7.30 Report
FRIDAY, 22 JULY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Frontbench selection; Parliamentary term, Productivity Commission Report.


MATT WORDSWORTH:  Joel Fitzgibbon thanks for joining 7.30, can I get a baseline here quickly? Kim Carr supported Bill Shorten with crucial votes back when he won the opposition leadership over Anthony Albanese, is that correct?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AFFAIRS: First of all, the important point is that we a emerged from that caucus today with a very, very strong team. Not only that, but, of course, a team brimming with diversity, gender diversity, ethnic diversity and even religious diversity. A very talented team. And I think Kim Carr remaining part of that team adds to its strength and I welcome it and I believe Bill Shorten showed great strength of leadership in ensuring that he was part of the team and I think we'll be better for it.

WORDSWORTH: But first and foremost, this was about repaying that loyalty back then, wasn't it? Because Bill Shorten had to reach into his right faction and save Kim Carr in that caucus vote.

FITZGIBBON: Bill Shorten wants to win the next election, whenever that might be, and who knows, it might be sooner rather than later, given the circumstances the government finds itself in. So absolutely, Bill's focus was on producing the very strongest team, with strong diversity, the best team he could find, and I think more than anything, that's what Bill was about today.

WORDSWORTH: But by that logic, that means that the left faction who abandoned Mr Carr didn't want the best team?

FITZGIBBON: Well, we are in the happily difficult position of having far many more talented people than spots available, and obviously the left came to their own decision. We have a very democratic process in our organisation, unlike the conservatives. They came to their own conclusion. Bill came to the conclusion himself that he needed Kim Carr in his team, and he showed great strength in ensuring that he remained part of the team.

WORDSWORTH: What it appeared from the outside is that there's division within the Labor Party. What do you think it says to the community when these kind of divisions are laid open like this?

FITZGIBBON: Our great strength over the course of the last three years has been unity, the strength of our unity. We've had a more cohesive side than we ever have had in the 20 years I've been in the parliament, and what we did today was secure a very, very good outcome, a group with an abundance of talent, but we also walked away still as a unified team and Bill Shorten takes the credit for that.

WORDSWORTH: I just heard one of your colleagues, Graham Perrett, saying these are just factional shenanigans - how would you describe it?

FITZGIBBON: Look, some people might find the factional system and the maneuverings that go on rather intriguing, but the fact is that they work, they bring stability, to the show.  This is a unified caucus, we got through a difficult process today still unified, why was it difficult? Because we have so many talented people from a whole range of States vying for a limited number of positions, and I think it's a great credit to Bill Shorten that we walked away with such a strong team. Also accommodating Kim Carr who, of course, has been an impressive contributor over many years, but still unified – that’s a great outcome.

WORDSWORTH: What about poor old Andrew Leigh, he stays in the shadow ministry but has to take a pay cut to do it. He is on a backbencher salary now. What did he do wrong?

FITZGIBBON: I'm sure Dr Leigh won't be too concerned about the level of his salary. The point is that this is an example of the system working.

WORDSWORTH: It is an example of collateral damage, isn't it?

FITZGIBBON: No, Andrew Leigh is an independent in the caucus, he has always known that independence. brings challenges, he likes that independence. But the important thing is, again, Bill Shorten decided Andrew Leigh is too talented a contributor to let go so he found a way of accommodating him. That's again, Bill Shorten showing great strength of leadership and a capacity to find innovative ways of making things work.

WORDSWORTH: So this is the first meeting since the election. Was there any discussion about what kind of opposition Labor will be in this term of parliament - constructive or obstructive?

FITZGIBBON: No discussion today but Bill Shorten has made it very, very clear that, wherever and whenever we can, we will act absolutely in the national interest. By the way, as the chief government whip in the last hung parliament, I find that a little bit hard to swallow - Tony Abbott decided just to wreck the show, took a wrecking ball through the parliament every single day. So it's tempting to do otherwise, but Bill Shorten is absolutely right to make a commitment to being productive, being cooperative, wherever we can be. I qualify that, of course, because we won't allow Labor's principles to be thrown out the window or support very bad legislation because, in any case, that would not be in the national interest.

WORDSWORTH: So tomorrow Bill Shorten will reveal what the shadow portfolios will be, and who they will go to. So let's suffice to say you will remain in your shadow agriculture for the time being. The Productivity Commission report yesterday into regulation about agriculture wants the food labelling system changed so that you won't know now whether a food is GMO or not genetically modified. Do you support that removal of that requirement?

FITZGIBBON: First of all can I say that the Productivity Commission report vindicates everything that Labor’s been saying in agriculture for the last three years and is a repudiation of just about everything Barnaby Joyce has been saying.  Have a look at the sector we have low profitability, flat lining productivity and we are losing global market share, the PC has picked up on a number of errors this Government has made over the last three years.

WORDSWORTH: inaudible

FITZGIBBON: Can I first of all say that there is no doubt that biotechnology will play a significant role, or must play a significant role, in our productivity effort in the coming years, if we're going to take the opportunities available in Asia, we will need to lift our productivity and further push ourselves up the value curve. This is a policy question, one I can't reflect on too deeply today, but suffice to say that I think we need to do better. We have been too hesitant about biotechnology adoption.

WORDSWORTH:Just on that other GM-related topic in the report, you were saying that biotechnology is going to be essential. There is a moratorium on GM crops in five states and territories - it wants them lifted. Would you support that?

FITZGIBBON: Well, in the first instance it is a matter for the states and territories. This is another example of the wonders of the federation, but we need a strong federal regulator, but we also need strong federal leadership and, again, I say that I think we've been too hesitant and too reluctant on biotechnology generally and I do believe we need strong leadership from Canberra and if I were the minister that's exactly what I would be providing.

WORDSWORTH: So you would recommend they lift the moratorium?

FITZGIBBON: No, I'd be showing strength of leadership in taking the states to a position where we're not so hesitant on the use and take-up of biotechnology.

WORDSWORTH: Alright, Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for your time.

FITZGIBBON: It is a great pleasure

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