CANBERRA -- Prime Minister Tony Abbott has accused Labor and the unions of engaging in “economic sabotage” in their opposition to the landmark China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and has urged the ALP to listen to its party elders.
The Opposition says the China-Australia FTA is a bad deal and wants to substantially change it to ensure better protection for Australian jobs.
The ACTU has also taken out a full-page advertisements today calling on the prime minister to either dump or renegotiate the "exploitative" Chinese deal.
Abbott says the China FTA is worth billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to Australia and changing would be impossible.
“We cannot change this agreement. We cannot reopen the negotiations,” Abbott told ABC Radio’s AM.
“We have a very, very good deal with the Chinese. A really good deal with the Chinese. It must allowed to stand.”
The FTA, which must be signed off by parliament by December, allows Chinese companies to bring in their own workforce for local projects worth more than $150 million.
Unions are concerned the imported workers will undermine Australian jobs if they are not paid local wages and are subject to local conditions.
Former Labor Prime Minister and ACTU President Bob Hawke backs the China deal, saying it is in Australia’s national interest. Former Labor foreign ministers Bob Carr and Gareth Evans have also urged the Opposition to back down.
Abbott said Labor should listen to its party elders.
“Bob Hawke is satisfied. Bob Carr is satisfied.”
“The Free Trade Agreement as negotiated includes exactly the same type of labour market protections the Labor Party had when it was in government and that the Labor Party included in one or two of the small free trade agreement when it was in government.”
Negotiations for the China FTA began under Labor nine years ago. Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek says the opposition supports free trade with China, but not as the negotiated one stands.
“It has to be a good quality agreement that enhances Australians job prospects,” she told RN Breakfast.
“We are looking to work closely and co-operatively with the government to see what we can do to improve the agreement.
Tony Abbott says the China FTA is being “sabotaged.”
“If the Labor Party gets in the way of this because they are enthralled to the CFMEU in particular, they will be sabotaging Australia’s economic future.”
The Prime Minister said he can guarantee Australian jobs are not at risk.
“This myth by the CFMEU that somehow that these people are going to take Australian jobs is a racist lie.”
“And good on Bob Hawke. Good on Bob Carr for calling out the Labor Party on this."
Trade Minister Andrew Robb is in Beijing, attempting to allay Chinese concerns about the Labor opposition to the deal.
“I just can't believe that they would engage in the economic sabotage that would be involved in blocking this deal,” he told reporters.
Business, miners and farmers are backing the deal and plan to launch their own counter-campaign to the unions next week.