SUBJECT/S: Cancellation of Long Tan commemoration service in Vietnam; dairy crisis; Pairing of votes

DAVID SPEERS:  You're watching PM Agenda. We have seen in the last half hour, Vietnam has decided to cancel tomorrow's Long Tan commemoration service. They only just announced this. About 1,000 Vietnam vets are over there for this service. Very sensitive still. The Vietnam war in Vietnam, that is clear now with this decision from the central government in Vietnam. Manus Island is apparently to be shut down. The PM of Papua New Guinea has been talking to Peter Dutton about this. We're expecting to see confirmation of this soon. In the meantime, let me bring in Labor's Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. I want to get to agriculture too. You're a former defence minister. Let me ask you about Vietnam and the decision at the last minute to cancel the service in Long Tan? Unbelievable.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA:  Yes it is just breaking.  I'm surprised by it, in fact shocked by it.  Many of us are here today to go to the Service in the Great Hall.  And this will be devastating for the veterans who have made that trip. It is very curious, when I was defence minister, the Vietnamese were very cooperative working with us to bring our last dead home. So it doesn't seem consistent with their attitude. Something has gone terribly wrong. I don't understand how this could happen without some form of intelligence coming back to our own Government. I don't know how we missed this. And I think there will be questions asked about how this decision could be made so late without our knowledge. Something has gone very, very wrong here.

SPEERS: There have been services at Long Tan over the years. I remember covering many years ago Prime Minister John Howard visiting the site as well. It's not like it hasn't been officially marked or commemorated with events there before. This one is much bigger. 1,000 Vietnam vets there from Australia but it's hard to understand how they would do this?

FITZGIBBON:  In my experience the relationship has been almost Turkey-Australia-like. Bygones are bygones. Learning from our experiences and now working together to tidy things up. I wouldn't dare politicise this one but questions have to be asked as to how we all learned of this so late and how someone didn't know it was coming? How they didn't anticipate it? And manage it much better than this.

SPEERS:  Maybe they couldn't anticipate this. Maybe this genuinely was a last-minute snap decision of the Vietnamese Government?

FITZGIBBON:  And we shouldn't jump to conclusions.

SPEERS:  And the other one, Manus Island is apparently going to be shut down, the detention centre there. I don't know exactly what this will mean in terms of the people, the men that are there, the refugees and the asylum seekers - where they stay or do they go somewhere else? Do you welcome the news?

FITZGIBBON:  We say not a day goes by, but with this Government, it appears that not an hour goes by without breaking news that looks problematic for all concerned. I suspect there might be a few in the Coalition reflecting on their decision to block the Malaysian Solution, which was a very good arrangement between the Australian and Malaysian Government. I think it was a great outcome. This looks very messy now. I'm surprised Dutton seems to have been part of the announcement in a sense, or at least he confirmed the agreement he's made with Peter O'Neill without being in a position it seems to say what his contingency plan is.

SPEERS:  What do you reckon should happen generally for those at Manus, those at Nauru? They've been there more than three years. There's 1750 of them. Is it time to bring them back to Australia?

FITZGIBBON:  What gets lost in the whole debate I think is that people say that the Labor Party kicked off this whole process, but we had envisaged is much different to what we have seen in Nauru in recent years. Our commitment was to process people there within 90 days depending on whether they were refugees or not. If they're not, deal with them appropriately. If they are, settle them. Since the Coalition came to power it's been nothing but a mess and there has been some terrible stories and evidence of them have been constantly coming.

SPEERS:  So what should happen?

FITZGIBBON: I'm not the spokesman. So I have to be very careful as this is all breaking. But I think suffice to say, that the Labor Party has had one strong commitment here all the way through this long-running debate now. And that is that we should do our best to maximise our refugee intake, and we've had various commitments extending the size of that intake; that we should process people quickly and swiftly, and deal with them appropriately once they've been processed; and I think that doesn't change.

SPEERS:  Alright let's talk about a few other things then  - dairy in the agriculture portfolio. The Agriculture Minister and Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, together with the PM, met yesterday with the dairy industry, Murray Goulburn and Fonterra. But it doesn't seem there's been any change for the situation for those dairy farmers, many of whom are significantly out of pocket given the decision back in April to change the price and backdate it. What do you think should actually happen to help those farmers?

FITZGIBBON:  They've had a shocker. Malcolm Turnbull in the dying days of the election campaign finally came close to criticising by Murray Goulburn by describing their actions as “troubling”. That's as far as he got and made a commitment that he would sit down with them after the election, I think giving everyone the impression he was about to knock them around the room to ensure they finally came to do the right thing by their dairy farmers. Yesterday, with great fanfare, six weeks after the election, we saw the meeting take place but we saw no outcomes whatsoever. Very disappointing for dairy farmers. Halfway through the election campaign – again having done nothing - they announced this sort of rescue package which I think I said at the time on your program would be ineffective. That's now been proven true unfortunately. But they raise expectations.

SPEERS:  So what should they do?

FITZGIBBON:  They did that again yesterday. They raised expectations they were about to do something but they did nothing.

SPEERS:  So what should they do?

FITZGIBBON:  There are a number of things they could do. The first thing they should do is call it for what it is. Neither Malcolm Turnbull nor Barnaby Joyce have uttered a word of criticism of Murray Goulburn.  Notwithstanding a chorus of experts saying the wrong thing has been done here and I don’t need to dwell on that. The second thing they could have done is joined with me in pressuring the Murray Goulburn Board to deviate from their profit-sharing mechanism. This is part of the capital raising they did on the market. They raised $500 million and there's a profit-sharing deal that say the investors get their drink and the dairy farmers get their share. The investors went in eyes wide open. The prospectus made it clear - in abnormal circumstances, is the term used,  the Board reserved the right to change the profit-sharing mechanism to send more back to the dairy farmers. Now I wrote to the Chair of Murray Goulburn appealing to him to take that opportunity. Extraordinarily he wrote back and said that we have considered it but these are not abnormal circumstances. Now they have lost their CEO, the CFO, two Board members the price has collapsed, the whole business strategy had fallen over, their farmers were in debt and these are not “abnormal circumstances”. The first thing the Government could have done - I'm of a view that if Barnaby Joyce and I were both pressuring Murray Goulburn to deviate from that profit-sharing mechanism, they would have had no choice.

SPEERS:  But there is no guarantee of that. They could ignore the Government just as they can ignore you.

FITZGIBBON:  Now David, you and I both know if Barnaby Joyce and I were singing from the same hymn sheet.

SPEERS: [inaudible]

FITZGIBBON:  I called upon the Chair to resign, I still that that he should resign.  I think the whole board should go. I don't think we can progress this while ever those people are still around the table . I didn't expect the Minister of the day to join in that call, but he should be joining with me in pressuring them to do the right thing by their dairy farmers.

SPEERS: What do you think of Nick Xenophon's idea of milk for kids at school? Help the kids, help the farmers?

FITZGIBBON: Nick's good for a headline and he has secured himself one. But we produce about nine billion litres of milk annually in this country and we consume just under 4 I think. So if Nick thinks we are going to make up the difference by giving the kids an extra drink of I think he should redo his calculations.

SPEERS:  The last think I want to talk about is pairing. You remember the 2013 hung parliament very well.

FITZGIBBON: Very well.

SPEERS:  You were Chief Government Whip throughout that Parliament and you were responsible for a lot of the pairing arrangements then. Tell me your view of what Labor will take in the 45th Parliament when it comes to giving any pair for a Government MP?

FITZGIBBON:  Well first of all, I think this is a fair indication of what is to come.  We are almost two days now talking about pairing arrangements. Bring on August 30 and I think it will be an interesting ride for the next twelve months or so. And yes, no-one was a closer witness to what took place in the 43rd parliament than me. And they were ruthless.  They were terrible. They were completely uncooperative and you know the Craig Thomson story and the Michelle Rowland story and the Simon Crean story and so on. Something like 60% of our pairing requests were knocked back at the time. I put a proposition to Abbott, in writing, that we should have a pairing arrangement as they have in the Senate, a permanent arrangement of five on either side. He rejected that of course. I bet Malcolm Turnbull is now wishing that wasn't rejected. This is an interesting bit of sport. Obviously the Labor Party is going to give people a pair, if someone close to them is sick, if someone is having a baby or whatever. But Tony Burke makes a very very solid point and that is Malcolm has been running around talking up his majority, he has a working majority, doesn't matter how close it is, they've won the election.  But what is clear is they've come to us for pairing because they haven't got a working majority. Tony Smith is going to be the speaker. That gives him 75. 76 is the magic number.

SPEERS: Where it gets interesting is, if Julie Bishop or Scott Morrison needs to go to a meeting, a G20 meeting or a UN General Assembly meeting or something important like that, do they get a pair?

FITZGIBBON: We'll apply the national interest test.

SPEERS:  What does that mean?

FITZGIBBON: The Whip will deal with these on a case basis, as we appealed for them to do.

SPEERS: Presumably you believe in our participation in these international forums?

FITZGIBBON: Of course and this is for the Government to manage, not for us. Chris Hayes has a good relationship with Nola Marino, the Chief Government Whip and I'm sure they'll sort it out. We've said we will be cooperative. But after the wrecking ball Tony Abbott took to the place last time around you can't blame the Labor Party for being very sensitive on these issues.

SPEERS: As long as you let them appear on Sky News. That's important.

FITZGIBBON:  Interestingly I remember they wouldn’t let our ministers speak at the Press Club.

SPEERS: It was tough work trying to get people on when Parliament was sitting. Alright Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for joining us.

FITZGIBBON:  Always a pleasure

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