logo logo

Free trade agreement: Voters oppose China-Australia deal after hearing controversial elements: poll

ABC, Australia

Free trade agreement: Voters oppose China-Australia deal after hearing controversial elements: poll

By political reporter Dan Conifer

24 June 2015

Voters in marginal seats across four states strongly oppose key aspects of Australia’s free trade agreement (FTA) with China, according to an opinion poll.

The two countries signed the agreement last week, with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott hailing it as "history making".

The deal could see prices on electronics fall for Australian consumers, and eliminate tariffs on various commodity and agriculture exports to China.

But more than 90 per cent of people surveyed by UMR Research said they would oppose the agreement altogether if the following two parts were included:

First, Chinese investors in infrastructure projects valued at $150 million or more being able to bring in Chinese workers without advertising jobs locally.

Second, Chinese firms gaining some rights to sue Australian governments for policy changes that adversely affect their interests.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) national secretary Michael O’Connor said the whole economy will be covered by the deal.

"What we have here is a radical altering of the labour market in our country, we’ve ceded sovereignty to another nation when it comes to regulating our labour market," he said.

"We have a situation where nearly every sector of our economy will be exposed in this area with a situation where staff, labour, jobs will be offered to Chinese nationals rather than locals.

"We think a whole range of economic activity will be covered by that arrangement, and that means a lot of jobs therefore will be allowed to be sourced exclusively from China."

Less than 30 per cent of those surveyed in New South Wales and Queensland opposed the deal before being told about the specific elements.
Poll has ’zero credibility’, Robb spokesman says

A spokesman for Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the CFMEU was notoriously "anti-trade" and the poll had "zero credibility".

"This is part of a most disingenuous scare campaign that is based on falsehoods," the spokesman said.

"The labour provisions in the China FTA are the same as those included in FTAs by the Labor Party.

"At all times Australian workers would have priority and skilled overseas workers could only be utilised if it could be demonstrated that local skills shortages exist.

"In regard to ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] provisions, it may come as a surprise to the CFMEU, but Australia has had ISDS provisions in place with China since 1988.

"The enhanced provisions in the China FTA will include clear safeguards to protect the right of government legislate or regulate in the public interest."

The automated poll of more than 2,000 people was conducted by UMR Research for the CFMEU in April and May.

Electors from Capricornia and Flynn in Queensland, Gilmore and Macquarie in New South Wales, Corangamite and Dunkley in Victoria and Hindmarsh in South Australia were surveyed.

FTA will come into force after legal and parliamentary processes in both countries, including reviews in Australia by two parliamentary committees.