Oct 21, 2019

Bills – Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019, Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019 – Second Reading – Monday, 21 October 2019

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (12:58): On balance, Labor has decided to support the Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill not because the agreements are perfect but because the agreements are positive on the basis of jobs for Australians and the Australian economy. The fact is that one in five Australians depend upon trade for their work. The fact is that Indonesia isn’t even in our top 10 trading nations. We can and we should do better. These agreements, particularly after the safeguards that Labor demanded from the government as a condition of our support have been agreed to in writing by the minister for trade, Simon Birmingham, mean that the overall assessment of the jobs that will be created has to be positive. Therefore, as I’ve said before, Labor will not oppose these bills just for oppositions sake. Where the government is prepared to engage and be constructive, we will participate in those processes. That is what the people who sent us to this parliament expect of us. The fact is that we consulted very widely to identify practical, commonsense measures that will ensure that their implementation achieves the goals of creating Australian jobs and opening up opportunities for our exporters, measures that will safeguard Australian jobs and working conditions, measures that will expand opportunities for Australian exporters, including those in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

Labor will always fight for what’s good for the Australian economy, for what’s good for jobs and for what’s good for Australian workers. Last week, we demanded and have now received these undertakings that we sought from the government. I confirm that we have been successful and the government has guaranteed in writing that, first, Australian jobs will be protected. There will be no new labour market testing waivers, and these agreements will not change Australia’s workplace laws.

Second, the government has agreed that it will not use provisions of article 12.9, or any other provision of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, to propose, create or extend any additional labour market testing waivers for Indonesian contractual service suppliers.

Third, it will, for the first time, bring forward legislation to introduce criminal penalties for the worst forms of worker exploitation.

Fourth, new measures will be introduced to ensure that working holidaymakers are not exploited and are appropriately qualified for the work that they undertake.

Fifth—and I think this is a critical point—it will seek the termination of the existing 1993 bilateral investment treaty with Indonesia, which includes out-of-date investor protection provisions and does not contain appropriate public interest safeguards. When we were having discussions with interested parties about the nature of these agreements, there was no-one who said that what is in the agreements that are being proposed here is a backward step from the agreements that currently are in place over trade between Australia and Indonesia. This is a step forward. Therefore, the removal of the existing bilateral agreement, which doesn’t have the safeguards that we will have going forward, is an important step. To me, that alone signals that when people are saying an agreement is an improvement then it’s one that, pragmatically, we should support.

Sixth, the existing investor-state dispute settlement and other agreements will be updated, where possible, to include modern, stronger safeguards.

Seventh, we’ll review the ISDS mechanism in the new agreement as part of the five-year review of that agreement.

Eighth—and this is important, as well, because this was of concern in the submission from the Nurses and Midwives Association to the JSCOT inquiry—the agreements do not force the privatisation of any government services and, what’s more, they don’t provide any restriction whatsoever on any future decision to acquire public assets. So you’d have more public ownership, not less. But it’s not impacted at all by these agreements.

Ninth, on the Hong Kong agreement we sought confirmation that we would continue to monitor the situation there, given the internal issues that are taking place, to make sure that Australia’s strong support for the one country, two systems principle is maintained.

Lastly, the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will conduct an inquiry into all aspects of Australia’s treaty-making process, with the aim of improving transparency and consultation. That is an important thing going forward, because we are certainly of the view that whilst this legislation is connected up with the treaties that are proposed, it’s not actually legislation about the treaties. That goes through a cabinet process. It’s one on which there is no parliamentary vote. Given that it is in the province of the executive rather than the parliament, it’s important that there be far greater transparency in these processes up-front so that people can be satisfied that, on balance, any of these agreements are in the interests of Australian jobs. We don’t give a blank cheque on these. They should be analysed on the basis of: are they in our national interest to do so?

In particular, Labor has a very strong view that the agreements need to demonstrate that nothing in any agreement will undermine Australian working conditions. Nothing in any agreement should ever lead to exploitation of foreign workers, if they participate. Our strong view about labour market testing is that, as our first preference, we want Australians to do jobs which Australians are qualified to do. We make no apology for putting the interests of Australian workers first.

Subject to proper protections we will support arrangements that lead to the creation of new jobs, because Labor is the party of jobs. With these agreements reducing barriers to trade, I’m convinced that they will be positive overall. Labor, indeed, initiated negotiations for the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement; we did that in 2013, after we commissioned a joint feasibility study with Indonesia earlier on.

When we look at Indonesia, it is the world’s third-largest democracy. It is our closest neighbour. It has the largest Islamic population in the world. You’ve always got to examine the counterfactual as well, and the counterfactual is this: particularly since Paul Keating’s leadership, Labor has recognised the importance of the relationship with our near-neighbour to the north and the importance of friendship between our two peoples. If they were to say, ‘We have this agreement that won’t undermine workers’ rights, that won’t lead to foreign workers replacing Australian workers, that won’t put any pressure on any other issues that have been raised on privatisation or anything else’—if this parliament were to reject that agreement, then I think if you were in Indonesia, in Jakarta, you’d be entitled to think, ‘Why is it that Australians want to fly over us to China, to Japan, to Korea, to other countries where we have agreements in place, and ignore Indonesia?’

Indonesia will grow to be the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2050. It is a democracy. It is one that is growing at more than five per cent. Based on current trends, by 2030 it will have around 135 million people who are consumers. But the economic relationship between Australia and Indonesia currently has the lowest bilateral trade volumes of any pairing in the G20. I find that quite remarkable. The fact is: in 2018 Indonesia accounted for just two per cent of Australia’s exports, and there has been no increase in recent times.

This agreement will facilitate Australian suppliers of technical and vocational education and training to provide services, for example, through majority Australian owned businesses in Indonesia. They’ll be able to establish ventures with up to 67 per cent Australian ownership. Australian universities currently have more than 118 formal agreements with Indonesian universities. They’ll be allowed to open up campuses in Indonesia. If Australia was to receive the same proportion of students from Indonesia as it receives from Malaysia, this would add around 150,000 additional students—which would equate to approximately $11 billion in additional exports for the nation.

The agreement also eliminates and reduces tariffs. This figure, I think, is pretty significant: in return for two per cent of Indonesian exports getting tariff-free access to Australia, 25 per cent of Australian exports to Indonesia will not face any tariffs. That includes steel—something that is of particular importance to the Illawarra and other regions around Australia. The agreement provides for guaranteed import permits of 250,000 tonnes of Australian steel per year. If you want to visualise that, that is the equivalent of five Sydney Harbour Bridges. BlueScope, in particular, is set to benefit from this arrangement, opening up the potential for more competitive exports to Indonesia—which translates simply as jobs.

In Western Australia, grain will benefit from this agreement. The whole of northern Australia has particular potential to benefit from this agreement as well. It will open up new opportunities for Australian manufacturers of medical devices, cosmetics and skin products and other high-value manufacturing that takes place here. That means jobs for Australians.

In Indonesia, on the day that I and our shadow foreign minister met with the foreign minister of Indonesia, President Widodo announced a new capital city—a bit like Canberra—where there is currently nothing at all. Do you know what that means? It means a demand for engineers, demand for steel, demand for architects and demand for legal and service providers—demand which can be met by Australian infrastructure companies. This is an enormous benefit for the Australian economy.

Of course, Hong Kong is an important destination as well. It’s our fifth-largest source of inwards investment. Given the nature of Hong Kong and given that we have an agreement with China, it’s important that we also have an agreement with Hong Kong, which is an entry point into China and into North Asia as well.

Whilst these are not agreements that we would have negotiated—we would have had up-front a very different attitude towards labour market testing and a range of measures, as we have very publicly said—we have assurances from the government and we do think that, on balance, this is in the interests of Australian jobs and Australian businesses, which is why we will be supporting these agreements. The government entered into discussions in good faith and put responses in writing, and I confirm that it is on the basis of these commitments that Labor will be supporting this legislation. I seek leave to table the letter giving commitments from the minister for trade.

Leave granted.