China Free trade agreement compromise is close

THE Federal Government seems to be a step closer to rolling out the China-Australia free trade agreement on the back of an ALP compromise.

The FTA is likely to win bi-partisan support if the Coalition backs the federal opposition's calls for changes to the Migration Act that will favour Aussie workers.

The ALP's planned changes to the Migration Act will force Australian companies to search extensively for local workers before hiring overseas labour through the 457 visa scheme.

The ALP also wants to increase the base pay for workers on 457 visas by $3100 to $57,000.

Under the plan, overseas tradespeople would need to have the relevant Australian occupational licence before they are given a visa to work here.

"We'll have genuine discussions with the Labor party and hopefully it will identify a pathway to get these things through the Parliament," Mr Robb said.

Opposition trade spokeswoman Penny Wong said one of her party's key concerns was ensuring Australian workers got first dibs at Australian jobs.

Ms Wong allayed fears the compromise would discriminate against Chinese interests.

It is also unlikely the government will have to renegotiate the deal with China because the wording of the agreement should remain the same.

"Those safeguards deal with three areas of concern and they would enable, if the negotiation is successful, bipartisan support for the China free trade agreement which we believe is in the national interest," Ms Wong said.  

Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox urged the government to ensure any changes to the Migration Act did not "not add unnecessary layers of complexity to the engagement of people under the 457 visa system".

"The amendments put forward … should clarify and not add to existing red tape," Mr  Willox said.

"Ai Group continues to support the recommendation of the latest inquiry into 457 visas  to abolish labour market testing. 
"The amendments proposed by Labor disregard that recommendation.

"That said, should it be decided that aspects of the existing testing regime should be adopted either in legislation, or preferably in regulations, we would be open to supporting it if the measures did not add to existing requirements or made them more onerous. 

"Such amendments would clearly need further consultation with industry. 

"It would also be important to keep the debate open about the longer term future of labour market testing." 

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