SUBJECT/S: Lisa Singh re-election; dairy crisis; backpacker tax; Royal Commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention system.

DAVID SPEERS:  What do you think about Lisa Singh, are you happy to see her back in or is it a bit of a snub to the Party officials who bumped her down the ticket?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS:  Well, it is a win for the Labor Party, we have secured five Senate seats in Tasmania, and that is a win in anyone’s language.  Lisa Singh has been a great contributor in the past and I am sure she will a great contributor in the future.
SPEERS:  What do you say to his [Dutton] comments there about Kevin Rudd?  Would you like to see him become Secretary- General?
FITZGIBBON:   Well it is all too cute, if that is the best answer Peter can give.  Can I remind you that when MH17 went down over the Ukraine, Julie Bishop, having criticised Labor’s campaign to secure the presidency of the Security Council was all over the presidency – she sat in the big chair, she said it was critical to us progressing the issues in the Ukraine; and now we have an opportunity, as a country, to have the Secretary-General position in the United Nations and this Government is not going to back Kevin Rudd in?  He is not qualified to do the job?  Of course he is.  And they should be backing the Australian candidate.  I think Peter Dutton wanted to by the way, but he wasn’t prepared to because he didn’t want to upset some of his Right wing colleagues.

SPEERS:   Let’s move on.  Now a few things in your portfolio – now a couple of months ago, we were in the middle of the Election campaign and the big issue for a while there was this milk crisis.  The dairy giant, Murray Goulburn, had decided to retrospectively pay farmers less for their milk, and we heard from the Government at the time, the Prime Minister said he wanted to meet with Murray Goulburn and get to the bottom of it – Barnaby Joyce said he wanted a symposium of farmers and processors and retailers – has any of this happened yet do you know?

FITZGIBBON:  Well this is still a crisis for dairy farmers.  Three months after Murray Goulburn’s announcement and a month after the Election, Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce still haven’t lifted a finger to help dairy farmers in crisis.  In fact they didn’t say that early in the piece, it wasn’t until right at the end of the Election campaign when suddenly they seemed to concede that their response had been inadequate.

 SPEERS: Their response was to offer loans?
FITZGIBBON:  Offer more debt to farmers.
SPEERS:  Have many taken it up do you know?
FITZGIBBON:  No, no farmer wants a loan, and I would be very surprised if they do.  This process takes forever.  What these farmers needed was cash directly into the pocket

SPEERS:  Not  more debt. 

FITZGIBBON:  The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, now if they had combined with me and called on Murray Goulburn to change their profit sharing mechanisms and send some cash straight back to the farmers – that would not only have put money in their pockets but would have reduced their debts to Murray Goulburn.  Remember this is a co-operative.  It’s their money.
SPEERS:  If you and the Government called on Murray Goulburn, doesn’t mean they have to do it.
FITZGIBBON:  I think that if the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Opposition had lined up together calling on them to do the right thing by their dairy farmers, I think they would have had no choice.
SPEERS:   Maybe you are right but it is pretty interventionist isn’t it to start telling the collective, or indeed a private company, what to do?
FITZGIBBON:   The money they are holding, or directing to investors, is the money of the dairy farmers, it is a co-operative.  Why are they withholding $40 million in retained profits and sending money to shareholders when their co-operative members are the owners of the cash?  Now the Prime Minister could have shown some leadership here, right at the end of the campaign he seemed to concede they hadn’t done enough and he said he would sit down with Murray Goulburn immediately after the Election.  Well, guess what?  A month on and we have heard nothing from him.
SPEERS:  We’ll keep a check on that one.  The other one is the backpacker tax, which is in your patch as well.  The Government, during the campaign, or it might have been right at the start of the campaign, said they would defer the tax until January 1 next year, it was meant to start July 1 this year.  They are going to have a look at it, it was meant to raise $540 million.  What is Labor actually saying now about this? During the campaign you were also raising concerns but not definitive about it.
FITZGIBBON:   Well, I made the point to you last week, or maybe the week before, that the Nationals did slightly better than the Liberals because they campaign against the Liberals.  Barnaby Joyce was effectively the architect of the backpacker tax, but he spent the whole campaign, campaigning against it – even though he was trousering the $540 million in revenue over the course of the next 4 years.  There is the Wine Equalisation Tax, they championed it, and they were spending the money; but telling people in their electorates- I read about their wonderful capacity to campaign locally -  exactly, they were saying one thing in Canberra and completely another thing in the electorate.   But all the time trousering the money. 

SPEERS:  Have you worked out a better way of doing this? Getting rid of it altogether?
FITZGIBBON:  The backpacker’s thing is much broader than the tax.  Now, for example in agriculture, there are all sorts of rules around these visas, rightly so, because we have got to protect Australian jobs, but I think there is probably a case for example, for an agriculture-specific visa – where the rorts are less obvious and the thresholds don’t have to be as tough.  Rather than  talk about broad reform, they just went throughout the campaign saying “don’t worry – we will look at it after the Election”, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.  Well the Election’s over and we’ve still heard nothing from the Government.  And of course the sectors affected, tourism and agriculture, are still in crisis; they don’t know what is going to happen on January 1.  And this of course, is not their first review, this is the second review on the backpacker tax, they need to be clear on what money they are prepared to give up.

SPEERS:  Now let me ask you on the big issue of the week and that is the Don Dale Centre in the Northern Territory, obviously some are more directly to blame than others for what has gone on there.  Do you accept though there is a broader failure here of  the political class and media as well in some parts for not doing more, for not being outraged, when this was first raised?
FITZGIBBON:  I think Tanya Plibersek is right, we all have to take our share of responsibility, because it is obvious to me now that this stuff has been around for a long time and no-one seemed to act energetically.  Tanya is also right to say we support the Royal Commission and to offer a co-operative approach and to work with the Government to get the outcomes.  What I am fearful of is that the Royal Commission has already become a reason not to answer questions; to allow people to walk away, so that any time -

SPEERS:  Do you mean the Federal Government or the Northern Territory?

FITZGIBBON:   Every time Malcolm Turnbull gets a question now – “oh well we’ve got a Royal Commission I don’t need to answer that” and it absolutely has to go, at the very least, to the culture within the Northern Territory Government; because you saw those guys we saw on Monday night, they knew they were being filmed but they weren’t fearful of that fact. Now  that demonstrates they thought they had the authority of someone.  Then it becomes the culture of the place, and culture comes from the leadership, culture comes from the top.  Adam Giles’ responses have been inadequate, it is a joke that Minister is still there holding those other portfolios.
SPEERS:  What about Nigel Scullion, are you critical of him, or do you have sympathy for him?  He was very frank in saying yesterday it did not pique his interest.
FITZGIBBON:  I think Nigel Scullion has done enough to embarrass himself without me hopping into him. I think he is an embarrassment, I think Adam Giles is an embarrassment.

SPEERS:  There are plenty of people whose interest weren’t piqued enough by this, he is at least being honest about that.

FITZGIBBON:  Well we saw the 2010 comments by Adam Giles today, I mean this is my other concern, I thought the Prime Minister was very hesitant on Tuesday morning on ABC Radio and I fear he was hesitant because he knows the Right of his Party has this culture of being tough on crime and he didn’t want to desert them.  We have seen Giles’ comments, in the Territory you are a hero, your electoral prospects are best, if you are into locking these people up and treating them badly.  Now if the Royal Commission doesn’t look at that culture then we do have a problem.

SPEERS:  Joel Fitzgibbon, good to talk to you, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.

FITZGIBBON:  Thanks David.

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