ABC NEWS 24
MONDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Ministerial portfolio responsibilities; Newspoll; Coalition dissent.
GREG JENNETT: The Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce is negotiating with the Prime Minister over his ministerial portfolio duties. The Nationals you might remember somewhat controversially managed to get responsibility for water and presumably the Murray-Darling Basin back into the agriculture portfolio, but that hasn't been locked down in written arrangements known as charter letters, not yet anyway. Barnaby Joyce is confident it will all fall into place but to talk about that and other issues of the day we're joined by Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, why is this significant? We're talking about administrative arrangements but why does it matter?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Well this is the story most of the media missed execution week. Barnaby Joyce made it very very clear that he didn't want Malcolm Turnbull to be Prime Minister. Malcolm Turnbull didn't like that situation, he needed to curry some favour with Barnaby Joyce, so he promised he'd give him the water portfolio. But it was clear very early in the piece that it's been a sleight of hand, Malcolm Turnbull has duped Barnaby Joyce, tricked him into believing he'd have responsibility for water. All the important water responsibilities remain with Greg Hunt in the environment portfolio.
JENNETT: There have been some suggestions that the assistant or junior Minister, a Senator from South Australia Anne Ruston, might have become the beneficiary of what you're calling a sleight of hand, but are you suggesting that all of the mechanics actually sit in the environment portfolio?
FITZGIBBON: Well that’s right. The ongoing responsibility for the EPBC Act, that is including the water trigger, remains with Greg Hunt. Responsibility for the Commonwealth water holder remains with Greg Hunt, that's the key to determining environmental flows for example in the Murray-Darling Basin. Barnaby Joyce doesn't have responsibilities in anything other than name. Now the real shame in all this is that the first act of Tony Abbott was to take Fisheries and Forestry out of the agriculture title and now we find a situation where those sectors have been hit hard again because they don't know whether they have an assistant Minister, they don't know who they should be talking to and indeed the department doesn't know who to talk to on forestry and fisheries issues. Why? Because Malcolm Turnbull’s been reluctant to be too specific about the ministerial arrangements because once he gets very specific it will be clear to everyone that Barnaby Joyce has been tricked; that in fact he doesn't have responsibility for water.
JENNETT: Leaving fisheries and forestry aside, just going back to water for the moment, if it stood as you say it does, Labor would actually be happy with that wouldn't they?
FITZGIBBON: We are very relieved that Barnaby Joyce won't have control of the environmental flows in the Murray-Darling Basin in particular. John Howard made a determination that it should be with the environment department, Malcolm Turnbull for all of his time as water Minister in the Howard years determined it should stay with the environment. We had it with environment; we would have put it back in environment if Malcolm Turnbull had been true to his word to Barnaby Joyce, but yeah, we are relieved that Barnaby Joyce will not get his hands on environmental water flows.
JENNETT: Now Barnaby Joyce was saying that all of this is still to be settled in ministerial charter letters that could go out later this week. Do you accept that it's not actually settled at the moment?
FITZGIBBON: I accept that any Prime Minister has the right to change his mind and change the arrangements at any time but the original orders that came out made it clear that all the primary responsibilities for water remain with Greg Hunt.
JENNETT: Would this make Malcolm Turnbull a master negotiator or someone who is now sitting on a political time bomb within his own Coalition?
FITZGIBBON: Well it was pretty clever. We're talking now prior to the ballot and while Barnaby Joyce doesn't have a direct vote, he and his National colleagues were making plenty of noise and were in a position potentially to take votes away from Malcolm Turnbull. So the now Prime Minister fixed that up very nicely, promised Barnaby water, he told Warren Truss and Barnaby Joyce that they could run around saying there was a new agreement between the Coalition parties, we now know that was not true, there's a what they describe as a side letter confirming what was in the original agreement, and yet Barnaby Joyce had implied at least that they needed a new agreement because there was something wrong with the old agreement. So they have got themselves in one hell of a mess.
JENNETT: Alright so let's see how that plays out. It's been three weeks since we’ve noted already today since parliament last sat. You have previously managed tactics and business in the House. How might Labor's approach be different now that it's had a longer think about Malcolm Turnbull and this new look Government?
FITZGIBBON: Well we'll want to focus on policy and in particular we will be wanting to make the point I would expect, I'm not involved in the tactics so much these days, that while there's been a change of leadership in the Coalition nothing's changed in policy terms. All the things that Malcolm Turnbull has stood for all of his life including climate change and addressing it for example remain the same policies that made Tony Abbott so unpopular so I would expect that not just in Question Time but over the coming months we will be drilling down into some of that and exposing Malcolm Turnbull's hypocrisy.
JENNETT: Is it sustainable though because as each week or each month passes the odds that policy might change in Mr Turnbull's image also alter as well, so can that argument still be mounted in six, eight or twelve months’ time?
FITZGIBBON: It's sustainable for as long as Malcolm Turnbull retains Tony Abbott's policies. So while ever he's sending the same policy message out that Tony Abbott was sending, whether it be cuts to higher education, whether it be to penalty rates, whether it be to climate change denial, whatever, while ever he sticks to Tony Abbott's policies, we will be reminding people that while there's been a change of leader, the Government is exactly the same.
JENNETT: We're seeing 50/50 in the latest Newspoll after preferences but on some of the personality measures like better Prime Minister, Bill Shorten is fully 38 points behind Malcolm Turnbull. How does he turn that around?
FITZGIBBON: Look anyone who can take responsibility for executing Tony Abbott is going to receive significant reward in the polls in the short-term. Now Malcolm Turnbull was always going to enjoy a honeymoon period but if I were Malcolm Turnbull and those who backed him in I'd be really concerned about 50/50 in the middle of a honeymoon that will be of real concern to the old heads in the Party.
JENNETT: You're suggesting what the only way is down from here?
FITZGIBBON: Well he’s in a honeymoon period and the best he has reached is 50/50. I do think that will be of concern to them, it's hard for them to get better from here, particularly while Malcolm's willingness to sell all of his principles to stick with Tony Abbott's policies and in doing so and it's all about an attempt to secure the votes he needed and to retain sort of some sort of internal support, while ever that is going on he'll continue to struggle.
JENNETT: Alright and Tony Abbott we're going to see him on the backbench, that's a historic moment today. Will we be likely seeing Labor making that known publicly and drawing attention to it in the parliament?
FITZGIBBON: We trust people will notice Tony Abbott sitting up the back there as a constant reminder of the instability that sits just under the surface in the Coalition parties. We saw that at the NSW council meeting on the weekend, you've only got to scratch the surface and it's there and Tony Abbott will be a constant reminder that Malcolm Turnbull was prepared to sell out all of his policy principles in order to steal the main prize, notwithstanding the damage that it's done to so many in the party.
JENNETT: Joel Fitzgibbon let's see how Labor prosecutes those arguments in the Parliament but thanks for your time today.