MP calls for Labor to take stand on free trade agreement

FEDERAL Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd says he has heard a lot of noise about the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, but one voice he hasn't heard from is the Labor Party.

"The unions have been blowing a lot of hot air about the free trade agreement, and you would assume they have the support of the Labor Party, but they've stayed silent," Mr O'Dowd said.

"If they support the unions in attacking a landmark deal that will have wide-ranging benefits to the broader community, then they should clearly state their policy."

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Mr O'Dowd is challenging his Labor opponents to come forward with a serious position on the agreement, or risk looking like they are hiding from the debate.

"All I am hearing from the Labor Party is silence, and it is deafening," Mr O'Dowd said.

"You have to wonder what they're hiding from…maybe they also support the agreement but are just too scared to admit it."

Labor last week opened to door to voting down the agreement, saying the party wasn't satisfied it would protect Australian jobs.

Trade spokeswoman Penny Wong said Labor would consider the legislation when it was presented, but didn't say which way the party would vote.

Mr O'Dowd's Gladstone office was this week picketed by protesters opposing the Free Trade Agreement, claiming that Australian jobs would be lost as a result, a claim Mr O'Dowd refutes.

"We have always been transparent with our position, which is to generate investment opportunities in our region, and I believe that is what the free trade agreement will achieve," he said.

"The agreement reduces tariffs on the agriculture industry, which is good news for Emerald and other towns in the bush, but it also affects the resources and energy sector, which is such a large part of Gladstone."

On the claim the agreement would allow Chinese companies to bring in their own workforce at a cost to Australian workers, Mr O'Dowd was adamant there was no precedent for this.

"The free trade agreement with China has the same provisions as the eight other agreements we already have in operation, including Thailand, Chile, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea," he said.

"Our government has a clear policy to improve Australia's trade relationships with our international partners, which is more than we've seen from the other side."

Mr O'Dowd said anyone interested in the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was encouraged to seek more information at http://dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/chafta/Pages/australia-china-fta.aspx.



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