SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality; Budget repair; Backpacker Tax; forced relocation of APVMA; PM’s performance rating


HOST:  Joining me now is Joel Fitzgibbon, Labor frontbencher, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture.  Thanks for joining us. What’s your view on this [plebiscite legislation] - Should Labor block it?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: I think the plebiscite is a very dumb idea.  It is a waste of money and of course it is going to cause hurt in our communities; and of course they are not committing to backing in what it delivers, so it makes no sense.  But I am not sure that is exactly what Bill has said.  What we have said is we will do the usual thing, we will consider the bill, we will take it through our Party processes.

HOST: So there is not a final decision here?

FITZGIBBON: There is not a final decision, but if you were a betting man you would put it on Labor not supporting what I think is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

HOST: But it is what was promised. The Australian people did vote for the Government, yes, you could say a slim majority but they won, this was part of the mandate.

FITZGIBBON: Well I saw Barnaby Joyce say that he has got a mandate to move the chemicals regulator, the farm chemicals regulator, to Armidale.  I mean, how many Australians were thinking about the farm chemical regulator…

HOST: Maybe not that one, but the gay marriage plebiscite wasn’t exactly a peripheral issue.

FITZGIBBON: Well he got the slimmest majority in a long, long time in the House of Representatives, I think it is pretty hard for him to claim a mandate.  It doesn’t change the fact that this is a very bad idea and a very great waste of taxpayers’ money.

HOST: But the polls show people like the idea of a plebiscite.

FITZGIBBON: The polls show that the overwhelming majority of Australians are in support of a change to the Marriage Act.

HOST: And they quite like a plebiscite.

FITZGIBBON: So we know what the plebiscite is going to say David. Don’t we?  The plebiscite has been designed by the Right wing of Malcolm Turnbull’s Party in the hope they can muddy it up so much that it might actually lose.  I think that is a forlorn hope on their side.

HOST: You think it will easily pass?

FITZGIBBON: I think it will easily pass.

HOST: Why not have it?  It will be done.  February 11.  If you are so confident, we can have same-sex marriage.

FITZGIBBON: Because it is a great waste of taxpayers’ money; it is a delaying tactic; it is an attempt by the Right of the Party, Malcolm Turnbull’s Party, to destroy the joint.  Look, how can we be confident they won’t be successful in wording it in such a way as to mislead people?

HOST: It’s there in the legislation – it is very simple should the law be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. That is alright isn’t it?

FITZGIBBON: It could have been a lot worse – it looks like there was some negotiation that took place, but it is a waste of money; they are not committed to honouring the outcome – why are we doing it?  When I was Defence Minister I made decisions about sending to, or keeping people to war without a plebiscite. If we are going to have a plebiscite on same sex this really worries me – we are going to open the flood-gates here.  We are going to move to an American-style system here where we are going to have plebiscites or referendum questions on just about everything.  Every time someone demands one.  Imagine the cost and imagine the congestion of this decision-making process.

HOST: That’s not a bad argument there, we haven’t had a plebiscite for a hundred years – since conscription, this might set the template – whether it is euthanasia or as you say, other deployments going to a plebiscite.

FITZGIBBON: We are elected to do a job, we are well paid to do it and we should do it.  Of course when John Howard changed the Marriage Act last time around, he didn’t need a plebiscite.

HOST: I notice you don’t use the argument so strongly though about the hate speech this might unleash– do you worry about that?  Do you fear this is going to contribute to suicides?

FITZGIBBON: Yes I am, I do, it might be a strange comparison but I am one of many who have had applications in their local electorates for the establishment of a mosque and I have seen some of the misinformation and hate that that unleashes in local communities and I do fear that you might see the same sort of thing happening on this question.

HOST:  What about the argument that not so long ago people like Julia Gillard voted against gay marriage in the Parliament, you might have as well I think from memory.


HOST: Why wasn’t that something that was going to unleash this hatred, suicides and bigotry and so on?

FITZGIBBON:  I am a perfect case, I have been fairly, to be honest, agnostic on the question. I didn’t vote last time against with any great conviction, all I attempted to do in the end was to judge the mood of my electorate.  But in the two or three years which have elapsed in the meantime I think there has been a big shift in the community generally, in fact the whole world is marching on.  The Irish referendum is a perfect example.

HOST: Sure but those young Australians, teenagers, coming to grips with their sexuality that you and others are worried about now with a plebiscite, they were there then.

FITZGIBBON: But we didn’t have people marching in the streets to try to convince Joel Fitzgibbon which way to vote.  But when you put it out there branded as a plebiscite, a people’s choice, then I think you are going to have people out there trying to influence the votes of others.

HOST: Sure but still people like you are voting, no they should not be allowed to marry, you don’t think that would have an impact on them?

FITZGIBBON: I think it is a different concept. We are talking about the method we come to our decisions and when it’s an individual like their local member making a decision they, obviously if they are deeply interested in it, then they make communication with their local member. In this case with the public plebiscite, I think you are going to see more open campaigns.

HOST: Let me turn to some other issues. Budget savings deal between Labor and the Government this week, which is good to see on reigning in about $6 billion in spending. Do you suspect there will be more areas of cooperation like this?

FITZGIBBON: I hope so because I think that’s genuinely what the Australian community want to see. I mean Tony Abbott, and then picked up by Malcolm Turnbull went to an election promising budget repair. Sadly they have gone backwards since they formed Government so I think all of us now have a responsibility to bind together wherever we can reach common ground to get the budget back on to the track of surplus, so this was a good outcome, each side gave a bit. I thought Chris Bowen was very clever in his strategy and the way in which he identified where the savings could best be found and let’s hope we can do that on a few other occasions.

HOST: One area where we may not see some budget repair is the Backpacker Tax which is being reviewed by the Government at the moment. They announced it back in the 2015 Budget, I think to save was it three or four hundred million dollars.

FITZGIBBON: More than $500 million.

HOST: Over four years, now it’s being reviewed. Plenty in the National Party think it’s a bad idea and that it would scare away the work force they rely on, seasonal workers and so on. Where is Labor at now on the Backpacker Tax?

FITZGIBBON: It’s an ill-conceived tax and it was one done without any consultation whatsoever. We do know thanks to the Senate Estimates process that Barnaby Joyce backed this tax in fact we teased out in Senate Estimates that he wanted to use the $500 million to pay for some of his more interesting initiative in his agricultural white paper so Barnaby Joyce owns this tax and this is not the first review they have had and throughout the election campaign they said we are going to review it implying they were going to get rid of it. But of course they were still booking the $500 million and spending that throughout the election campaign so they have been very deceitful throughout the process.

HOST: Did you book it as well in your costings?

FITZGIBBON: We did book it and every day the election campaign, because they were running that deceitful campaign, I said to Barnaby Joyce through the radio airwaves of course and probably through your program, look commit to abolishing it today and Labor will match you, so that they wouldn’t get away with this stunt of having $500 million to spend that we of course therefore didn’t spend. I just want to make this point David, it’s ill-conceived for a whole range of reasons. It’s going to hurt regional communities. They key reason backpackers who don’t come here don’t pay tax neither income tax nor GST or exercise so they have this completely wrong. There is no way in the world they would be raising $500 million they haven’t considered the second round affects. It’s time they got on with the review because backpackers, even though the tax is not in yet, backpackers stopped coming the day after the 2015 budget and it’s already hurting regional economies.

HOST: And you’ve also been hammering we know Barnaby Joyce over the relocation of this government agency to his electorate. He has not released the cost benefit analysis of this and we did find out this week from the Treasurer that it’s cost $270,000 to do the analysis. That’s not been released and it also sound like it’s not actually been confirmed in Cabinet yet either.

FITZGIBBON: I think that’s right. I’m confident this relocation will never occur. It’s pork barrelling at it worst. He’s trying to move this big agency in Canberra to his own electorate, Barnaby Joyce. This agency doesn’t have any interface with farmers it has interface with the big chemical companies that provide the crop sprays and the veterinary medicines to farmers.

HOST: It essentially approves them?

FITZGIBBON: It approves them. There is no connection to the farm itself. The fact is that Barnaby had another brain explosion on his part. The Prime Minister intervened months ago and he said look you’re going to have to at least do a cost benefit analysis on this. Obviously the PM was getting other advice warning him. So he does the analysis, we know what it says. It says it’s a very bad idea, so he refuses to release it and he refused on Sunday to say how much it cost and I think Scott Morrison threw him under the bus on Monday when he very quickly told us it cost $272,000 of taxpayers’ money but more importantly, said its now part of the Cabinet process which I think suggests Barnaby Joyce is about to be rolled in the Cabinet.

HOST: Before I let you go, 12 months of Malcolm Turnbull, what rating do you give him out of 10?

FITZGIBBON: I’ll try to be generous David, I’ll give him a four out of 10. I think Jeff Kennett in his performance early this week on national television. I think his performance amounted to a score of two so I will be more generous and give him a four.

HOST: And completely unbiased coming from the Labor frontbencher. Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for joining us this afternoon.


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