BIG TALK: Joel Fitzgibbon launched a strong defence of Labor’s FTA position at the Roma Certified Land Management forum on Wednesday.
BIG TALK: Joel Fitzgibbon launched a strong defence of Labor’s FTA position at the Roma Certified Land Management forum on Wednesday. Derek Barry

Joel Fitzgibbon tells Roma forum China FTA will pass

SHADOW Agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the China Free Trade Agreement will pass despite the current impasse in parliament over the Chinese provisions to bring in their own workforce.

Speaking to a Roma forum on Wednesday, he said Labor supported the FTA and had more ownership of it than the current government.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this legislation will be passed, something will be worked out," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

He said Labor acknowledged and recognised the benefits as much as anyone did.

"We spent six years working hard on it, they are not easy, they are two way negotiations between two countries," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the current concern over labour market agreements could be resolved.

"In 2004 we had this very same debate over the US FTA, the concern then was we might have to drop the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme because it had unfair impacts on the Americans," he said.

"John Howard to his credit capitulated and put a framework in place to ensure the PBS was protected."

Mr Fitzgibbon said Mr Howard was able to do that without renegotiating the FTA or cause the Americans to walk away.

"We are in exactly the same position now," he said.

"Forget what people say, it is a simple fact that the China FTA, unlike all the others, does not require companies to test the labour market before importing people in on 457 (visas)."

Mr Fitzgibbon said the threshold for 457s had also been reduced from projects worth a billion dollars to those worth $100 million.

"The key point is this, Tony (Abbott) could fix this tomorrow, the same way that John Howard fixed it in 2004," he said.

"He just writes into legislation and associated documents attached to the agreement a guarantee that before Chinese workers are employed under a project, that ads are placed in the paper or an employment agency engaged or the internet used to advertise those jobs in Australia to make sure there aren't people with the same skills willing and able to do them in this country," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon said this sort of thing was done all the time on other agreements.

"My concern now is that we've got a situation where Tony's got many strengths and many faults - he's a street fighter and a stubborn bastard," he said.

"My view is he is going to stand his ground and say 'no, we are not going to make any changes.'"


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