Tony Abbott
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott walks up a staircase after arriving aboard the U.S. Navy's USS Blue Ridge as it enters Sydney Harbour, Australia, July 3, 2015. The ship is in Australia to participate in the joint military exercise with Australian forces named 'Talisman Sabre' which begins next week. Reuters/Tim Hunter

In reference to the China-Australia Free-Trade Agreement, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Prime Minister Tony Abbott to “climb off their high horses.”

Abbott asked Shorten to “stop listening to the CFMEU and he should start listening to Bob Hawke and Bob Carr.” Hawke, the ACTU president, is a former Labor prime minister whose party has refused to back the agreement without making significant changes to it.

Trade unions, especially the CFMEU, have been strongly opposing the trade deal, promoting the possibility of Australian workers losing jobs because of their Chinese counterparts. NSW premier Carr, a former Labor foreign minister, earlier assured the FTA would not endanger Australian jobs.

Hawke earlier warned his Labor party as well as the trade union movement not to go against the agreement. According to Abbott, Hawke and Carr were people with “Australia’s best interests at heart.”

Shorten urged the government to negotiate with Labor on the on the FTA. He said it was possible for both parties to come to a “win-win deal.” Abbott, however, said everyone was satisfied with the FTA. He said opposing the FTA was against “Australia’s best interests.”

Shorten said Labor’s opposition to the deal had reasons. There are “slack loopholes” in the agreement, he said. “Labor is committed to having better trade with China, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of Australian jobs,” The Australian quoted Shorten. “Mr Rob and Mr Abbott if they could climb off their high horse and not be their standard arrogant as usual approach to negotiations with the opposition, we can get a win-win deal for Australians but at the moment I can’t in good conscience agree that there are aren’t problems with this agreement when it comes to protecting labour standards in Australia.”

The Abbott government claims the FTA is a landmark deal. Robb told ABC radio that Australia would gain hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars because of the agreement but not everyone is convinced.

The ACTU is concerned about workers who would work for Chinese companies on large infrastructure projects. According to the FTA, Australia will allow Chinese companies to bring in their own workforce for projects worth $150 million or more, the ACTU says. It says local workers should be offered job first.

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