Former prime minister and union boss Bob Hawke has voiced his support for Australia’s trade deal with China, which successive governments have negotiated for a decade.
Unions oppose the deal, which was signed in June. It must receive parliamentary support in order to become law.
“Talk of opposing it is just absolutely against Australia’s best interests,” Mr Hawke told The Australian on Friday.
Labor’s infrastructure spokesman responded by saying the party supports the deal, but is concerned about protecting local jobs.
“I respect his views and I respect his contribution. That’s why we’re supportive of the agreement,” shadow minister Anthony Albanese said.
“We want to make sure though, that when you look at the detail Australian jobs are protected.”
Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne accused the opposition of trying to “mug” the country to win the next election.
“Bob Hawke and Bob Carr are both urging the Labor Party to support it and Anthony Albanese and his team are trying to mug it because the CFMEU are telling them to do so,” Mr Pyne told the Nine Network on Friday.
Unions have funded a series of TV ads attacking the Abbott government for allegedly failing to protect Australian jobs when it negotiated the deal.
The Labor party has expressed concern the agreement will allow Chinese companies to bring in their own workers for major projects without any requirement to advertise locally to fill the positions.
Farmers, who stand to benefit from reduce tariffs, have tried to counter the union campaign, with a contingent heading to China to reassure Chinese colleagues and government.
-with Emma Manser and agencies