SUNDAY, 28 JUNE 2015


PETER VAN ONSELEN:  Hello and welcome to Australian Agenda, thanks very much for your company.  Well, the long winter recess is upon us the last two sitting weeks that were just past now have been an interesting period of time for the Opposition, it feels like the Government is finding its feet, but of course according to the opinion polls it is still trailing, even though momentum is with it.  We have had a lot of discussion around citizenship and of course we have had a lot of discussion around the economy with parts of the budget continuing to pass through the parliament even it seems with some support with some support from the Labor party.  Watching where Bill Shorten goes from here will be interesting.

Our first guest this morning is Joel Fitzgibbon, he is the only rural member of the front bench of the Labor party.  We will also be talking to him about his Shadow agricultural responsibilities ahead of the release of the White Paper or the response of the White Paper from Barnaby Joyce probably later this week. He will be fronting the National Press Club next week as well.

A little bit later in the program the Greens seem to have changed tactics at least somewhat under the new leadership of Richard Di Natalie.  We will be talking to him live from Melbourne a little while from now, he is negotiating with the Government on some matters, not all, but on some and that puts the Labor in an interesting position. We’ll ask Mr Fitzgibbon about that as well.

Let me start the program by introducing to it senior columnist at the Australian Troy Bramston and Editor at Large Paul Kelly. 

Paul, certainly citizenship has been right in the firing line, we have seen the bill at the start of the week, how do you see the whole issue?

PAUL KELLY:  I think Tony Abbott is now well positioned to get his new citizenship laws through the parliament, the point to make about these laws is their main impact in relation to Australian dual nationals is people who have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria are not likely to be able to get back into the country.  Abbott made a pretty major concession in relation to these laws on the question of Ministerial discretion and the redesign of the proposal now means I think that there is much more unity in government ranks on this issue and it will be easier for the Labor party to support the change.  In terms of policy merit here I think the change is clearly justified in terms of both citizenship laws and values and national security.  Tony Abbott has made the point that effect of this law if it is passed is that about half of the Australians that have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria won’t be able to get back into the country.  Beyond that though the Prime Minister’s also indicated that he wants to go further, that he wants to investigate the possibility of further new laws relating to Australian citizens who aren’t dual nationals who have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria this is a much more complicated issue the legal problems here are much more difficult but there is now doubt that the Prime Minister has signalled that he wants to suspend some citizenship rights in relation to these people and therefore continue the extremely tough line he is taking on citizenship and national security.

PVO: Watching that space will be a little more interesting.  Something else in between the large focus being on citizenship is of course the budget, there have been perhaps surprising number of measures that have passed through the parliament in the last fortnight or so how do you see all of that?

KELLY:  Well I think the most spectacular feature of the week was the Labor party reversal on the reintroduction of fuel excise.  This was a belated and sensible move on part of the Labor party and it relates to one of the main provisions of the first Hockey Budget in 2014.  I think it is a very clear admission by Labor that it got the situation wrong last year when it opposed the reintroduction of the petrol excise.  Frankly, there is no substantial argument against this given the budgetary situation and I think Labor’s position then was very much about putting the populist vote buying ahead of proper budget policy.  Labor was partly motivated to do this because the Greens were negotiating with the Abbott government and Labor couldn’t afford to be out manoeuvred twice in two weeks by the Greens they had previously done a deal with the Abbott Government on pension reform.  I think the bigger story here though is that Labor is showing more flexibility in relation to budget savings and the Abbott Government finishes the fortnight having made distinct progress not just on the Budget but also overall in terms of its political positioning.

PVO:  Paul Kelly, thanks very much for that analysis and as mentioned our special guest here live in the studio is Joel Fitzgibbon, the Shadow Agriculture spokesperson, thanks for your company.


PVO:  Not the best sitting fortnight ahead of the winter recess for the Labor party, I mean, overall the last sixty weeks you have been either been equal or ahead in the polls, but a bit of a momentum shift do you feel?

FITZGIBBON:  Well all things relative, wasn’t our best week, but as you pointed out we do remain ahead in the polls.  This point in the political cycle is never easy for Opposition parties, I still fondly recall I think it was the front page of the Bulletin on John Howard, what was it?  Mr eighteen per cent why does he bother or was it thirteen I’m not sure now.

PVO: I think it was eighteen.

FITZGIBBON:  We saw the Coalition go from Brendan Nelson to Malcolm Turnbull to Tony Abbott unbelievably in my view, so Opposition is tough, but again we remain ahead in the polls.  I think we’ve got a degree of credibility, we are delivering policy pretty early in the term which is unusual for Oppositions, I think we are well placed for a quick run home.

PVO:  But interesting examples that you use there, Mr eighteen per cent, Bill Shorten is not down to eighteen per cent yet, but by the same token John Howard only came back after a stint in the wilderness to become Prime Minister, the leadership changes within the Liberal Party that you talk about, it was those changes in leadership that got them to where they needed to win government.

FITZGIBBON:  Well let’s call a spade a spade, the Prime Minister is making every effort to make this what we call a “khaki election” - one focused on terror and military action.  We prefer as our fighting ground health and education - the things we think are important to developing our future, now that’s tough for a Labor Opposition, but the Prime Minister, I mean this guy is the master of mind manipulation.  He is instilling fear and uncertainty into the community when he really should be instilling hope and aspirations into the community and you know these phrases like “the death cult is coming to get us”, he shouldn’t be able to say that before 9pm at night, what do you think kids think when they hear that sort of talk from their Prime Minister?  So, he is prepared to go to extremes.

PVO:  [interrupts]  How should Labor respond?  You were a former Defence Minister, how do you think Labor should be responding to these political challenges in the context of what you just described?

FITZGIBBON: Well just as we are, we have to be a responsible Opposition.  We make it clear when we support his propositions and pretty clear when we have concerns and he tries to exploit that on every occasion.  It is as if we are having a debate on citizenship, when really from day one we said that we would support this thing in principle.  From the way the Prime Minister speaks you would swear that we are having a knock them down debate in the Parliament about whether this should happening, nothing could be further from the truth.

KELLY:  Isn’t the reality here that Labor sent conflicting messages on citizenship, we have got the statements made by the Shadow Attorney General on this front.  Isn’t the reality here that Labor hasn’t been firm enough and strong enough when it comes to the actual policy position on these new laws?

FITZGIBBON:  Well we see what the polls say long term.  But I think a lot of people do expect us to ask questions about these measures, now I said on another program on Monday night I support pushing back slightly against civil liberties, if it means keeping people safe.  If it saves one life, well that’s a good thing.

KELLY:  Do you think this is the position of the Labor party overall?  This is your position; do you think the Labor party overall is prepared to push back on civil liberties in the course of national security?  Which is of course is what Abbott is doing?

FITZGIBBON:  Well the Labor party has demonstrated a willingness to do so though with earlier legislation, arguably metadata or foreign fighters; but what we have also done is fought hard within the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to make sure those laws are legally robust and of course don’t stretch civil liberties too far for no reason.  There is not much point in developing laws that are either unconstitutional or ineffective, while at the same time pressing civil liberties. We want to make sure that the balance is right and I think that we have been able to demonstrate that in a changing global environment it is time to swing the pendulum slightly to ensure people are safe.  Now that is uncontested, but Tony Abbott wants to make this contestable even though we have not shown any sign of wanting to contest it.

PVO:  But what does Labor do?  You are a hardened political veteran; you know that things getting as tight as they are even though you are still ahead in the polls that the momentum in this situation sees a government invariably push ahead closer to an election, John Howard did it time and time again.

FITZGIBBON:  All Labor can do is the right thing.  When Labor sees a law or proposed law it thinks is going to make the country safer, is constitutionally sound and doesn’t outrageously impinge on civil liberties, we have seen historically where that can lead us as a nation state, so we have to call it as we see it, not play politics with it, as Tony Abbott is determined to do.

TROY BRAMSTON:  Can I ask this question about civil liberties and I guess freedom of speech on Monday you were on the QandA program on the ABC, that of course has been a big issue during the week with Zaky Mallah appearing asking a question.  He has been convicted of threatening to kill Australians and he supports the Islamic Caliphate.  I guess my question to you is on two levels, should we allow freedom of speech for these views to be aired on the national broadcaster and how do we get that balance right and also do you think the ABC has responded appropriately to that issue?

FITZGIBBON:  Well first of all, I do believe it was a mistake having him on live and Mark Scott has conceded that, he suggested it would have been better to have him via video link and I think that is probably right because it wouldn’t have become interactive and I think that is the main point here.  Steve Ciobo incited that situation, in my view, he was seeking a rise out of Zaky Mallah because he knew what the outcome would be both for the ABC and in his mind at least his electoral prospects and the prospects of his party because he was seen to be bashing up on what people think is a person who is a terrorist.  I think that was the most unfortunate part about it but you know Zaky Mallah question was not an inflammatory one, he was complaining about being incarcerated both I think while under being investigation and after he was charged, I think that was his main point.  We really only got onto foreign fighters et cetera when Ciobo took us down that path, now that was unfortunate and it could not have happened if it had been by video link rather than live.

PVO:  What was the reaction like afterwards, I mean, you were there?

FITZGIBBON:  I thought I saw the blood drain from Tony Jones’ face, but it was fairly settled in the studio; it wasn’t as exciting as it has been portrayed since the event.  I do believe there are more important things to be talking about in the public discourse than what happened on QandA and here we are on Sunday and we are still talking about it.

BRAMSTON:  What about this issue about someone who supports the Islamic Caliphate obviously identifies I guess with ISIS concerned with government policies being in a studio in a live broadcast, I mean, is that an issue that the ABC should be looking at?

FITZGIBBON:  Look, I think that there could have been a security issue there and if they have assessed the situation as being non-threatening then I think they may have got it wrong.  But Zaky Mallah is a bad person and we shouldn’t be supporting anything he does or says but he is not a supporter of ISIS, so he claims, and he was asking questions about his own incarceration, and his main point really was he was acquitted on that terrorism charge and what would his prospects have been if Peter Dutton was making the decision, instead of the Supreme Court making the decision.  If Peter Dutton was making the decision, his point was he thinks he would have been in jail a long, long time if it had been up to a Minister with one eye to the politics making the decision.

PVO:  Do you worry in the context of these citizenship laws that one of the things that seems a little bit untested at that this point in time is that if you lose your citizenship whilst you are in Australia for example that you won’t be able to exit the country because where you hold citizenship somewhere else might not be willing to take you back and indefinite detention is then potentially raised as a concern for people who potentially fall into that category, whilst still here.

FITZGIBBON:  These are all questions we will test with the Joint Committee.  We are not saying the citizenship issue isn’t important but we have got to keep it in some perspective in terms of how effective it will be, particularly as a deterrent.  We need to be focusing on here is deterrence and community programs which prevent young men in particular becoming radicalised in the first place, that has to be our focus.

KELLY:  Bill Shorten has had a pretty rough fortnight:  a lot of criticism, extremely bad media commentary about him.  Is his position of Labor leader safe?

FITZGIBBON:  Absolutely Paul, there is no talk of anything in that response.

KELLY:  Why is his position so safe if he is doing so badly?

FITZGIBBON: Well I think I made the point that this is a difficult period for any Opposition Leader and yes let’s call a spade a spade we have got the $80 million dollar investment in the Royal Commission designed entirely to cause difficulty for the Labor Party and we always know that these things bring out old enemies who are prepared to talk to people involved.  Sometimes the things they say will be true sometimes they won’t, so these are difficult times but Bill Shorten has very good policy instincts, very good political instincts.  He has got a very united team and he is benefiting from that and I think once we get through this Royal Commission thing I think that we will be back on our feet and we can get on with it.  But we are opposing a government hell bent on bringing him undone through this Royal Commission.

BRAMSTON:  Can I ask this question about Bill Shorten’s approval rating, it is now down to twenty-eight per cent, that is a dismal rating by any reading whatever your view is about Bill Shorten personally.  You’ve been in Parliament for nearly twenty years, every Labor leader since you have been there has faced a leadership challenge or been involved in some way, Kim Beasley, Simon Crean, Mark Latham, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd.  Now under the old rules, which the leadership was just subject to the Caucus vote, surely he would be under pressure now with an approval rating of just twenty eight per cent.

FITZGIBBON:  Surely, he would not.  I think based on what you have just said very generously or otherwise, I would know that, I’ve never seen such a united Caucus a Caucus so determined to get behind their leader and let’s be frank partly because of what we went through the last few years: internal blues, change of leaderships; so we are all determined to stabilise the show.  We are all behind Bill Shorten.  I can seriously say and honestly say that I have never known an Opposition Leader in my time in the Parliament, sorry Kim Beasley in his early days after the ‘96 election had enormous unity, we were down to 49 seats in the House of Representatives so you’d expect that, but other than possibly Kim, I have never known a leader to have such a united team.

KELLY:  Isn’t the reason for this because as you have just indicated, is because the party is in aftershock from the Rudd/Gillard years?

FITZGIBBON:  I can see that is partly what it is about – the party can’t go through that again, but it is not considering it Paul.  I have not heard one Caucus member start to talk about Bill’s leadership, it just isn’t happening.

KELLY:  Do you think that the Australian public has forgotten about the Rudd/Gillard period or do you think that Labor still operates in the shadow of these years – I am thinking of the Killing Season program and that the Party is yet to recover from the damage being done in the past.

FITZGIBBON:  Well it is pretty hard for the public to forget when it is being played out on national television so recently.  Of course it has an ongoing impact and makes Bill Shorten’s job all the more harder.  I mean, that leadership change, the coup against Rudd, has never been explained to the Australian community, they just don’t understand why it happened, they watched the Killing Season and they saw Rudd in pretty good shape doing good things and that even leaves them more bewildered now.  But we just have to put our heads down, work hard and produce good policy, stay united and get on with it, and hope that people will forget the years past.

KELLY:  But how does Labor recover from the Bill Shorten problem?  He has blood on his hands in relation to both Rudd and Gillard, there is an issue there on trust and loyalty, obviously what was filmed in the Killing Season will be replayed presumably by the Liberal Party in terms of their paid advertising at the next election, how does Labor get beyond this?

FITZGIBBON:  Well we can’t change history Paul, but we can get on with the job, produce good policy and get people talking about what Abbott is doing in health and education, his failures in the environment, the list is very long, if we can get the conversation back onto policy we will be even further in front and we are at the moment in front.

PVO:  We were talking before we came on air about the historical trend of the Labor Party, the number of seats that it wins from different parts of the country when it forms government and you were making the point that upwards of a dozen seats in rural areas are what the party needs to win, to win government when you look at precedent.  At the moment it only holds five, can you find seven, eight, nine seats that you can win in rural areas despite being ahead in the polls at the moment?

FITZGIBBON:  Well just confirming what I said, Labor hasn’t won Federally in thirty years without holding at least thirteen rural seats in a combination of twenty-nine rural and regional seats.  We currently hold five and fourteen respectively, so we have some ground to make up.  I think the first five rural seats are pretty easy to find, seats like Page, Eden Monaro, Capricornia, Braddon, Lyons in Tasmania and then I concede it gets a little more difficult in terms of the margins of those seats.

PVO:  Why is that?  Is it the case of the Labor Party needing to do more to engage or even re-engage with rural Australia or is it demographic shifts?

FITZGIBBON:  I think there are two points, you are losing a lot of working class jobs in rural Australia, manufacturing plants for example, which used to be home to many Labor voters but I don’t mind conceding either that the Labor Party has slightly taken its eye off the ball, it hasn’t energetic enough in rural and regional Australia and that’s why I am reinvigorating Country Labor and indeed a Country Caucus which if you like is a group of rural and regional MPs which hunt as pack internally making sure those around the leadership table are constantly thinking about rural and regional Australia when it is developing policy or responding to Government legislation.

PVO:  Small pack though, so it is difficult to start with there and the other issue, just as you are saying this I’m thinking about the issues around how you elect the leader the inclusion of the membership base, it all sends the Party more and more into not just the city but the inner city you could almost argue all the mechanics of the Party are almost moving against what you’re trying to do to reinvigorate the Party in the regions.

FITZGIBBON:  All the more reason why we need to build up our party base in the bush so that people in the bush are having an input into all of those processes.  There is another point I want to make, I send a lot of my time in seats that the Labor party will probably never win.  Why?  Because I want to bring contestability to those electorates.  I want to do good things for those electorates by contesting what the Nationals for example, are doing.  I honestly believe that many of these National MPs take their electorates for granted, if I can go in and do more work and increase that contestability I might not win the seat but it will be a good thing for the local area and it will build Labor’s base.

PVO:  What about affirmative action?  I mean, the Labor Party well known has affirmative action on gender as a basis to see the number of women in its ranks increase.  What about affirmative action for the regions?

FITZGIBBON:  Well it is interesting that you say that because I have been looking at the Party rules to see if there is some way of giving more weight to what rural and regional representatives have to say in the Parliament even.  It is a difficult issue of course, but only this week we saw a report by PwC which has confirmed in terms of poverty we are seeing a growing gap between city and bush.  You have got to ask yourself what the current Government is doing about that? I would suggest nil.  And I want the Labor Party to fill that space.

PVO:  Are you up for AA in that sort of space?  Practicalities to be considered, philosophically is this something you feel is worth Labor considering?

FITZGIBBON:  Well for the first time at this coming National Conference, we will have a resolution establishing a formal Country Labor network under the National Rules.  Giving some formality to what has been happening in New South Wales for example for a long, long time.  So one step at a time so we will see where it takes us, but I am investigating opportunities to give rural and regional members more weight, and a greater opportunity for input into the policy making process.

KELLY:  What about on the policy front though?  I mean what are you going to do on policy, what policies can you roll out to try and revive the position of the Party in the bush?

FITZGIBBON:  Well, you divide these into two categories, there are those rural policies; Health and Education are policies for the bush as much as Agriculture is.  So we need to identify the deficiencies and inconsistencies in delivery in rural and regional Australia and respond to that in policy terms.  But we also have to directly deal with issues in agriculture and one thing we can’t have in agriculture is just more of the same.  I mean, this Government is now 6 months late with its White Paper and I am getting increasingly nervous that it won’t be a document of quality or merit.  But what really intrigues me is the Terms of Reference takes no account of a changing climate, and sustainability issues.  Now surely the land sector is the sector most affected by a changing climate and yet this Government does not want to recognise that.  And if you don’t recognise it you are not going to have policies to address it.

BRAMSTON:  Can I ask you to step back on the issue of an Agricultural White Paper, what is your general philosophical view?  Because there is a view I guess, the old agrarian socialists in the National Party tend to want more government control and more government intervention, controls on prices, on regulation, export markets and so on.  What’s your view?  Are you an open market person when it comes to agriculture and rural industries or are you more of a government intervention guy?

FITZGIBBON:  My view is everything theirs is not.  I am an open market sort of a guy.  We do need lots of foreign investment if we are to realise our aspirations.  And we need market based policies so that our limited natural resources, and depleting resources in some cases, are going to where they will deliver the right return.  I mean, water policy in the Murray Darling Basin is a good example, where water now goes to where it is going to deliver the highest return because it is priced.  Now a White Paper shouldn’t be a wish list, or a list of regulation approaches, or even a list of dams that are going to be built.  It should be a strategic document which delivers strategic guidance to the private sector, aligning government aspirations with private sector aspirations, ensuring we are providing, if you like, the path of least resistance in the area where we believe Australia will have the greatest opportunities to deliver the highest returns.  It is a strategic document not a wish list of spending promises which I fear it will be.

KELLY:  We talk a lot about the enormous potential for Australian food exports in Asia, do you think the country and the Government are prepared to accept the levels of enormous foreign investment we need to even begin to realise this aspiration?

FITZGIBBON:  Apparently this Government is not and it is a great tragedy.  I recognise there is sometimes inexplicable concern in the community about foreign investment; particularly it seems if it is from Asia.  And the Government’s role, understanding that we need this investment desperately, is to show leadership, to show the way, to explain to people why we need it, why it won’t be damaging to our community or our economy.  But instead it is raising fears; it is fuelling these fears by changing FRIB thresholds et cetera which is most disappointing.  The well-known Greener Pastures report, (the ANZ bank, Port Jackson Partners), says by 2050 to fulfil our aspirations we will need $600 billion, that’s with a B, of infrastructure investment.  As an island continent with 23 million people and limited savings we are not going to get anywhere near that without huge capital inflows…

KELLY: [interrupts]  now given what you have just said, can we therefore assume that Labor in government will operate a more liberal foreign investment regime in relation to agriculture than the Abbott Government does?

FITZGIBBON:  We certainly won’t be running a discriminatory foreign investment regime which is what this Government is now doing.  If you are from the US you get one rule and if you are from Asia you receive another.  And we certainly won’t be doing what they’re doing and that is putting up unnecessary barriers in the way of foreign investment, things like big application fees – which is just gouging.  $735 million to the Budget bottom line in charges for potential foreign investors and we certainly won’t have ridiculously low thresholds which only creates a queue and sends potential foreign investors elsewhere.

KELLY:  OK, now what about investment from state-owned enterprises, and in particular of course from China, are you prepared to accept substantial foreign investment from those entities?

FITZGIBBON:  Well of course the rules don’t change Paul.  For a long, long time any state-owned business comes straight to the Foreign Investment Review Board.  That should be the case, and under us will continue to be the case.  Some of them will have merit and some of them might not.  But it is always been thus that the Treasurer will have a look at each and every one of them and that should continue.

KELLY:  I just want to clarify though, will a Labor Government, following that procedure, be prepared to accept significant foreign investment into agriculture from state-owned enterprises?

FITZGIBBON:  Well let’s give an example, say the Norway pension fund owned by the Norwegian Government wants to put substantial money into our beef and dairy sector, for example, we would welcome that.

KELLY:  OK, that’s fine for Norway, what about China?

FITZGIBBON:  Well we shouldn’t discriminate.  The same rules should apply.

PVO:  State-owned companies?  Doesn’t make any difference between democracy and not democracy?

FITZGIBBON:  No I don’t think so - as long as they are properly scrutinised and the usual tests are applied.  Look what really concerns me, and I talked about leadership earlier, Tony Abbott has now for the first time introduced a discriminatory foreign investment policy in this country.  Yet where is most of the capital in Asia?  Are we denying ourselves those opportunities?  It is a big mistake.

BRAMSTON:  Can I ask you about labour issues? Labour force issues in rural and regional areas.  There are obviously shortages in critical sectors there are issues about training and skilling and so on – where is your mind on these issues at the moment?  In particular I am thinking about - on backpackers, the industrial relations framework, should there be more flexibility there, employment standards in terms of conditions and wages and so on.  Should we be looking to shake up industrial relations policy outside of the major cities?

FITZGIBBON:  I believe the focus has to be on skills and we made some announcements just this week on that.  Deregulation, if you like, on vocational training was good policy and we played a very large role in that, but we have seen market failure on two fronts.  One, we have seen private sector organisations not doing the right thing.  And second, we don’t see the critical mass we require in rural and regional Australia.  So we want to get the focus back on TAFE, rural and regional people like TAFE, it is seen as a good institution.  We certainly believe it delivers very good training so what we are trying to do, what we have promised to do, is to cap the amount of money that goes to the private sector so that we can ensure the critical mass local TAFEs require to remain open and viable.

PVO:  What about the Government’s, as part of their wider Higher Education reform which Labor opposes I realise, their proposition of a HECS equivalent for TAFE?  I mean that strikes me as a classic way of drawing more attention and interest to people going to TAFE.

FITZGIBBON:  I am not sure that’s identified as an area of market failure.  I mean, what is going wrong in TAFE that would require that solution?  We are happy to have these conversations of course but I think it is addressing the wrong issue.

KELLY:  Let’s talk about the Budget.  Is it correct to think that Labor is adopting a more flexible position on some of these savings?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I think it is very true to say Paul that we have been flexible from the beginning, or at least we have attempted to be…

KELLY: [interrupts]

FITZGIBBON:  Why?  Well because it is very tempting for Oppositions just to forget about saving them from themselves- we could have let all those Budget measures sail through and I think they would be in all sorts of trouble now…

KELLY: [interrupts] Let’s just focus on the situation now.

FITZGIBBON:  Well get the balance right between a responsible Opposition Party but also holding the Government to account.  Now all those Budget measures were in clear breach of a pre- Election promise.  The night before the Election indeed.  So fairly significant.  So people expect us to stand up and hold them to account. Now we have let about $20 billion of savings measures through, so it is not as though we have stood firm and not been responsible and unprepared to play the game. 

PVO:  What about something like the pensions?  We are going to have Richard Di Natale on shortly, the new Greens leader seems to have out-flanked the Labor Party, he has done a deal with the Government on pensions, it is a deal most people think is a good one.

FITZGIBBON:  About 300,000 self-funded retirees don’t think we have been out-flanked.  It is always difficult to take money from people, why not look more from the perspective of a total reform package which also looks at the big tax breaks for superannuants at the high end?  You can’t really address …

PVO: [interrupts] …in the Greens’ view they have at least extracted the inquiry into the latter, the Government’s refusing to do so at the moment.  Aren’t the Government and the Labor Party being just as belligerent? 

FITZGIBBON:  I think almost everything Tony Abbott does is designed to draw the Opposition into a fight, and nothing makes that more frustrating than seeing their approach to terrorism and national security.  In the good old days, the Prime Minister walked across to the Leader of the Opposition’s office and said these are our proposals, what do you think of them initially, because we don’t want to have a blue and we seek to reach an early consensus.  Instead of doing that, Abbott just floats these ideas and looks for a spat.  Now pensions, I think, is a similar issue.  If it is such a big issue, why not have the conversation across the political divide before these things are put to the Parliament.  We would probably end up in a pretty good political space if more of that was done.

PVO:  We are going to be talking to Richard Di Natale about that issue in a moment. But just finally before we run out of time with you Joel Fitzgibbon, the boats, the whole issue of turn-backs, this is something that Labor’s going to have to consider at its National Conference.  There does seem to be competing views about what to do on this.  You will have to have a firm position on this at the next election I’m sure given the totemic nature of this issue, both at the last election and prospectively at the next election.  What’s your view ahead of National Conference?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I think we’ve got a proud legacy now with the regional arrangements and, you know, that’s more than anything which has stopped the boats, regardless of what Tony Abbott would have the electorate believe.  I mean soon after, the boat flows dropped about 90 per cent in our time before we lost the election as a result of those regional solutions – 

PVO:  But you have to have a policy on turn-backs because whether you like it or not, whether you think it’s factually accurate or not the public do take the view that turn-backs being instituted when the government came in and the boats stopped altogether was a key factor.  What do you think Labor should do?

FITZGIBBON:  Well Richard Marles our spokesman has made it very clear that we won’t be doing anything which will cause more people to take that risky boat ride. Now I don’t want to pre-empt the National Conference debate, that would be arrogant of me, but personally I believe a turn-back policy will be part of a broader package but let’s have the debate at National Conference, I think that will be the outcome.

PVO: You think that that will get up at National Conference and then become Labor policy or irrespective of national conference you’d like to think that that’s what the Shadow Cabinet will come up with?

FITZGIBBON: I think there’s a powerful argument that you need a whole range of tools to ensure that the flows don’t being again include the policies Labor inherited to Tony Abbott. Now one of those tools is currently boat turn-backs, I think there’s a legitimate debate going on about that and again I don’t want to arrogantly pre-empt the National Conference decision but personally I believe turn-backs will remain part of Labor policy, or sorry I don’t believe it should, it will remain, it should remain part because I think it’s just one tool in a much broader kit. But more particularly I’d like to see the Abbott government just start caring about people and, you know, we should spend less time, well, sorry, as much time, as much time talking about the sources of the problem rather than how to fix the problem after the event.

BRAMSTON:  Just on boat turn-backs, that is a red hot issue inside the Labor party as you’re well aware and it will be fiercely contested at the ALP National Conference in late July. You’ve just indicated then that you think turn-backs should be part of Labor policy. How wide spread do you think that view is in the Shadow Cabinet?

FITZGIBBON:  Well personally I can’t see that there’s an overwhelming argument that turn-backs isn’t an important part of the tool kit and I think there’s a universal commitment to ensuring that those flows don’t begin again and I know that’s certainly universal within the Shadow Cabinet and again I don’t want to pre-empt the debate but I think in the end people will come to the conclusion that is has to be a broad kit. 







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