TUESDAY, 14 JULY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Live cattle exports; Shenhua coal mine, Cabinet solidarity
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: As you know this morning cattle producers right around Australia woke to the shocking news that the Indonesian Government is going to dramatically reduce the number of live cattle it takes from Australia through the course of the next quarter. This will have effects for cattle producers’ right around the country particularly those in our north. Farming families, cattle producers and the industry more generally is looking for an explanation from government. It’s looking for some reassurance that things will get better, that this is only a short term hiccup for the sector. And yet, the government is missing in action. Barnaby Joyce is nowhere to be seen. People are calling for his reassurance yet he is in hiding. He has no relationship with his Prime Minister. The relationship with Indonesia is a very very complex one. One which needs constant care and work and yet at the moment we have a Prime Minister and an Agriculture Minister who can’t even be seen together let alone have a conversation, at this point in time when cattle producers and their families need them most.
JOURNALIST: With this reduction in cattle imports is this because of broader tensions between the two countries ?
FITZGIBBON: Well these are very complexed issues. We don’t really know the detail of the reason because neither the Prime Minister nor his Agriculture Minister have been prepared to offer an explanation. You’d hope that they’d be on the phone to their Indonesian counterparts. You’d hope that Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce would be talking to one another today, but we know that not to be the case. By their own admission they did not see this problem coming. That's because they have had their eye off the ball - more concerned about their internal polls, with our coal mines, about Q&A etc - than worrying about the interests of cattle producers right around Australia and all those sectors they support.
JOURNALIST: Do you think this is payback for the turning back the boats and If so do you think Australia should be turning back boats?
FITZGIBBON: We do know the relationship with Indonesia has deteriorated since Tony Abbott was elected but these things are far more complex. What we do know is that it is a relationship that needs constant care and attention. It’s very clear that the Prime Minister, the Trade Minister and the Agriculture Minister have been asleep at the wheel. People are now looking for some guidance from them but sadly the Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister aren’t even talking to one another. Barnaby Joyce is usually very quick to run to the cameras when he believes he is in a position to claim good news but he is missing in action when there is bad news to share and he is certainly missing in action today when cattle producers need him most.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what’s Federal Labor’s stand on the Shenhua mine in the Hunter Valley?
FITZGIBBON: Well I’ve said many times very publicly that the Opposition doesn’t have all the information available to it as does Minister Hunt to be making these decisions. They need to be evidence based; they need to be based on the science. The big issue here is Barnaby Joyce. He is clearly in breach of Cabinet solidarity. The rules are very clear. He needs to back in the government’s decision or walk away from the Cabinet. Indeed that would be my best advice to Barnaby Joyce because the only way he now restores faith and confidence and support in his own electorate is to demonstrate that he cares, to demonstrate he is on their side by walking away from the Cabinet.
JOURNALIST: Farmers are really angry. Are you going to form a position?
FITZGIBBON: Farmers are angry about the Shenhua mine?
FITZGIBBON: Famers are very angry and they should be angry. Their anger has been amplified by Minister Hunt’s decision to go the Liverpool Plains just prior to the New South Wales State Election to announce he was stopping the clock on the project. In other words, he was sending the signal that he was opposing the mine but of course five minutes after the State Election he took a different view. So farmers in the Liverpool Plains are entitled to be angry, they have been misled by Minister Hunt and indeed mislead by Barnaby Joyce who stood alongside him on that occasion. So yes, they have every right to be angry. Thank you.