CANBERRA – The landmark free trade agreement between Australia and China is set to pass parliament, with the federal opposition now supporting the deal.
After months of fighting over the deal, during which the Government accused Labor of using xenophobic arguments, Labor Leader Bill Shorten announced the Opposition has cut a deal with the Government over safeguards for Australian jobs.
"Today is indeed a good day,” Shorten told reporters in Canberra.
“Labor has done today what Labor has always done, support Australian jobs, protect Australian wages and conditions and make sure that Australians, all Australians share in the benefits of change and progress.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull paid tribute to Shorten's change of heart.
“I described the Leader of the Opposition on one occasion as just a cork bobbing along in the slip-stream of the CFMEU,” he told parliament.
“Well, I have to say today the Leader of the Opposition has struck out from the slip-stream and charted a course that is plainly in the national interest because this is a deal that always had to be done.”
The Opposition had major concerns that Australian workers' conditions would be damaged by the China deal.
Proposed labour changes would be made by regulation, not legislation, to avoid scaring off China after eight years of negotiations.
“It's a very positive development for the country,” Trade Minister Andrew Robb said.
“Importantly, the agreement we've reached with the Opposition will in no way contravene the commitments that have been made in the free trade agreement and it in no way discriminates against our major trading partner.”
Labour market testing, to ensure Australian can apply for jobs, will apply to temporary foreign worker 457 visas.
“That's already in the agreement,” Robb said. “But what we've done is ensure that there can be no change to that without a disallowable regulation going before the parliament.”
Market salary requirements for 457 visas will be reviewed and are expected to be improved, possibly by including indexation.
There will also be new checks on 457 visa holders in licensed trade jobs such as electricians.
The China/Australia FTA is now expected to pass the House of Representatives today and the Senate before the end of the year.