MONDAY, 2 MAY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Kidman sale, budget tax cuts, ETS

DAVID SPEERS: We just talked then to Angus Taylor before the break about the Government, the Treasurer, on Friday knocking back, or at least in the preliminary decision the bid lead by a Chinese-led consortium to buy the Kidman and Co cattle stations, it is the largest land holding in Australia – it makes up more than 1 per cent of our total land mass.  Labor’s got some issues though about what the Treasurer announced.  With me now is the Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon.  Thanks very much for your time.  Let me just be clear on this, what is Labor’s view?  Should the sale have been allowed or not?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Well how fortuitous for me to follow Angus Taylor, because Angus Taylor just belled the cat and he demonstrated clearly there is a big split in the Coalition on this question.  It is not for Labor to necessarily have a specific view on Kidman.  It is for Labor to be very concerned about the way they are dealing with these national issues and foreign investment issues in particular.  And the message that sends to the international community.  I mean the completion for capital in the global economy is intense, and Angus Taylor knows better than anyone that Australian agriculture needs that investment in shovel loads and this is going to send that investment running to other countries. 

SPEERS: You have said it is not for Labor to have a specific position and I appreciate you don’t get to look at everything the Foreign Investment Review Board or the Treasurer does.  But on what you know about this sale and the Chinese-led consortium, was there anything that should have blocked the sale?

FITZGIBBON: Well as a former Defence Minister, I was prepared to concede that the proximity of Anna Station to Woomera might have in itself be grounds
for having concern but of course...

SPEERS:  But they carved that out.

FITZGIBBON:  They carved that out, it is hard for me to have a specific view and indeed for the Labor Party to have a specific view but I have to say that I haven’t seen anything yet which would suggest that this purchase didn’t pass the national interest test.

SPEERS:  The Treasurer said it was the size and significance of this parcel of land, and it is a lot of land, no question about that, but does that fit within the national interest test here?  Simply the size of the land, or, or

FITZGIBBON:  Let’s go through his various reasons for declining on this occasion – and as Angus Taylor has just suggested it is not all over yet.

SPEERS:  It is not final he said.

FITZGIBBON:  But his key reasons was the land mass itself.  Now everyone who knows anything about this sector knows that the vast majority of that land is the most unproductive land in the country.  In other words, it is barren.  It is only pockets that really matter and of course…

SPEERS:  There are some cattle stations that have much more head of cattle aren’t there?

FITZGIBBON:  True, absolutely. This agribusiness would be seventh in the pecking order of Australian companies.  It is the sparseness of the landholding that makes Kidman so successful because they can move cattle from place to place.  If you split up then you lose that capacity.

SPEERS:  Let me ask you this, would Labor clear up the rules around this?  About what is the national interest test on foreign investment?  Does it involve the square kilometre size of the property?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I would like to see more transparency and this Government is increasingly hiding behind the secretive nature of the national interest test.  But the key point here is, that if you are going to do something on the scale of the business, as they have tried to do with the landholdings, it would be more appropriate to do on the head of cattle that might be involved.  And again, Kidman doesn’t rate in this  country.  Indeed one of the biggest, the Consolidated Pastoral Company, is 90% owned by the Poms, that is Kerry Packer’s former company, and no one raised an eyelid when that purchase was transacted.

SPEERS:  Quick final one on the tax debate that’s coming; if there is a tax cut tomorrow night for those earning $80,000 or more, what do you think?  Should Labor support that or not?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I heard Chris Bowen rightly say that Labor will wait and have a look at the detail, it would be curious of us to be running commentary on something that is only speculated upon.  But of course, always the fairness in any tax arrangement is very much determined by the spread of the burden.  And of course they should be looking in the first instance to those struggling families who find themselves below that level of income.

SPEERS:  They may not be struggling but those that are on $80,000 are perhaps close to the average, do they deserve to be in the second top tax bracket?  

FITZGIBBON:  I am not going to help the Government today David.  We will wait and see what they do tomorrow night and I will let Chris Bowen make the primary response.

SPEERS:  And the announcement last week from Labor on bringing back an ETS, are you a wholehearted supporter of that?

FITZGIBBON:  I am very comfortable with it.  I think this is the way forward and in the 21st Century it is the right way of transitioning to a more modern economy with a greater emphasis on renewable energy.

SPEERS:  And with a lighter touch than you had last time around?

FITZGIBBON: Happy to concede that.

SPEERS:  Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Agriculture Minister, thank you for joining us this afternoon.


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