Labor and the coalition have accused each other of racism as debate heats up over the China free trade agreement.
But business has swung its support behind the Abbott government, defending the FTA with Australia’s biggest trading partner and the billions of dollars and jobs it will bring to the economy.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott used a speech to an Asian financial forum in Sydney on Thursday to attack Labor for trying to scupper the deal when it is voted in parliament, describing it as “xenophobic short-term politics”.
Treasurer Joe Hockey broadened the attack, telling Opposition Leader Bill Shorten not to give in to the “xenophobic demands” of the CFMEU.
“It will cost Australian families jobs,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Opposition trade spokeswoman Penny Wong returned serve, telling the prime minister to stop playing the race card and just answer Labor’s concerns over what it will mean for Australian jobs.
“Labor won’t be lectured on race by a Liberal government that remains committed to protecting the rights of bigots and implementing a discriminatory foreign investment scheme that treats Chinese and American investors differently,” she said in a statement.
But Mr Abbott made it clear that the government wouldn’t be making any amendments, saying a “deal is a deal”.
He said to amend one part of the FTA will reopen it all, and his government won’t do that because it would put Australian businesses, exports and jobs at risk.
Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr believes that while the unions have legitimate concerns over Australian jobs, there are many safeguards in the provisions of the FTA and that the capacity to bring in foreign labour would not apply to normal projects.
“They’ve got to test local markets first to see whether they can find Australian workers and Australian conditions apply,” he told AAP on the fringes of the conference.
National Farmers’ Federation president Brent Finlay believes the FTA is a “game changer”.
“Delaying the agreement could cost the agricultural export trade up to $300 million in 2016 alone,” he said in a statement.
Mining boss Andrew Forrest hit out at what he described as “misleading” advertising by the CFMEU over the FTA.
“I ask all of us to work against anything which does incite any kind of racism, any kind of pent-up xenophobia,” the Fortescue Metals Group chairman told reporters.
ABBOTT POINTS TO BENEFITS OF CHINA FTA:
* It removes barriers to Australian agricultural exports, including beef, dairy, lamb, wine, horticulture and seafood.
* Meat and Livestock Australia forecast their sector will benefit by $11 billion over the next decade.
* The FTA means duty-free entry for 99.9 per cent of Australia’s resources, energy and manufacturing exports within four years.
* The Minerals Council of Australia says this removes nearly $600 million in costs from the bilateral minerals and energy trade.
* Australian banks will be able to expand branch networks in China.
* Australian fund managers will be able to invest overseas on behalf of qualified Chinese institutions and Australian insurers will be able to provide third party motor vehicle insurance.
* The agreement secures the jobs of over 400,000 Australian workers employed in financial services, while opening new opportunities.
(Source: Tony Abbott speech to Boao Forum for Asia Financial Co-operation Conference)