Federal Labor has thrown itself a “Tarzan rope” to climb down from an untenable opposition to Australia’s free trade deal with China, government frontbencher Jamie Briggs believes.

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The opposition reportedly will insist on changes to mandate market testing before the importation of workers, to apply generally to all free trade deals, without amending the China agreement.

That means requiring employers to use Australian workers first would apply to all free-trade agreements.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has not seen the details of the compromise and queried why the opposition would use the Australian Financial Review to reveal it.

The reports follow a fierce Labor and union campaign against the agreement, amid concerns foreign workers would take Australian jobs.

Mr Briggs warns the compromise is the federal opposition trying to get out of the “ridiculous” position it had carved for itself throughout the campaign.

“Labor was always going to vote for this free trade agreement,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“Rather than an olive branch, it’s sort of like a Tarzan rope down from a position they couldn’t hold,” he said.

The new minister for cities and the built environment said Labor had to cave in because Australians supported stronger links with Asia.

Earlier, his frontbench colleague, Steve Ciobo, said the reported change in position gave a “sliver of light” to the deal.

Acting opposition leader Tanya Plibersek insisted Labor’s concerns were clear and that it had always been open to discussion with the government about how they could be addressed.

“We had Tony Abbott saying that it was impossible and unnecessary, and he wouldn’t give us the time of day,” she told reporters in Sydney.

The government has put enabling legislation to parliament and wants it passed by the end of the year.

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