ABC News 24 Afternoon Live Interview

ABC News 24 Afternoon Live Interview
Tuesday, 8 APRIL 2014

SUBJECT: Free Trade Deal.

TONY EASTLEY: Well Joel Fitzgibbon is the Opposition agriculture spokesman he is live with us from Canberra. Joel Fitzgibbon, Tony Abbott says Australia has done very well with these free trade agreements, would you agree.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well Tony we do try to take a bi-partisan view of these things. This is team Australia negotiating with the rest of the world but as the day has gone on I have found it increasingly difficult to defend this deal. I’m yet to see an agricultural peak body group give this agreement with Japan the tick of approval.

TONY EASTLEY: But there are elements within agriculture that have done ok aren’t there.

FITZGIBBON: Ah true, beef for example will be an improvement but you’ve got to realise that we’ll go from - if your rounding these things up - 30 percent tariff to a just less than sorry almost a 40 percent tariff to just less than 20 percent over a 15 to 18 year period. That's incremental and a long way off and of course unlike many of these international agreements there is no plan to go to zero on beef. So if anyone is a winner it’s beef but the beef industry has made it quite clear they are very disappointed with this agreement.

EASTLEY: But do you think a labor government would have done any better given the consideration that these things have dragged on for years anyway.

FITZGIBBON: Well that’s true Tony. These things can be protracted, they are difficult negotiations and again from opposition we try not to fire pot shots. We let the government do their best. But it’s pretty hard not to get the feeling that it’s now one-all between the Liberal Party and the National Party. The National Party had a win on GrainCorp, unfortunately, and the Liberal Party has had a big win on this one. I think the National Party members - and one of them has been quite outspoken today in George Christensen - will be very very disappointed by this deal.

EASTLEY: If I can step away from that politic for the moment, why do you think there are losers in this. Is it more to do with the intransigents of Japan and Korea rather than failures by Australia’s negotiators.

FITZGIBBON: Well like Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Chinese, all try to get the best deal for their local economies and those who make up those economies, and protection is unfortunately alive and well right around the world. That's why we have been so long trying to get a Doha round. So we fight for our interests and they fight for theirs and sometimes there are trade-offs to get at least part of the outcome you’re looking for and it’s pretty clear to me that Tony Abbott for whatever reason has decided to sort of push agriculture aside as a priority in order to get some other agreements in place. 

EASTLEY: Does it have any sort of foreboding for future free trade negotiations with China.

FITZGIBBON: Well the precedence are concerning, I mean a free trade agreement that doesn’t eventually take you to zero is I think a very bad precedence.

EASTLEY: Is that really realistic getting down to zero at least in the short term.

FITZGIBBON: Well to the government’s credit the South Korean agreement has arrangements in place that eventually take us to zero. Whether it was realistic in the end with Japan is a matter for those who were inside the room but I know that there were very high expectations in the beef industry that they would do much better than what they have done today.

EASTLEY: Now Warren Truss is quoted as saying there has to be an element of give and take when it comes to these negotiations but you’re saying that the coalition the National Party is going to be deeply disappointed by this.

FITZGIBBON: Well give and take yes and look, you know, I should stress that we are trying to keep our powder dry. We haven’t seen all the detail of this agreement. There are undoubtingly some positive aspects here but the give has been given by the agricultural sector so that the government could take a win in other areas and I think as the days go by - over the course of the next few days - it will become more clear who were the winners at the expense of the agriculture sector.

EASTLEY: James Packer who has been travelling with the Prime Minister on this Asian trip has said that Kevin Rudd took Australia’s relations with Asia back 5 years. What do you have to say to that.

FITZGIBBON: Well like any of our key business leaders I’ve got enormous respect for James Packer but I was really surprised to see those comments. I think out there in the market place people - they might have thought various of Kevin in various policy areas - saw him as someone very very competent in foreign affairs, saw him as someone who knows Asia better than anyone and therefore someone who made very good strides in Asia. And I think Julia Gillard to her credit had a very very successful trip to China towards the end of her term as Prime Minister so I don’t know what James Packer is going on about to be quite frank with you.

EASTLEY: You don’t know why he would make those comments now.

FITZGIBBON: Oh I suspect James Packer is closer to the Liberal Party (Laughs) than he is to the Labor Party and he is on the trip with the Prime Minister and there would be some expectations that people who are on that trip play a positive role and make a contribution towards the success of the trip and the spin from the government has been pretty good on this FTA. And you know I don’t deny them that,  I give them credit for that. But I again - as the days go by more and more information will drip out about how inadequate this agreement might be and of course, I think the fact that the Prime Minister has very quickly moved back to South Korea -  a deal that was struck many weeks ago - is an indication that over the next few days he’d rather be talking about South Korea than he would about Japan.

EASTLEY: I’ll have to wait and see opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon thanks for joining us on Afternoon’s.

FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure Tony.       ENDS
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