In backing the CFMEU and ACTU’s xenophobic scare campaign against our landmark free trade agreement with China, Bill Shorten has confirmed how beholden his leadership is to the most militant elements of the union movement.

The dishonest union campaign is based on falsehoods and misinformation. It is also based on demonising China, Australia’s biggest trading partner.

The likes of the CFMEU and ACTU have been desperate to pick a fight with the Government to distract attention away from the almost daily revelations from the Royal Commission into union corruption of rorts and rips offs at the expense of workers. They also want to remind Bill Shorten and Labor just who is in charge in advance of Labor’s National Conference.

ACTU President Ged Kearney gave the game away back in November when the unions first mounted their scare. “It’s very difficult not to sound xenophobic…”, she conceded.

While Bill Shorten on one hand says he supports the China FTA – and the thousands of Australian jobs it will create and the billions it will add to our economy – on the other hand he has unequivocally endorsed a campaign which has the key objective of stopping the agreement.

The favourite ‘straw man’ in the union scare campaign is the Infrastructure Facilitation Arrangement (IFA) that sits alongside the FTA and the baseless claim that Chinese companies will be able to bring in their own workforces at the expense of Australian jobs.

What the unions most egregiously and deliberately ignore are the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) Project Agreement guidelines for companies seeking to recruit overseas workers – the very guidelines that will give effect to IFAs.

The guidelines make it abundantly clear, that employers: “must provide a comprehensive written statement of the labour market need for the requested occupation(s), demonstrating ongoing shortages … as well as evidence that you have made significant efforts to recruit workers from the Australian labour market within the previous six months.”

Furthermore: “The department will only enter into a project labour agreement where it has been satisfied that Australians have been provided first opportunity for jobs.”

These are the inconvenient facts that expose the union scare campaign around labour market testing for what it is; while Bill Shorten’s kowtowing endorsement demonstrates his weakness and vulnerability as a leader.

Lazy political positions in relation to elements of free trade agreements based on irrationality, ignorance and xenophobia must be resisted. This is a test for Mr Shorten. It is one which will reveal his maturity as a political leader.

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