Trade Minister Andrew Robb says it would not be difficult to legislate for worker protections under the China free trade deal, but it would cause “complexities”.
The federal opposition and unions say the trade agreement does not require labour market testing in a range of circumstances, and safeguards are needed.
Mr Robb was asked by the opposition in parliament on Thursday whether it would be hard to legislate protections.
“A piece of legislation is not difficult to draft, I agree with that,” Mr Robb said.
“But it does … cause complexities and complications.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the agreement’s special migration arrangements for projects worth more than $150 million were not included in deals with other countries such as Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Chile.
Acting prime minister Warren Truss said that was because it was a “comprehensive” agreement.
“This is not a way to undermine our standards as a country – it is a way to create new jobs, more jobs, more opportunities for Australians,” he said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the three free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea were worth more than $24 billion in additional income to Australia from 2016 to 2035.
She took aim at Mr Shorten’s comment earlier in the week that in criticising the China free trade agreement he was standing up for Australian jobs and was therefore “on the side of the angels”.
“Labor said it’s on the side of the angels – more like Hells Angels,” Ms Bishop said.
The government has yet to introduce the two Customs bills to enable the agreement to go ahead but expects to do so in October.