Aurizon boss Lance Hockridge has joined a growing number of politicians and business leaders calling for Opposition leader Bill Shorten to support the proposed China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).
“It would be difficult to overstate the benefits the FTA with China will bring to Australia,” Hockrdige said in an address to the Australia China Business Council in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“Take as one example Aurizon’s customers in the Queensland coal sector, who are facing challenging times. The FTA will deliver them relief by cutting China’s import tariffs on our coal.”
Hockridge said the suggestion the FTA would hurt Australian jobs was “misinformation,” and said the agreement would actually help the jobs sector.
“[ChAFTA is] about job creation,” he said, “not job destruction as some would want the community to believe … the real benefit the FTA gives Australia is access to China’s large, and rapidly growing, middle class.”
Research from McKinsey, Hockridge said, indicated China’s middle class will grow from 200 million today to more than 600 million by 2022.
“What an opportunity in terms of a potential market for our professional services, for tourism, for education, and for our agricultural products,” the Aurizon boss campaigned.
“All this would be at risk if the campaign against the FTA was successful and ratification of the FTA was either blocked or stalled.”
ChAFTA, championed in Canberra by the Coalition, is being criticised by unions and the Australian Labor Party.
In recent days, however, state Labor leaders have called for the approval of the FTA. Victorian premier Daniel Andrews this week said, “The Chinese free trade agreement is good news for Victorian jobs and I support it.” And South Australian premier Jay Weatherill lent his support, saying the FTA “is a great way for us to underscore the fact that South Australia is open for business with China.”
NSW state Opposition leader Luke Foley and ACT chief minister Andrew Barr, both of the Labor party, also support the FTA. On top of that, Labor figureheads Bob Hawke, Simon Crean, Bob Carr and John Brumby have all lent their support.
Minister for trade and investment Andrew Robb welcomed the support from the Labor members, saying Opposition leader Bill Shorten was failing a “crucial test” by not approving the FTA.
“He needs to stop being led around by the nose by the CFMEU [trade union] and take a stand for jobs, growth and prosperity in this critical post-mining boom period,” Robb said on Wednesday.
“Make no mistake, if Labor seeks to obstruct this deal, China will walk away and pursue other opportunities with our competitors in places like South America,” Robb said. “This would be a dreadful outcome for our economy and Bill Shorten would be solely responsible.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott also criticised the Opposition leader, saying ChAFTA “means more jobs for Australians”.
“The only person standing in the way of jobs and the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is Bill Shorten – who is taking instructions from his union masters and the CFMEU,” Abbott alleged.
“If Bill Shorten and the Labor Party try to reject the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement they will be sabotaging our economic future and they will be turning their back on one of the greatest opportunities our country has ever been offered.
“I say to Bill Shorten: listen to decent Labor people, and stop dancing to the tune of the CFMEU standing in the way of jobs for Australian workers.”
Shorten says the Labor party supports FTAs, but opposes “bad trade agreements”.
“Labor believes in the principle and benefits of free trade agreements,” the Opposition leader said on Tuesday. “But we want to make sure that these free trade agreements are putting Aussie jobs first.
“Yes, I am different to Mr Abbott. I don’t automatically sign a blank cheque and not worry about the consequences on Australian jobs.”
The man who almost had Shorten’s job, shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese, stood in lock-step with his leader on Radio National on Wednesday.
“What we want to make sure is that this agreement is in Australia’s national economic interests,” Albanese told host Michael Brissenden.
“There’s no doubt there will be benefits from free trade but you need to make sure there are simple provisions that mean Australians for example can benefit from the jobs that are created, that’s the objective of the free trade agreement.
“It’s not some ideological thing in itself. It’s about real, practical benefits. And we want to make sure that those practical benefits go to Australia and to Australian job creation in particular.”