SUBJECTS: Barnaby Joyce dual citizenship; Coalition Agreement
ABC NEWS 24
MONDAY, 4 SEPTEMBER 2017
GREG JENNETT: Joel Fitzgibbon, we heard Tony Burke tell us this morning that we are in a situation where the bells may ring at Parliament House today and the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia may not be constitutionally allowed to be there, now as we speak Parliament has begun but there has been no immediate test of Barnaby Joyce’s status, what is going on?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Well, I don’t telegraph political strategy or tactics in the House. Suffice to say we will use every mechanism available to us in a responsible way to hold both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to account. You see, Barnaby Joyce seems to think this is about him and I suppose in a way that is understandable. Some people might even have some sympathy for Barnaby Joyce, they might argue how could he have known? Well the first response to that is, he should have known if he didn’t know. But it is not really about him, it is about our Parliamentary institution. We have a job as the Opposition, if the Prime Minister is not prepared to do so, to maintain and restore faith, confidence and respect in the Parliament.
JENNETT: You say that, but don’t you risk torching the institution and its standing with the public by prolonging scrutiny on something that really on the High Court can determine?
FITZGIBBON: No, I think it fair to say one thing has already been determined and that is that Barnaby Joyce has been sitting as a dual citizen and in breach of section 44. If in the end, the High Court I think is unlikely to find a way of accommodating him in the future, so be it. But as it stands, he was clearly a dual citizen and sat as such and should not be exercising his vote in the House of Representatives, and certainly shouldn’t be exercising ministerial powers.
JENNETT: Just to clarify that, to separate out these two issues, do you believe that he is entitled to be in the Parliament, before we get to the ministerial question, is he entitled to be in the Parliament pending this High Court decision?
FITZGIBBON: When Senator Matt Canavan stood down from the Cabinet and said he would remain in the Senate and would not exercise his vote, I was prepared to accept that as a reasonable proposition.
JENNETT: So that carries over to Barnaby Joyce?
FITZGIBBON: I think that Barnaby Joyce should go to the backbench, sit there and not exercise a vote, and wait for the High Court to make its determination. Look, if it clears him he can go back to voting and go back to the Cabinet if that is the Prime Minister’s choice. But if he loses in the High Court, and the weight of all advice is that he will lose in the High Court, backed again by Professor George Williams at the Press Club last week, then he has got to go to a by-election. What is it about Barnaby Joyce? Does he think he is so indispensable that the Cabinet cannot operate without him? Does he really believe it would be better for him to make decisions as a Minister with this dark cloud over him than someone who is clearly legally competent to make these decisions? Is that the level of arrogance we are dealing with?
JENNETT: What is that dark cloud you are talking about specifically, because I am not sure that you have nominated any particular decision that he might have made as Agriculture Minister that would be subject to legal challenge? What are they?
FITZGIBBON: Well it would be irresponsible of me to telegraphing people who might care to challenge those decisions in the future, what those decisions might be, that would be irresponsible. But suffice to say, those of us who have been Cabinet Ministers know, that on a daily basis we exercise our powers and authority by way of a signature. Barnaby Joyce is probably doing that as we speak, not just in one portfolio but in a number of portfolios.
JENNETT: How do you know he hasn’t backed off out of an abundance of caution and is not signing?
FITZGIBBON: Well Greg if he has backed off, he is not doing his job properly. That is the problem. Stand aside Barnaby Joyce and allow someone to make those decisions who is able to make all those decisions and of course is clearly legally competent to do so.
JANNETT: Would Labor be a party to any future legal challenges? Would you get your hands dirty in that respect?
FITZGIBBON: That is so hypothetical Greg that it is not worth considering at this stage. Suffice to say the guy has a big question mark over him. It is fair to say that the respect and confident in our political institutions is at an all-time low, largely by the way as a result of the way Tony Abbott took a wrecking ball to the Parliament all those years ago. We need to be rebuilding respect and confidence, not further undermining it because one guy wants to sit as a Minister for another couple of months rather than as a backbencher awaiting the High Court’s decision. It is arrogant and it is selfish.
JENNETT: You were in the thick of those Abbott years, in fact wearing the hat as the Chief Government Whip at the time, so you are familiar with those antics. Don’t you see shades of that re-emerging under Bill Shorten’s leadership?
FITZGIBBON: No I don’t and I was the Chief Government Whip and I did see Tony Abbott’s tactics. These guys lead a suspension motion every day for three years, every day.
JENNETT: You guys have a pattern, not every day admittedly.
FITZGIBBON: You have a Deputy Prime Minister insisting on sitting as a Minister, and as Deputy Prime Minister, making decisions and potentially proposing to sit as the acting Prime Minister. Now that is an issue worth debating in the House of Representatives. Tony Abbott had a debate every day no matter what was happening inside or outside the Parliament
JENNETT: Now just because you mentioned his name, Tony Abbott has re-emerged today holding up his citizenship renunciation with the UK Government demanding Bill Shorten so the same. Would it satisfy you to get rid of this as an issue if he did just that?
FITZGIBBON: Now this is a very interesting development this morning, I heard a journalist ask the question, did the Government ask you to come out and do this? I think the answer is no. Think about this, when Malcolm Turnbull rolled Tony Abbott no one was more angry than Barnaby Joyce. This is why we have all this secrecy around the Coalition Agreement, this is why I am in the Federal Court tryin on behalf of the Australian people to get a copy of this Coalition Agreement. Tony Abbott wasn’t out to help the Government this morning, anything but.
JENNETT: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for your thoughts.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.