The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement could make Australia forgo its autonomy over migration laws, resulting in a huge influx of Chinese workers, a situation likely to affect local wages and working conditions of Australian workers, a recent study has said.

The report, which suggests that the agreement has cleared pathways for low skilled Chinese workers to enter the Australian labour market, was prepared by senior law lecturer at Adelaide University and Rhodes scholar Dr Joanne Howe.

However, Howe’s findings have been dismissed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as part of a “grossly misleading” union campaign, while Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the report “is not worth the paper it’s written on.”

"ChAFTA will not allow unrestricted access to the Australian labour market by Chinese workers, nor will it allow Australian employment laws, wages or conditions to be undermined," said a spokeswoman for Mr Robb.

Reportedly, neither Turnbull nor Robb read the 18-page report by Howe before dismissing it as irrelevant and misleading.

According to Penny Wong, Labor's Senate leader and trade spokeswoman, the report pointed out some very serious shortcomings of the agreement which need to be sorted out immediately.

"These findings must not be ignored by Mr Robb and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted her as saying.

Howe’s report pointed out that under the FTA, it is possible to replace an Australian worker by a Chinese worker unless law binds the employers to prove there is a shortage of skills. It also notes that most trades will be affected by the direct competition facilitated by the agreement.

A political battle has ensued following the FTA with the Coalition accusing Labor and the union movement of upholding a “racist” campaign against China.

"Even if the Australian government wished to constrain the number of 457 visa holders more generally because local unemployment was high or to reflect changing economic circumstances, it could not do so with respect to Chinese citizens," Howe found. "The absence of a cap means that Australian employers can engage unlimited numbers of Chinese citizens on 457 visas."

The Electrical Trade Union, which commissioned the report but did not provide any editorial input to it, said that Howe’s advice on the 457 visa has been previously considered by the Coalition and thus it is in no position to dismiss her work on the ChAFTA.

Contact the writer at, or let us know what you think below.