist and that existed under Labor, and now also which are mirrored in the China Free Trade Agreement.

Some of it has different labels on it, but basically you go to the next step below it, it is all the same legislation backing these labour market provisions; we’re not silly, why would we want to flood Australia with Chinese workers?  This is, when you think about it, a nonsense proposition; we want to do trade with China, we want investment from China, but we want to maintain our independence as a country to pick and choose who comes to our shores and under what circumstances.

Leon Byner: This is a really important issue Andrew and I’m glad you’ve come on today.  Just hang on; I want to bring in Kelvin Thomson.  Kelvin, you’re on the Labor side of this, the Minister says there is no difference between this agreement with China and any of the others we’ve recently signed.  What do you say?

Kelvin Thomson: Good morning, Leon.  Well that’s not right, unlike for example the Korea Free Trade Agreement, there’s no chapters on labour or the environment so neither party to the agreements have given commitments to abide by the basic ILO labour rights, which there is some reference to in the Korea agreement, and let me say for the sake of the record, I’ve put in a dissenting report about the Korean Free Trade Agreement, on the treaties committee. The Japanese agreement is different in relation to Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions and unions have been expressing concerns about 457s and temporary work permits for years now, it’s the case that we’ve got one million people in Australia who have temporary visas that give them work rights, when we have 800,000 unemployed, so I think that people have been consistent in their concerns about those matters.

Leon Byner: Okay, but the Government is saying there is nothing in the China Free Trade Agreement that excludes labour testing first before they were to bring in their labour if they so choose.

Kelvin Thomson: Well that’s not correct, if you look at the agreement on page 113, article 10.4, paragraph three, it says in relation to temporary entry: ‘neither party shall require labour market testing, economic needs testing or other procedure of similar effect as a condition for temporary entry,’ so you’ve got that paragraph sitting there, you’ve got a Memorandum of Understanding in relation to Investment Facilitation Agreements and paragraph six says: ‘there will be no requirement for labour market testing to enter into an Investment Facilitation Agreement.’  You haven’t got that sitting in the other trade agreements.

Leon Byner: Alright, Minister what do you say to that?

Andrew Robb: This is being quite disingenuous by Kelvin I’ve got to say.  Kelvin’s been opposed to every trade agreement that ever existed so he’s not exactly representative of the Labor party who have typically been very bipartisan on these things.

But in terms of the specifics, again it was very disingenuous.  The clause he chose and quoted all sorts of numbers, about no labour market testing being required for individuals applying for temporary work entry, that again is in every trade agreement.  In fact, it’s a WTO – the World Trade Organisation – commitment and it’s for business executives, it’s for senior managers in major companies, it’s independent executives, it’s not skilled workers, it’s the management team of companies.  It’s always existed; it existed under Labor, and to point that out as not requiring labour market testing is very helpful to all of us, but it’s one provision that’s always applied.

The other thing, the Investment Facilitation Arrangements (IFAs); we bundled up current provisions and we created this IFA but it’s still all the same provisions that existed before.  The thing is, it’s there for a Chinese company that invests over $150 million in a project and the intent is, that when they make that commitment of $150 million or $2 billion or whatever it is, invariably they have to go through a year or two of getting agreements, approvals for the project to be built and all the rest; what that agreement says is that if you sign at the start when you put your money up, whenever you start to construct the venture you’ve invested in, which might be two or three years away, we guarantee that following labour market testing at that stage – when you’re constructing – if there’s a shortage of say 30 specialist welders, and you can’t get them in Australia and you labour market test, we will fast-track the entry of your own specialist welders.  That is the provision. 

Now it says up front, of course you don’t have labour market testing when you sign on, it’s really an insurance policy, what it does say, is that when you start to construct whatever it is, you will have to do labour market testing if you have got a shortage, so again it’s a misrepresentation of what the document says and does.  Again, in that IFA, there is no part of that which is in any way different from the current provisions for 457 workers that come into this country all the time.

Leon Byner: So let me clarify this and paraphrase what you just said; that there is no way that any investor from another country will come in here and be excluded from labour market testing to ensure that if there are jobs, or people prepared to work where the job is, they’ll be chosen first?

Andrew Robb: Exactly. That’s what applies now, and it will apply under the China trade agreement.

Leon Byner: Alright, as we understand it, The Australian used a figure of about $24 million, you’re going to be spending a lot of taxpayers’ money promoting the virtues of this FTA to which we refer to today.  Isn’t there one slight technical issue though Minister and that is that the parliament hasn’t passed it?

Andrew Robb: The money was put aside in the Budget, long before this xenophobic campaign was started by the unions to distract from the corruption that’s pouring out of the Royal Commission; that’s really a lot of the motivation I’ve got to say. 

But put that aside, in any event, we felt that in the past, governments on both sides had failed in properly explaining – to business in particular – but the broader community, what the opportunities were with all these agreements, so the money is designed, not just for the China agreement, it’s also designed for the Korean agreement and the Japanese agreement – both of which have only entered into force in the last few months – so that we do make sure that after ten years of negotiating these deals, the business sector are able to fully capitalise; there is an explosion of activity in the region around us and we’ve just got to take advantage of it.
Leon Byner: Well Minister the point though is surely that you’re about to go and advertise using taxpayers’ money on something the parliament has not given you permission to do.

Andrew Robb: You’ve got to wait and see the advertising, but the advertising is explaining the Japanese – parliament has given us permission to do that.  It’s explaining the Korean – the parliament has given us permission to do that.  And hopefully by the time we get the advertising properly in place, the advertising will go for a year, not just for a few months before an election or whatever.  We’ve also got 200 workshops and roadshows, we’ve done about 15 of them so far; they’re going to extend over two years, we’ve also got a portal being built, and that’s part of the money – that’s quite expensive to build these things, so it’s part of a comprehensive program to inform the community.  There’s no point the Government doing these sorts of things if they don’t tell people how they can take advantage of them.

Leon Byner: Kelvin Thomson, what do you say to that?

Kelvin Thomson: Leon, the Minister says the campaign against the China FTA is xenophobic; I draw your attention to the fact that people like Reserve Bank Board member Heather Ridout who’s said that Australia will rue the day we lose control of our ability to make legitimate public policy decisions.  You’ve had the Chief Justice of the High Court Robert French, the Productivity Commission, the ACCC, the Harper Competition Review, all express concerns about Investor-State Dispute Settlement Provisions, are they being xenophobic?  Are the Chinese being xenophobic when they have restrictions on foreign investors owning real estate in China?  I’ve got a list of Chinese restrictions on foreign investment in China as long as your arm, so are they being xenophobic?  The fact is that we are doing our best to represent Australian workers of whatever background; just to the north of my electorate in Broadmeadows, we’ve got over 20 per cent unemployment, many of those would-be workers are Turkish, we welcome them here, they’re entitled to some consideration, I think we should find them something before we allow more overseas companies to exclude Australian workers.

Leon Byner:  Minister your comment?

Andrew Robb: Well again Kelvin, the ISDS, that’s not being challenged by the union movement; I haven’t seen any ads on that, yet you try to leap to that keeping jobs out of Australia.  This is nonsense.  We’ve had an ISDS agreement – that both sides of politics when they’ve been in office have struck – with 28 different countries for 30 years now.  Talk about setting up a straw man; it is just those people who are anti-trade. 

Our agreement with New Zealand, we’ve had it for 32 years and we’ve improved it every year.  And every year for 32 years trade between our two countries has increased by seven per cent, every year; year-on-year.  Now that’s jobs and jobs and jobs and jobs and that’s what these other agreements will do; they’ll deliver hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few decades for Australians, and these things have been, will be and are very very effective in terms of ensuring the prosperity and jobs of Australians.

Leon Byner: Minister as we understand it you’re going to go to China very soon and reassure them that this agreement that you’ve brokered with them, won’t be changed, but again the parliament hasn’t given sanction to it yet.

Andrew Robb: I’m going and saying that the Government is totally committed to it; they’re very confused by all of this because when President Xi came out and we shook on the deal, Bill Shorten said to President Xi that he gave it his full support, then all of a sudden, six or nine months later, we’ve got the Labor Party, Kelvin and all the others, using every possible dubious argument to try and put this thing down, but also mentioning China every second word.  This is a highly xenophobic campaign, you never heard them mentioning Japanese or Koreans or opposing the other Free Trade Agreements; the provisions are no different.

Leon Byner: When does the advertising start?

Andrew Robb: As soon as we get it ready; there’s quite a long process to these things, so it will start sometime over the next two months.

Leon Byner: Well when you’ve done your journey, we’d appreciate some feedback to South Australia, because you’re also trying to drum up more business obviously aren’t you?

Andrew Robb: Absolutely, I’ve got a business delegation going with me and I’m in Malaysia at the moment doing exactly the same thing and again, it’s off the back of the Malaysian Free Trade Agreement which has created 15 per cent growth in investment and trade in the last 12 months, now explain that away.

Leon Byner: Minister, you’ll keep in touch with us won’t you?

Andrew Robb: Indeed.

Leon Byner: That’s Andrew Robb; thank you for joining us Andrew.

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