Transcript - ABC Radio Capricornia - Thursday, 20 April

SUBJECTS: Visit to Rockhampton region, disaster funding, Decentralisation, APVMA.


HOST ANGUS PEACOCK: The Shadow Minister for ag has just come into the studio, and he joins me now.


HOST: What brings you to the region?

FITZGIBBON: I’m here at Bill Byrne's invitation. You know I have been a regular visitor here. You can’t have a strong national economy without a strong Queensland economy and you can’t have a strong Queensland economy without strong regions. Of course the Rockhampton region is critical to all of that. I’m a regular visitor here and Bill has invited me to talk on a range of issues including of course to have a look at post cyclone recovery and how all that is happening.

HOST: Where do you intend to go to observe that?

FITZGIBBON: I’m in Bill Byrne's hands today and haven’t seen the program but we are certainly going out to Rookwood Weir because as you know that has been a point of contention and Bill would like me to get a better understanding of exactly where that is and what it will do, what is the cost and what is the business case. But along the way I’m sure we’ll be having a look at some of the areas most affected and how people are dealing with the clean-up.

HOST: Well I guess it really shines the light on…the Federal Government’s involvement in these issues, it can’t obviously stop them but it can play a role in how we respond to them and the main way it does that is through the category A,B and C funding arrangements which is distributed through (inaudible) and we have category C for some districts. Can that system be improved?

FITZGIBBON: Systems can always be improved. It’s a system we have been working through for a very long time. Full credit to Joe Ludwig the former Labor Minister from Queensland who I think improved that system markedly when he was in that role. It’s a pretty good system but it could always be improved. Of course we were all pretty disappointed with the way Barnaby Joyce tried to politicise that process.

HOST: He wouldn’t say that, I think there were two parties politicising it and they were politicians and that’s what they do. In the end he has approved category C funding for these people and it’s significant amounts of taxpayers money so maybe there needs to be a political fight before those decisions are made.

FITZGIBBON: Well not when you create the political fight deliberately for your own political advantage. We shouldn’t dwell on it because people don’t want to hear it. It was a great source of disappointment to me but we won’t improve this system while ever people are trying to gain political mileage.

HOST: So what incentive would Barnaby Joyce have, given he’s a member of a regional area, what incentive would there be there for him to hold up that money? The incentive on his part would be to give the money because it reflects well on him.

FITZGIBBON: No one is suggesting that Barnaby Joyce sought to hold up money. I’m certainly not doing that. Two words explain all of this- One Nation. Barnaby Joyce sees everything through that prism. The Nationals are very concerned about One Nation eroding their primary vote. So Barnaby likes to create straw men which is exactly what he did with disaster relief so he could ride into town making himself look like a hero at the expense of others.

HOST: So how concerned are you about One Nation? You are obviously up here visiting our local member. The State election is not that far, I don’t know if that’s related? Are you concerned about One Nation eroding the support base the Labor Party has in this region?

FITZGIBBON: Nowhere near as concerned as the LNP of course.

HOST: That’s open to interpretation I guess.

FITZGIBBON: I think it’s fair to say that One Nation poses a greater threat to the LNP than the Labor Party. That’s just a statement of fact and you see it in everything Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce do at the moment. A fear on One Nation - all of these things he is announcing this week is a reaction to One Nation.

HOST: Now we only have two and a half minutes until we have to go to AM, but decentralisation is probably the other issue that has been in the headlines. From someone who lives in a regional centre, I would welcome some Government instrumentalities where it makes sense moving them to the regions. What’s your view on it?

FITZGIBBON: Well you made the point yourself Angus, where it makes sense. The fact is this Government doesn’t have a decentralisation policy, it has a few spin lines mainly provided by Barnaby Joyce. You haven’t seen Malcolm Turnbull for example give any imprimatur to what Barnaby Joyce has been saying. Decentralisation can work when it is properly planned and it’s rational and logical and has been done properly and is cost effective. But Barnaby Joyce has a whole series of thought bubbles. His attempt to move this pesticides authority to his own electorate is going to cost tax payers $60 million and decimate the authority and its capacity to deliver for farmers.

HOST: Well you could also say Armidale is a hub for agriculture research throughout entire Australia in fact our research, that used to be here in Rockhampton, a lot of it has gone to Armidale so it makes sense, from an outsider’s perspective, perfect sense that the pesticides authority would go to Armidale.

FITZGIBBON: Except the APVMA doesn’t do research. It analyses..

HOST: No but it’s a research hub for agriculture.

FITZGIBBON: I’m sorry but it’s not. It’s an authority paid for by the chemical companies through fee applications and what it does is analyse the data provided by those companies to make sure crop protection for example isn’t harmful.

HOST: Isn’t that research?

FITZGIBBON: No they just analyse the data, it’s a much different concept.

HOST: That’s research I think.

FITZGIBBON: There is no argument for putting the APVMA near of next to a university. It’s a pork barrel and probably ...

HOST: Yeah but it’s in the hub of probably one of the most productive agricultural hubs and one of the highest pesticides user in the Australian agricultural economy.

FITZGIBBON: And what all those farmers rely upon is an APVMA that in a timely and affordable way can deliver them the crop protection and animal medicines they need to lift their productivity and what this relocation is doing is driving staff out of the agency and undermining its capacity to do just that.

HOST: I know staff have chosen to stay in Canberra and people make those decisions for all sorts of family reasons, but change is discordant so how do we decentralise and make it a good idea without there being this resistance as there’s always resistance.

FITZGIBBON: The Labor Party has a rich history in decentralisation and where we have done it, we’ve done it logically and we have done it well. It’s this current Government that has been unwinding all of that by closing down agencies in regions, sacking people in Centrelink. If they just restored the jobs they have taken away in the regions, they would do much more than by to pork barrelling agencies into electorates like Barnaby Joyce’s.

HOST: Alright thank you, got to go to the news, thanks for coming in. 


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