TUESDAY, 26 MAY 2015

SUBJECT/S: Dr Paul Grimes sacking; Agriculture White Paper; Tony Abbott’s second Budget.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS:  A couple of months ago, Tony Abbott made a guarantee to the House of Representatives that he would hand over all documents and correspondence relating to the sacking of Dr Paul Grimes, the then Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.  It took a Senate Estimates hearing yesterday for us to learn there is still documentation outstanding, including, as we understand it, a piece of correspondence between Dr Grimes and, we think, the Prime Minister in which I suspect Dr Grimes gives somewhat of a character assessment of Minister Barnaby Joyce.  I wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday asking him to commit to his original guarantee to the Parliament that he would release all documents including that letter between Dr Grimes and himself.

This whole saga has been like drawing teeth. The question is, what does the Prime Minister have to hide, other than covering for the incompetence and embarrassment of Minister Barnaby Joyce?  I think the Australian community is entitled to know why a professional public servant of high standing and respect like Paul Grimes was sacked from the position of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

Senate Estimates produced a couple of other things yesterday.  We’ve now gone twenty months in this country without an agriculture policy and the Government still isn’t able to tell us when it will deliver its now infamous White Paper.  We did learn that the Task Force associated with the White Paper so far cost about $2.6 million but still absolutely no result.

We also learned yesterday that the Research and Development Corporations which Barnaby Joyce is pushing out of Canberra, along with the APVMA which regulates chemicals on farm, are all saying that these moves will not only cost them dearly, in the order of $40 million that’s $30 million that should have been spent on research and development and about a $10 million cost to the APVMA.  They are all saying unanimously that this will be a bad thing for their organisations and will severely impact upon their capacity to deliver for Australian farmers and all those industries that are associated with Australian farming.

Barnaby Joyce needs to give up on this brain snap, this thought bubble, that he’s had.  He is trying to push RDC’s and the APVMA out of Canberra without any strategic plan and it is going to cost Australian agriculture very, very dearly.

JOURNALIST:  You mention some of the delays, what impact has that had on the [inaudible] sector itself?

FITZGIBBON: The Agriculture White Paper?  Australian agriculture and, therefore, Australia more generally, has an enormous opportunity with food demand in Asia.  But while our competitors are on the march, we are sitting idle in Australia, waiting without any agriculture policy, awaiting Barnaby Joyce’s mysterious White Paper and when pushed on the issue yesterday, we were not able to secure any guarantee that we will see it anytime soon.  This is despite the fact that a few weeks ago, around Budget, Barnaby Joyce said he was in a position to drop it that day if he liked but he wanted the dust to settle on the Budget and didn’t want it to get lost within the announcements of the Budget.

It’s clear that this has become dysfunctional.  The White Paper is going from Barnaby’s office to the PMO back to Barnaby’s office to Finance back to Barnaby’s office to the PMO, because people obviously can’t agree on the makeup of the White Paper.  Someone once infamously said, from Barnaby Joyce’s own side, that this is a paper full of all the crackpot ideas we’ve heard for the last twenty years and that’s sounding more and more like that is the case.

JOURNALIST:  Do you have any concerns about proposed laws to strip dual nationals of their Australian citizenship if they join a terrorist group?

FITZGIBBON:  Well this Government very good at floating thought bubbles and expecting everyone to respond and it usually does so when it’s in some sort of political difficulty or it is trying to distract from other issues.  Like all these very serious proposals which in anyway relate to National Security we will consider it when provided with the detail but we are yet to see any such detail.

JOURNALIST:  Do you believe that this is a thought bubble because there is a distraction at the table?  To distract?

FITZGIBBON:  Look I think any issue around National Security is an issue to be taken seriously.  I do believe that Tony Abbott is fond of trying to shift the debate constantly back onto issues around National Security.  They are very important but there are some very, very important cost of living issues around at the moment, as demonstrated by the NATSEM modelling and while we are very, very keen to have debates around National Security, we are also very keen to have debates around the impact on cost of living of the second Abbott Budget.  In combination, of course, with his first Budget which is still severely impacting upon Australian families.


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