SKY NEWS PM AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, 13 JULY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Election outcome; Coalition agreement; cooperation in the 45th Parliament; economic outlook; possible Shadow Ministry re-shuffle.
KIERAN GILBERT: This is PM Agenda. With me Joel Fitzgibbon, Labor frontbencher. Mr Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for your time as someone who represents the regional part of Australia for Labor, do you give the Nationals some credit for what was a good election for them, they increased their seats by one, they will have two extra ministers as a result of the new Coalition agreement?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AFFAIRS: Well Kieran they held onto all their seats, in many cases just, and of course they took one away from the Liberal Party. They held those seats in two ways. One: they pork-barrelled those electorates fairly considerably, including New England, where of course Barnaby Joyce was under extreme pressure; but more particularly, they held those seats by demonstrating in their electorates that they weren’t with Malcolm Turnbull. This is the point about the Nationals. They say one thing in Canberra when they're in the Party Room and indeed in the Cabinet, but they're saying something much different as they roam around their electorates. That’s why this idea of keeping this new agreement secret between the Libs and the Nationals is so important. I think the Australian people will entitled to know what's in that agreement. I mean, if the Labor Party in minority Government had entered into an agreement with the minor parties and then kept that deal secret - all hell would play loose. So I call on them to release that document, to demonstrate to the people what deals they have or haven't done with the Libs.
GILBERT: But this is not a policy-based agreement, it is a legalistic document, a couple of pages long. Is it really that important to have it released?
FITZGIBBON: We might know Kieran. Ten months ago I sought to gain access to the last agreement under the, FOI laws, Freedom of Information laws. Ten months on the Government is still fighting that FOI application. So if we can just get that, we might see the difference between the last agreement and the one which Malcolm Turnbull now claims is nothing more than a broad brush approach. Now, it's one or the other. If they could release both agreements, we could see and the Australian people could make that judgement themselves, but one thing is clear, the Liberal Party is relying upon a minor party. That's what the Nationals are, a minor party to form government. Something they said they wouldn't do. It's OK to say this is a bit different, this has been going on for decades, but doesn't change the fact the Libs have not won this election off their own bat, they have entered into a deal with a minor party, and I think the Australian people are entitled to know what is in that agreement.
GILBERT: Now what's your take on the general assessment of Barnaby Joyce as a good retail politician, he won convincingly against Tony Windsor, a long-time member for New England in that region. He, essentially, has put him into political retirement, for good, and we know that the Nationals also had a similar result in Cowper against Rob Oakshott. In terms of Barnaby Joyce – as a Leader, he is a formidable politician is he not?
FITZGIBBON: Well he is certainly good on the spin I will give him that Kieran. I give him nine out of ten for spin. But at some point he will be held to account for some of the things he said throughout the election campaign and he will certainly be held to account for his ongoing capacity to say one thing, like appeal to the extreme right in the electorate, but go quiet in the Cabinet; just so that they can maintain their agreement and therefore their cosy positions in the Cabinet and the outer ministry. At the end of the day, that's what that agreement is about. If he has, if he's got differences between the Nats and the Libs and it is written down in a written agreement, then he should share that with the Australian people.
GILBERT: There's talk of more cooperation, less partisanship and divisiveness in this 45th Parliament. Do you welcome that, as someone who has been around for a long time yourself, is that spirit of cooperation possible given the divisiveness of the last seven years? It doesn't feel like it is. And a lot of people are skeptical about suggestions from both sides on that?
FITZGIBBON: You will recall Kieran, I was the Chief Government Whip in the hung Parliament when Tony Abbott just took a wrecking ball, supported by Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce and others, a wrecking ball to the Parliament. Did everything he could to destroy the joint. Now, he's in a precarious position. He wants to help him. Us to help him. Well, I think Bill Shorten has been right to say, as has Chris Bowen and others, that we will take a responsible approach. Where we can act in the national interest of course we will. We won't roll over and accept everything Malcolm Turnbull puts forward. Now Kieran, if Malcolm Turnbull is serious about kumbaya and snugging up to the Labor Party and making this a truly democratic Parliament, I can make him a few suggestions: The first thing he can do is to give the Deputy Speakership to someone in the Labor Party. The second thing he can do is offer members of the Labor Party and indeed the crossbenchers, Committee Chairs. Committee Chairs play an important role in the House of Representatives. People have respect for the bipartisan approach taken in Parliamentary Committees. The Labor Party, the Liberal Party - sorry the Coalition is about 51% of the Parliament. The Labor Party is more than 45%, crossbenchers of course hold five seats. Why shouldn’t, if Malcolm Turnbull is serious about making this a collegiate House of Representatives, if he's serious about Labor, Liberals, Nationals and crossbenchers working together, why doesn’t he go that extra step and give people on all sides of the Parliament a role to play in the parliamentary processes? That would be a good start. If Malcolm Turnbull wants to demonstrate he's serious about his kumbaya approach to the House of Representatives, that would be a very good start and I challenge him to do so.
GILBERT: Do you accept there is a greater responsibility on this Parliament, say the nos in recent times because of the economic situation that has only worsened in recent years and we know the shot across the bow from Standard and Poor’s last week, about the downgrading of the outlook for our credit rating.
FITZGIBBON: Well I certainly agree our economy has gone backwards and our international standing economically has gone backwards over the course of the last three years under the Coalition Government. I absolutely agree with that. We will always take a responsible approach no matter what the economic or fiscal circumstances. We will never do what Tony Abbott did from day one, was set out to wreck the government of the day, without any care or responsibility for the impact it was having on the economy or the lives of people generally.
GILBERT: The Labor Party frontbench will be reshuffled, we're hearing, with a whole heap of new talent in the party room. Do you think that makes sense given the expanded party room and the talent there?
FITZGIBBON: The Labor Party is very fortunate. We already have a strong frontbench. We already had a strong caucus. Now it's been further strengthened by the arrival of a number of talented people. We will work through these processes over the course of the next couple of weeks. Of course Bill Shorten will have a strong view about who he wants where in his team, but whatever is the final outcome, you can be sure we will have a very strong team to take up to this new and very weak and divided Government.
GILBERT: Do you feel, though, that within Labor, while, there was euphoria at a better than expected result, that the reality sets in soon enough, that you are still in Opposition for another three years?
FITZGIBBON: Well Kieran, they may have 77 seats, 76 is the magic number, but they will need to provide a Speaker. I will be very surprised if anyone from the crossbenches puts their hands up to be the Speaker. That will take them back to 76. Now again having been the Chief Government Whip in the hung Parliament, I know how precarious that is. They are only a sneeze or two off falling below the magic numbers, but of course what Malcolm Turnbull will need to do is hold negotiations in both the House and the Senate, and I can point out to him that every time he accommodates someone on the crossbenches, in either Chamber, it's likely to have ramifications for the views of people on your own side, so they are a divided camp. The hard Right is coming after Malcolm Turnbull, after his very poor performance. There are a whole range of competing views, people like Corey Bernadi of course on the war path and on top of that he has got a very slim majority in the House, and a very difficult Senate. So I think this will be a very rocky road for Malcolm Turnbull. He should be less concerned about what the Labor Party is going to do and how he's going to manage his own diabolical internals.
GILBERT: Labor frontbencher, Joel Fitzgibbon, appreciate your time. Talk to you soon.
FITZGIBBON: Great pleasure.