ABC RN DRIVE
THURSDAY, 9 JULY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s royal commission; Public Funding; Shenhua coal mine.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Front bench described by one political commentator as his Pretorian guard are standing by their Leader and his performance at the Trade Union Royal Commission, but there has been a bit of a ripple in the ranks. Bob Hogg a former National Secretary of the ALP says Bill Shorten should resign and for the good of the party over his late political donate declaration. Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Agriculture Minister and joins us on a range of issues. Welcome to RN Drive.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Great to be with you.
KARVELAS: What do you think of Mr Hogg’s very public criticism of Mr Shorten?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s all very strange. Of course, I disagree with Bob Hogg. I don’t know what motivated him or indeed what prompted him to jump onto social media given he knows better than anyone else, through his own experiences, how easy it is to make a mistake or an omission in what is a very complexed declaration system.
KARVELAS: How do you think Bill Shorten has performed over the last couple of days, all these deals that have been put to him, the Commission are saying that he is not answering questions clearly?
FITZGIBBON: Well unlike long suffering people like Malcolm, I obviously haven’t had the time to watch it blow by blow. But from what I have seen he has performed extraordinarily well. He has answered all the questions over a very long two days and I think he has been able to demonstrate his commitment to those who he has represented all of his working life. I think it has gone very well for him.
KARVELAS: So what does that mean for his future ? Do you think there is going to be any move on the leadership given this has certainly destabilised his leadership?
FITZGIBBON: Well I have a rare night at home and I’ve watched two news bulletins tonight and this story didn’t make the top three stories which I think is telling in itself. Why not -
KARVELAS: Which Channels?
FITZGIBBON: I watched Seven and Nine at least the local version up here in the Hunter and I think that indicates what is true – and that is that after two tortuous days no balloon went up no king-hit was made on Bill Shorten and of course, what is really important, that he enjoys enormous support and loyalty in the party room and that counts a lot.
KARVELAS: You’ve been vocal about wanting to improve transparency around political donations, the timing is a little odd given what has come out in the Trade Union Royal Commission about Bill Shorten taking so many years to declare this $40,000.
FITZGIBBON: No that statement derived from a question that I was asked on the ABC about ABC Four Corners and their Mafia story. I was asked about that, I hadn’t followed that closely but I did say that it is a reminder that we are overdue for electoral funding reform in this country.
KARVELAS: You want to remove the reliance on private donations with the system of publicly funded political parties.
FITZGIBBON: Well firstly I’d like to see more emphasis on public funding and a lesser reliance on the need to be out there fundraising because I’m of the view that no matter how honest politicians are and no matter how hard they try to remain objective they are always going to feel a little bit obligated to at least hear from those who are making political donations to them. But I think Gary Gray makes very good points about transparency. In other words, if we are going to take donations we need to ensure that everyone and anyone can, with the click of a mouse, at any time in real time, inform themselves about who we are taking donations from.
KARVELAS: Your colleague as you just referred to him Gary Gray says it’s going to be too expensive to do it though.
FITZGIBBON: Well he believes a full public funding model is too expensive. I appreciate those comments given the major parties alone between them at elections these days would spend around I suspect north of $100 million. So it would be a big weight on the taxpayer. But there are hybrids you can use as well, which they have done in New South Wales by the way, which reduce your capacity to take private donations and makes people more dependent on public funding and I think that appears to be working very well.
KARVELAS: Moving on to this controversial of a Chinese coal mine in Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s New England seat, you say Mr Joyce should resign. Why should he resign?
FITZGIBBON: Well I didn’t say he should resign. I did say he should consider his position. And by the way it was Barnaby that knocked off the Royal Commission on the news bulletins I saw tonight. Simply because he is the local member there and at the same time he is a senior member of the Cabinet, no less than the Deputy Leader of the National Party, and under the Westminster System he can’t hope to serve both sets of principals and people in this circumstance. I reminded people today of the case of Gary Punch, a Hawke Government Minister who resigned when Hawke decided to progress the third runway at Sydney airport. But making this worse is the fact that Barnaby Joyce five minutes before the New South Wales election in March took Greg Hunt, the consent Minister, to the Liverpool Plains to walk across the land - the site at which the coal mine would be built - to send a very clear signal in my view, to the local community, that the Government was reconsidering its position and wasn’t likely to support this mine. Now that’s a terrible misleading of the local community and my view is that it’s really advice to Barnaby Joyce. If he wants to have any hope, with Tony Windsor bitting at his heels, of rebuilding the confidence and support of his local community he really needs to demonstrate that he is serious about not supporting the Cabinet decision.
KARVELAS: On RN Drive my guest is Joel Fitzgibbon the Shadow Agriculture Minister. What do you make of this? Do you think the Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce should stand aside given he has a different position to the Government on this coal mine ? 0418 226 576 is our text line if you can text us your view. Tony Abbott says Mr Joyce has a right to oppose the mine if he his constituents don’t like it and there is no need for him to resign. Let’s take a listen to what he had to say about this earlier today.
TONY ABBOTT: I can remember some years ago in the life of the Howard Government, I was very vocal about mobile phone base stations that had been placed in my electorate and I was very hostile to them but I also accepted that there were Government policies and things happened under Government policies and sometime as a local member you’ve got to give voice to the feelings of your constituents while at the same time being a loyal member of the Government.
KARVELAS: Joel, isn’t that right, isn’t it just actually good demonstration actually of democracy that he would be advocating strongly for something even if he ended up being you know rolled.
FITZGIBBON: Patricia while mobile phone towers can be controversial in local electorates - we all know that - I think people in the Liverpool Plains will be offended that Tony Abbott was comparing a mobile phone tower to this extraordinarily intrusive mine in some of the richest agricultural country in the country. And course, Tony Abbott wasn’t the Minister for Communications. So this is Barnaby Joyce’s real problem. He is the Minister for Agriculture, he sits at the most senior levels of the Government, I don’t know what period Tony Abbott was talking about and how senior he was at the time? I noticed he didn’t clarify that. But he is the Agriculture Minister, this is a threat to agriculture, he is the Deputy Leader of the National Party, it’s his own home electorate and again I say, to make it worse he mislead his local community back in March when he dragged Greg Hunt there and, somewhat inappropriately given Greg Hunt’s responsibilities, with a clear intention of leading his community to believe just before the State Election, where of course they were in trouble -
KARVELAS: And they will have the opportunity to decide whether they want to vote for him or not and that’s as you know too well it happens every three years and everyone gets a chance to vote for their local member or not if they are not pleased with the way they’ve delivered. What’s your position on the mine?
FITZGIBBON: Well I’ve said today in a number of interviews, that I’m a very strong supporter of coal mining industry, you would expect me to say that given the nature of my own electorate. But I’ve also said on a number of occasions publicly that while we desperately need coal mining and the jobs and the energy and the foreign earnings it earns us we can’t have a situation where an extractive industry which may last another 100 years - depending on what global demand looks like for fossil fuels - we can’t have that extracted at the expense of our sustainable industries. Hopefully our food sector will sustain us for thousands of years -
KARVELAS: So should I interpret that as you’re opposed to this mine approval.
FITZGIBBON: No what I am saying is that every case needs to be take on its merits. I don’t have all the information -
KARVELAS: I can tell you that Greg Hunt says it’s been approved with 18 of the strictest conditions in Australian history
FITZGIBBON: And I heard Greg Hunt saying that he is going to stop - he has a button to press - if things go wrong. Well, as people in that area know, once one thing has gone wrong well it’s too late to press a button -
KARVELAS: So Joel you’re sitting on the fence on this
FITZGIBBON: No I’m not sitting on the fence because no one can come to a conclusion about the rights or wrongs of a particular project unless they have all the information before them. But I will say this; the number of conditions Hunt has put on his approval indicates that, while we never expect these projects to be zero risk, but indicates to me that Greg Hunt believes that there are significant risks here otherwise he wouldn’t need to be puting so many conditions on and he wouldn’t need to be pulling this button pressing exercise which I’ve never heard before - idea that he can just hit a button and stop the project if something goes wrong. That suggests to me that Greg Hunt is very nervous about the environmental impacts of this project and therefore the impact on our rich agricultural soils and that does concern me.
KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon it’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
FITZGIBBON: And for me, thank you.
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