PM dares Labor on China free-trade deal

PM dares Labor on China free-trade deal

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has dared Labor to explain why it opposes the China free trade deal.

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In a rare parliamentary move for a government, Mr Abbott on Tuesday used a motion that sought backing for the agreement in its negotiated form.

“It’s a deal that we either take or leave,” he told MPs, adding it would be “absolutely unconscionable” not to take it.

The “painfully-finalised” deal would give Australia unprecedented access to the biggest market in Asia and soon the biggest in the world.

It was a much better agreement than the one New Zealand cut with China five years ago, he said, that resulted in its exports quadrupling. Mr Abbott challenged Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to tell parliament why he was opposing the deal.

Otherwise the public would get the strong impression he was backing a xenophobic and racist “campaign of lies” being run by trade unions.

“Just for once, tell us where you stand,” Mr Abbott goaded the Labor leader.

“Just for once, stop playing politics.”

Trade Minister Andrew Robb warned of the monumental damage Labor risked by blocking the deal.

“If you dump this agreement this will affect our relationship not just economically, but in a wider sense.”

Mr Shorten said he supported the deal but wanted to get the right package by working with the government to protect Australian jobs and wages.

He dismissed the Abbott motion as a hollow stunt from the “ultimate hollow man”.

“(It’s) a national time-wasting resolution from the champions of national time wasting,” Mr Shorten said.

He accused the prime minister of pre-empting the deliberations of a parliamentary committee still looking at the deal and not due to hand down its report until mid-October.

“There is nothing for Australia to gain by entering a race to the bottom with our neighbours on wages and conditions.”

The government used its numbers to defeat opposition amendments that committed parliament to legislating safeguards for local jobs, wages and conditions, workplace safety and protections for overseas workers from exploitation.

Mr Abbott’s motion passed on the voices, after Labor declined to call a division that would have required all votes to be formally recorded.

Farmers have urged both sides to stop playing politics and work out a solution.

The National Farmers Federation said political point-scoring was distracting from improving the economy.

“Denying Australian exporters a double tariff cut for the sake of playing politics would be an unforgivably reckless move we can’t afford,” chief executive Simon Talbot said in a statement.

Australia needed only look at its New Zealand neighbours to see the huge benefits of preferential market access, he said.