SABRA LANE, HOST: Earlier I was joined by the Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, to discuss the Review and Drought Policy. I started by asking him what difference the new drought policy would make?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES: Very little, unfortunately, and it’s the outcome you’d expect when you have policy on drought announced almost on a weekly basis. It’s very much policy on the run, it’s still ad hoc, it’s still piecemeal, and you know a few weeks ago the National Party released its own 10-point plan but not one dot-point was embraced by the Prime Minister yesterday. That says something about the modern National Party – Black Jack McEwen would be rolling in his grave.
LANE: You’re worried about the Farm Household Allowance – there are limits to how long people can actually be on that welfare payment. Those coming off it get a one-off payment of $13,000. Many non-farming small businesses who have gone through tough times would think that’s pretty generous.
FITZGIBBON: No, the government shouldn’t be taking drought-affected farmers off income support in the middle of the worst drought in our history. This is one very simple thing Scott Morrison could have done yesterday – he should have apologised and said, ‘look, this is crazy, we’re not going to keep taking the most – the farming families struggling the most, off this income support while this drought is ongoing. We’ll restore them and make a commitment to not take any farming families off it in the future. Not at least while the drought is ongoing.’ They’re taking nearly 1800 farming families off this income support, Sabra – it’s a callous act, it’s a mistake.
LANE: What are you going to do about it?
FITZGIBBON: Well Sabra we’re two and half years off being in government, and Anthony Albanese and I have extended a bipartisan hand to the Prime Minister. We’ve supported every initiative he’s taken. We don’t like the design, we don’t like the lack of strategy and planning but we’ve backed-in everything he’s done. What we do ask is that he restore those payments to struggling farming families, and, go back once again and start establishing a national strategic plan and start working with the states rather than being critical of the states.
LANE: just picking up on that point you made there about the next election, the Labor Review came out yesterday about the last election. It’s blamed three lethal factors for your party’s election loss this year: a weak strategy, poor adaptability and an unpopular leader – Bill Shorten. How do you turn that around?
FITZGIBBON: well it’s an honest, comprehensive and no-holds-barred document which I think importantly gives Anthony Albanese the authority he needs to take the party back to basics. Back to key values and objectives, as a party. And they are of course, fairness, equality of opportunity and economic security. A pretty basic formula.
LANE: it didn’t offer a view on policies. Should the party keep or cut the policies on franking credits, negative gearing? It also warned about the party being a grievance-led party.
FITZGIBBON: Well I doubt franking credits have much of a future, in the Labor Party. But all of our policies will be reviewed and they’ll be reviewed through a prism of Labor’s key values and they are equality of opportunity, economic security – that’s what’s important to people and we’ve got to focus again on our blue-collar base, and assuring our base that we support manufacturing, the mining industry, the energy sector and we have a plan to both give those sectors a future and those who work within them, a future.
LANE: How do you beat Scott Morrison? You believe that he’s mimicking Mr Trump from wearing baseball caps, to cultivating patriotic fervour, even coining his own term for fake news – you think that bubble-question phrase he uses is his term for that. The public seems to be liking all of that.
FITZGIBBON: he’s certainly reading the Donald Trump playbook but I think he’s a cheap imitation. I think there’s a stark contrast there – whether you support him or not, Donald Trump is a change-agent whereas Scott Morrison is just promising more of the same. He promised at the election that he’d change nothing and that’s one election promise he’s absolutely kept. But I do think people are looking for imagination, innovation, creativity and they want a government who sees a very rapidly changing world and has policies to adapt to that world, and provide opportunity for Australians.
LANE: you recently advocated adopting the Coalition’s policies on carbon emissions. It’s reported that Mr Albanese carpeted you for that. Is that right and will you still advocate that idea?
FITZGIBBON: well Albo and I certainly had a robust conversation about my views. There’s nothing wrong with that – that’s a healthy thing. The key point I was making is we need a policy settlement on carbon emissions. We want to be able to get things done. Emissions continue to rise every year and I was prosecuting a case to force Scott Morrison to reverse that and to hold him to account. We can sit back for three years and allow our emissions to continue to rise or we can put in place strategies to force Scott Morrison to finally do something.
LANE: Will you still advocate that idea of copying the Coalition’s policy?
FITZGIBBON: I’ll certainly keep advocating for a political settlement. I don’t want to go to another election where carbon emissions are front and centre in the election campaign. I don’t believe that’s good for the Labor Party but more particularly I don’t think it’s good for the country, because it’s a recipe for more rising emissions over the coming years and it’s a recipe for higher household energy bills and it’s a recipe for less manufacturing jobs in Australia.
LANE: you’ve reached out to Mr Morrison recently to end the wars on climate and energy – is he talking to you?
FITZGIBBON: no, I don’t think it’s in Scott Morrison’s character to accept the hand of bipartisanship. He’s demonstrated that on drought and I’m sure that will be the case on carbon and energy policy – that’s a mistake on his part because with a settlement we could meet our international obligation on carbon emissions, we could take meaningful action on climate change while at the same time retaining a strong coal mining industry and at the same time drive energy prices for households and manufacturers, down, rather than continue to allow them to rise.
LANE: that is the Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon