It’s been a torrential few weeks in Canberra, with a new PM jumping aboard a raft of new policy settings and taking to the political high-seas. But unlike several other high-profile policy reversals, it seems the LNP is not charting a course away from its position on the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA). For months, the Labor party has signalled its intention to oppose the agreement unless labour force protection concerns were addressed. But now, faced with a rising wave of criticism, the Labor Party is being forced to make an even more difficult decision.

Speaking at an event in Melbourne, China’s ambassador to Australia, Ma Zhaoxu, criticised the Labor Party, warning that the party should not let the agreement dissolve. “ChAFTA took both countries 10 years of negotiations. It represents a hard win,” he told the crowd. “And this is an opportunity that should not be allowed to slip through our fingers, should not be allowed to slip away.”

Mr. Ma insisted that the new deal would provide a boom to the nation’s faltering economic bottom-line. “In the Chinese tradition, a celebration event should be held for the 100th day of a newborn baby. ChAFTA is just like a newborn baby of the two countries,” he said. “The sooner ChAFTA comes into force, the quicker it will benefit producers and consumers in both countries.”

Conveniently, Mr. Ma has side-stepped serious concerns about the real profitability and employment benefits of large scale operations brought in under the deal. Labor has long insisted that greater labour force protection should be added to the legislation governing the deal; essentially, the ALP is concerned that large-scale projects would not preference Australian employees over foreign nationals, allowing Chinese companies the right to supply their domestic businesses with cheaper international workers.

Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong affirmed Labor’s commitment to the agreement (which was, in large part, negotiated by successive Labor governments). Ms. Wong said the party leadership was open to a fresh dialogue with the new Prime Minister. “We have made clear to him we want to find a way through here,” Senator Wong told the media at a press conference before Mr. Ma’s speech.

“But we need to see safeguards, supplementary safeguards to the agreement around jobs, around Australian wages and conditions, avoiding the exploitation of migrant workers and of course maintaining Australian standards when it comes to our trades,” Ms. Wong added. “Now, we are willing to sit down with him and find a way through this. The failure of the Government to do that, I think, speaks volumes.”

For all the scaremongering and accusations of xenophobia, the LNP has been unable to defend its weak safeguarding of jobs for the Australian workforce. Perhaps, in their funny ‘trickle-down’ view of things, the government have forgotten that the ideals of social mobility and a capitalist democracy function from the bottom up.

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