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1 December 2020

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today condemned the refusal of the Coalition Government and Labor Opposition to support a review of the 2015 China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) by the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT).

“Once again both the Coalition and Labor have squibbed it when it comes to Parliamentary scrutiny of Australia’s relations with China,” Senator Patrick said. 

“One might have thought that China’s aggressive trade coercion would have prompted the Coalition and Labor to be proactive and join in supporting a review of ChAFTA by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. However, both appear politically paralysed, stuck like kangaroos blinded by oncoming headlights.” 

“Five years ago, in November 2015, the Coalition and Labor members of JSCOT recommended that Australia ratify the ChAFTA. They did so despite significant ‘misgivings’ about the potential impact on Australia of ChAFTA’s ‘inequitable’ tariff changes, inadequate requirements for labour market testing, and the inclusion in the agreement of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism.”

“It would have been most timely now, five years on, for JSCOT to again review and report on ChAFTA.”

The terms of the proposed JSCOT enquiry, proposed today by Senator Patrick and Senator Jacquie Lambie, were as follows:

That the following matter be referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties for inquiry and report by 30 June 2021:

The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) which entered into force on 20 December 2015, including, but not limited to:

(a) the implications of political and economic change in China for future bilateral trade relations;

(b) China’s compliance with the letter and spirit of ChAFTA;

(c) the extent and consequences of Australian economic dependence on the Chinese market;

(d) the wider economic, strategic and diplomatic context of Australia’s trade relations with China; and

(e) options for the future of ChAFTA. 

Senator Patrick said: “A JSCOT inquiry would have allowed all Australian stakeholders and interested parties to participate in an open and transparent process that could help chart Australia’s future relations with China.  Such an inquiry would significantly assist the Australian Government in efforts to reset relations with Beijing, either before or after the next Federal election.” 

“However, this afternoon the major parties squibbed this opportunity. For more than eighteen months they repeatedly opposed my proposals for a Senate Committee inquiry on relations with China. It was the same craven and timid story today.” 

“I now plan to employ other Parliamentary measures to require the Australian Government to provide the Parliament and the Australian people with a substantive assessment of China’s compliance with the letter and spirit of ChAFTA and the future of Australia’s relations with China.”