Crossbencher’s bill could scuttle China free trade agreement

Senator John Madigan has confirmed the passage of his Fair Trade (Workers’ Rights) Bill would prohibit a free trade agreement being struck with China.

In an interview with The Australian Financial Review, the Democratic Labor Party senator, elected from Victoria in 2010, confirmed this, while stating that he was not elected to “show allegiance to China”.

The controversial bill, which has drawn criticism from business groups such as the Business Council of Australia while being backed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, would prohibit Australia signing free trade deals with countries which do not meet minimum standards of workers’ rights.

These include the right to organise and bargain collectively, and freedom of association.

When the bill was first introduced into the Senate in December, Senator Madigan said it would force governments to look at trade agreements “from a different perspective”.

“Instead of placing so much of the onus of responsibility on Australian industry, Australian organisations and already overworked and under resourced Australian departments, we need to look at the responsibilities that should be placed squarely on the shoulders of our trading partners,” he said.

“We should not be trading with people who make their money from the blood, sweat and lives of oppressed workers.

“It is a simple suggestion and one that many Australians would agree with but which trade negotiators seem to overlook on too many occasions. Supporting the rights of workers, whether here or overseas, is supporting basic human rights. In so doing we are helping to improve the lives of people overseas and acknowledging the contribution our own manufacturers make to Australian workers and the Australian economy.”

In its submission on the bill, the Business Council of Australia described it as a “disguised form of protectionism”.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he aims to secure free trade deals with Japan and China by the end of 2014. A deal with South Korea was signed in December.

Senator Madigan is one of seven crossbenchers who will hold the balance of power in the Senate from July.

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