SUBJECT/S:  Malcolm Turnbull; Polls; Coalition agreement; Water

LAURA JAYES:  Welcome Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.  We will ask Joel what he thinks of the new leadership, and Mr Fitzgibbon, particularly this poll today, are Labor worried about a Malcom Turnbull leadership?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS:  Well I concede that Malcom Turnbull is never going to be as unpopular as Tony Abbott.  That’s a given.  That would be a fairly a significant achievement, but it’s a government in which the divisions run deep.  We see signs of that today by way of Cabinet leaks already.  Malcom Turnbull has already walked away from some very significant beliefs he’s held for all of his adult life.  Issues like climate change and of course Malcolm is hardly a guy that’s walked on water in the past.  I was here of course in 2008/2009 when he led the Party.  He fumbled strategically, politically, and in policy terms and of course he didn’t last long before he was taken out by his own people.  So let’s not have any mythology about the threat that Malcolm poses to the Labor Party.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:  Joel Fitzgibbon, why do you concede that he’ll never be as unpopular as Tony Abbott?  He was as unpopular when he was Opposition Leader according to the polls and he trailed in the two-party vote by more in that point in time against Kevin Rudd –


VAN ONSELEN:  then is the case or was ever the case for Tony Abbott against Bill Shorten.  Is it because Kevin Rudd was so much better than your current leader Bill Shorten?

FITZGIBBON:  That’s a very good point PVO, I should be more optimistic and ambitious.  Maybe Malcom Turnbull will prove to be less popular than Tony Abbott but it’s a fairly high bench mark there set by the former Prime Minister.  So you know my point is really that Malcolm is not infallible by any stretch of the imagination. He has proven that in the past.  He is walking away from those things he has always stood for.  We’ll just concentrate on our positive policy agenda and don’t worry; we’ll be very competitive at the next election.  

VAN ONSELEN: Well on that policy agenda, your area is agriculture. The Nationals have secured significant extra funding and control over issues in that space. Does that worry the Labor Party because of course the Nationals are the main Party of the bush that you are competing against?

FITZGIBBON:  Well this is the most blatant sleight of hand I’ve seen in my twenty years in politics.  Barnaby Joyce and other Nationals made it clear on Monday night that they believed the election of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister would be a bad thing for rural and regional Australia. They were still screaming Tuesday morning but then decided to stop screaming and decided to say that they’d struck a new Coalition agreement.  We now know; and of course that agreement was full of all these new spending promises, one National Party Senator is said to have costed it at $4 billion.  But we now know thanks to both Finance Minister Cormann and no less than the Leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss, on one of your programs just yesterday, that there is no new Coalition agreement only a supporting letter which locks in the old agreement. The other point about that is of course, Barnaby Joyce made it clear when he was pronouncing this so called new agreement, that there was something wrong with the old agreement. Well the bad news for rural and regional Australia is, we’ve still got the old agreement. Nothing has changed.  There are no new spending initiatives in the agreement, there are no new solid proposals and Barnaby Joyce and others have been misleading those who live in rural and regional Australia. They have been duped by Malcolm Turnbull and they are trying to cover their tracks.

VAN ONSELEN: The other issue of course-

HAYES: Joel Fitzgibbon-

VAN ONSELEN:  Sorry Laura, I knew I’d texted you during our interview so I was trying to step in sorry-

HAYES: [laughs]

VAN ONSELEN: [laughs]

HAYES: Go, no go for it.

VAN ONSELEN:  A quick question for you Joel Fitzgibbon as a follow-up though.  We’ve got this first poll, Laura Jayes made the excellent point when her and I were talking, this poll was only done on the Tuesday when it was a complete kerfuffle and it was still 50-50.  A Newspoll I think is due out next week, it’s going to be panic stations galore in the Labor Party isn’t it if you start trailing on the two-party vote with Malcolm Turnbull a mile ahead of Bill Shorten on the personal numbers?  Is it a case of thank god Kevin Rudd instituted the policy that he did around the election of the Leader cause otherwise Bill Shorten would be out the door?

FITZGIBBON:  I think you make the point very well yourself, the poll was almost instantaneous. Now people were responding to a poll while the excitement and action in Parliament House was still in progress that surely calls into question the accuracy or validity of that poll.  But you know we take all these things seriously, we expect Malcolm Turnbull to be competitive but we still expect to beat him.

HAYES:  Joel Fitzgibbon my turn now, can’t let Peter Van Onselen hijack the whole interview but I want to go back to this Nat’s agreement.  And look I agree with you that many of these things were just a restatement, a recommitment of the existing government policy, but what was significant is getting water back into the Agriculture portfolio - that makes sense doesn’t it?

FITZGIBBON:  Well that appears to be the one thing new, the one thing that is true and of course that’s very bad news for Australian agriculture because the most important thing for Australian agriculture is the sustainable use of our natural resources, our water, our soil resources and that needs to be managed.  If we overuse, that might help agriculture in the very short term but it is very bad for agriculture in the medium to long term.  So to do this properly we need to rely on the science and we need to have it managed independently by the Environment Department. That was John Howard’s plan, it’s a plan we stuck with, it’s a plan Malcolm Turnbull led as Minister for Water in Government and it’s a plan and a process which should remain in place.  It’s the one thing Malcolm Turnbull has given up although I do note of course the Murray Darling Basin policy progress or reforms are pretty much done and dusted, pretty much completed last week when we agreed to the cap on buybacks so there is not much to be done on the Murray Darling Basin.  What Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t yet done is explained whether Barnaby Joyce now simply has responsibility for the Murray Darling Basin or whether he has responsibility for water more generally.  If it’s a general brief that’s bad news for agriculture.

HAYES:  Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon thanks so much for your time.

FITZGIBBON:  It’s a great pleasure.       


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