SUBJECT/S: Murray Goulburn crisis, Labor’s refugee policy.

GREG JENNETT:  Joel Fitzgibbon there is an emerging problem with the Murray Goulburn co-op and dairy farmers who are part of that in Victoria. We’re hearing from the Government that Barnaby Joyce; the Deputy Prime Minister is planning a trip to the region. What is it that Labor says could or should be done by Government?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS:  It’s much more than an emerging problem. We have a current crisis which began almost two weeks ago when Murray Goulburn suddenly informed dairy producers that they would not only be getting that price any longer but they would be going back retrospectively and taking back the money that they’d been paying them since that $5.60 price was put in place. Now up until yesterday when I sought a briefing from the Department under the caretaker conventions, Barnaby Joyce had said nothing about this crisis. He is very quick to claim credit for commodity prices when they rise - and it’s never true that he has any credit to take - but when commodity prices are falling or we’ve got a crisis like we have in the dairy industry, he goes missing. His silence on this issue has been deafening.

JOURNALIST: Alright, well you’re calling it a crisis but what in your view needs to be done if anything or is it solely corporate and doesn’t involve government at all?

FITZGIBBON: Well there were some very big questions about the behavior of Murray Goulburn in this case and Ministers don’t direct ASIC -  the regulator -  but certainly if I were the Minister I would be urging ASIC to take a look at what’s been happening down there and that in itself would immediately give dairy farmers some hope because if ASIC finds that the company has been affectively fraudulent in its offerings attempts in the lead up to that capital raising then that would help the dairy producers in any action they might want to take.

JENNETT: So just to explain this for people who aren’t familiar, is there an allegation or a suggestion that the co-op had perhaps inflated prices for a period of time now they’ve come to a more realistic pricing level which is causing pain and they are trying to claw back the difference over the past year or so?

FITZGIBBON: I’ll do my best to explain it simply. To raise capital outside the cooperative Murray Goulburn had to have the consent of the members of the co-operative; in other words the dairy producers. To do that and to be able to demonstrate the yield they might provide to the lender of the money they set these very high prices. Now, of course the dairy producers said, “wow”, if we are going to get $5.60 a litre then we’re all in for this capital raising venture. Now the allegation is that the capacity to secure the price on international markets to make that deal work was never a realistic one and if the board and the senior management didn’t know that they at least should have known that. Now already both the CEO and the Chief Financial Officer have resigned over this but more questions need to be asked. ASIC needs to be in there asking those questions and whatever the outcome of those inquiries might very well be helpful to producers.

JENNETT: Alright, we are in caretaker mode it would be fully open to you to send a letter of referral or any sort of letter to ASIC. Have you done that will you do that?

FITZGIBBON: Well I’ve also been relatively quiet for 12 days now hoping not to politicise. Hoping Barnaby Joyce would finally move but of course the issue has been building and building and building and by yesterday I’d just had enough. So I have asked the Department for a briefing, I want to take the responsible path; my objective is to help the farmers not to make political capital out of this issue. Barnaby Joyce has been too slow. I now on your program urge ASIC to look at this very serious issue.

JENNETT: Alright. Look just a couple of other things on the campaign trail. Looseness it seems on the part of some candidates are the boat turnbacks. Is Labor united on this or is this going to be a headache right through the campaign – even today where Bill Shorten is there is a candidate who has photographs previously in recent weeks supporting refugees staying in Australia.

FITZGIBBON: Well Labor is very united. We had this debate as recently as our National Conference last year and it was wide ranging and quite a robust debate  We reaffirmed the position we’ve held for many years now across a range of governments and now in opposition and that is that we won’t open again the opportunity for people smugglers to put people on leaky boats - including children -  leaky boats that may or may not make it to the other end.

JENNETT: And then you would turn them around if they were intercepted while Labor –

FITZGIBBON: We have consistently said if turning a boat back is the best way of protecting people’s lives we’ll keep that option alive, yes

JENNETT: Do you tolerate dissent from that view within the party?

FITZGIBBON: Well look this is a very emotional issue. We are all in the same cart here; I almost said boat, that would have been a terrible pun. We all want to ensure people smugglers don’t have the opportunity to put people on the high seas at great risk. People have different views about the best way of making sure that doesn’t happen. The party collectively has decided the best way to ensure that that doesn’t happen is to out the people smugglers out of business.

JENNETT: But not everyone is getting that message.

FITZGGIBON: Well people are emotional about the issue of course. I am, everyone is. I’ve seen this issue bring people to tears but the Party collectively has determined the best way to ensure we put the people smugglers out business is to keep all of those options alive.

JENNETT: Alright, Joel Fitzgibbon thank you.

FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure. 

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