DAN TEHAN | Australian Financial Review | July 27, 2015

The unions are out to break Australia’s long-standing bipartisanship on free trade.  If you believe the CFMEU scare campaign, the Coalition’s recent trifecta of free trade agreements will mean Australia’s agricultural and services sector will be diminished.

It is high time Bill Shorten and Penny Wong showed leadership and put an end to their mates’ scaremongering.  They must stand up and tell the truth: free trade creates jobs and is fundamental for Australia’s future in a globalised economy.

Protectionism is economic death in a globalised economy.  Opposing free trade agreements for base political purposes cannot be tolerated in the 21st century.

Labor leaders know this.

Last year, Kevin Rudd stated the the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) was a “win-win for both sides” and this it was the “easiest thing in the world to run fear agendas against free trade agreements.”

It is easy to run fear campaigns against trade liberalisation masking it as nationalistic rhetoric.  But even on the facts alone, the union scare campaign just doesn’t stack up.  Unions would have you believe that under ChAFTA, Chinese companies will be able to import their workforce and pay them Chinese labour rates to build or work on their projects.

This is nonsense.

All of this doesn’t advantage China over our workers but instead brings China into line with many of our other trading partners including the United States, Korea, Japan, Poland, Chile, Germany, Singapore, New Zealand, Somalia and Britain.  I’ve yet to see the unions or the Labor party run scare campaigns against workers from any of these countries.

ChAFTA clearly outlines that Chinese companies have to operate under the skills and experience requirements that need to be met by a skilled worker applying to work in Australia.

As a matter of course, Chinese companies will be required to use Australian labour as a condition of their projects being approved in the first place.

 No worker, foreign or local, can be paid anything less than an Australian wage.

Most important, companies will still need to prove that there is an absence of available local skilled labour.

Obviously, any applicants for skilled-worker visas will still be required to demonstrate that they possess the requisite skills and experience to work in this country.

Rather than turn a blind eye to what some are calling xenophobic fear-mongering, Bill Shorten and Penny Wong need to act now to stop this targeted union campaign against China.

Already we have seen federal Labor MPs begin to buy into the myths being spread by the unions.

At least two Labor MPs, Melissa Parke and Kelvin Thompson, have derided the CHAFTA agreement as destroying Australian jobs and exploiting foreign workers.

Perhaps neither has read the text of the agreement itself, which prevents any worker from being put on contracts that breach Australian labour laws, or the economic modelling, which shows the agreement will create thousands of Australian jobs.

Misinformation spread by parliamentarians and unions will only hurt Australian workers and their employment opportunities through our new free trade agreements. Who would want to invest in a country that has politicians and unions vehemently against their presence?

Masterbuilders and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have come down heavily on this threat to investment and Australian jobs.

It is high time that Bill Shorten and Penny Wong changed Labor’s approach before our nation’s free trade credentials are irrevocably damaged.

It was a popular union leader and the most successful Labor treasurer who helped build Australia’s longstanding bipartisanship on free trade. In opening the economy and liberalising trade, Hawke and Keating helped ensure Australians better working conditions, higher wages and a higher standard of living.

These new free trade agreements will ensure that Australian workers will continue to enjoy this prosperity. That the unions seek to destroy this progress speaks only to their own fears, not to the welfare of Australian workers.

Bill Shorten’s lack of leadership against this assault not only harms Labor’s economic legacy but will damage Australia’s future growth.