Tony Abbott says there is no need for laws to test the labour market before Chinese workers are brought to Australia because it’s government policy already.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has called on the government to negotiate with the opposition to ensure the China free trade agreement does not undermine Australian jobs.
The guarantee of labour market testing needed to be backed up by “simple amendments” to legislation, he said.
But the prime minister told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday there was no need for such law changes.
“It is already absolutely explicit in policy,” Mr Abbott said.
The China free trade agreement … is absolutely identical to agreements that were done in government by the Labor party.”
Asked whether he could guarantee Australians would get the first opportunity on any major Chinese project in Australia, Mr Abbott said: “The whole point of our immigration laws is to protect Australian jobs, and nothing changes with our 457 (temporary work visa) arrangements under this free trade agreement.”
Mr Shorten told reporters in the West Australian seat of Canning the government should at least talk to the opposition about its concerns.
“What sort of alternative prime minister would I be if I closed my eyes and shut my ears and ignored the reality in front of us,” he said.
“I would like Mr Abbott to climb off his high horse and look after Australian jobs.”
Trade Minister Andrew Robb says there are some exceptions for senior executives and professionals within a Chinese company, which were also allowed under the previous Labor government.
“It is for senior people within a company … they are entitled to take with them their senior managers and the team that puts up structures all around the world,” Mr Robb said.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen rejected the government’s claim that Labor was jeopardising the entire deal, which had been a decade in the making.
“We’ve made very clear that our concerns don’t need the government to go back to Beijing to renegotiate the deal,” he said.