Transcript - ABC Radio New England - Thursday 2 November 2017

SUBJECTS: New England By-election, APVMA, Barnaby Joyce citizenship issues, digital divide in the regions.


HOST KELLY FULLER: And a little more politics this morning as the by-election campaign warms up for our part of the world. The ALP is expected to announce their candidate for New England later this afternoon and we are joined this morning by the Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. He is in the region, good morning to you Mr Fitzgibbon.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Good morning Kelly, I’m standing just outside the beautiful old Armidale Court House. I’ve got a guy busking on a guitar not far behind me so I just pray that the background noise isn’t too bad.

FULLER: (inaudible) the sound track of our interview, I wonder what that will be. Alright, I guess let’s cut straight to it. The ALP often runs candidates in the region but this is shaping as a one-sided contest. Does anybody really have a chance against Barnaby Joyce in this campaign?

FITZGIBBON: Well people need to be cautious about treating it as a one-sided contest. By-elections are notoriously unpredictable and so many things can go right and wrong but we made a commitment, Bill Shorten and I, four years ago that we will never allow any community election to go uncontested. We believe in giving people a choice and my goodness there are plenty of choices to be made in this by-election. I see it as a great opportunity for the people of New England to send a clear message to Canberra that they are tiring of the dysfunction and chaos and they don’t appreciate the under investment in important services like health and education and of course the National Broadband Network.

FULLER: It seems though Barnaby Joyce’s popularity has only increased in this seat despite the citizenship scandal and his disqualification from Parliament. How do you interpret that mood, how to you interpret that particular response from the electorate?

FITZGIBBON: Well I think there is some sympathy for Barnaby Joyce in the electorate because some people look at Section 44 of the Constitution and they see it as a technicality but the reality is that all of us who’ve came to politics have been very conscious of section 44 for many years, it has been tested a few times in the last few decades and Barnaby Joyce had a responsibility like all of us to make sure he was compliant with the constitution, our most important document, and he either didn’t do so or he chose to hide his breach of the constitution. So some will have sympathy but many will not.

FULLER: But many do, and it seems from what we have been told of some polling, his primary vote is only increasing, yeah it does seem that this will likely strengthen his hold as a National Party seat.

FITZGIBBON: And as the campaign goes on, me and other visitors to the electorate, and there will be plenty of them from the Labor Party, will be reminding people that Barnaby Joyce voted for every proposition in the Parliament that is now hurting our regional communities all the way from health to education, to the penalty rates and other work place issues and of course he was a key player in the decision to give us a second-rate NBN which is so adversely affecting residents and businesses alike in the New England region.

FULLER: We spoke to Mr Joyce on the program on Monday and that was one of the issues we put to him about whether or not this policy had created a digital divide for places like New England where the Armidale region has NBN to the home and well established but places like Tamworth will have the multi-technology mix including the copper network. Why do you think this has been left for country towns in this way, is this going to be a major problem for the Nationals once people really realise the impact this could have?

FITZGIBBON: I think it is a huge problem. We in Government when we established the NBN very deliberately started the roll-out in regional areas so there wouldn’t be a digital divide but when Malcolm Turnbull decided to make the switch to copper, it was a game changer. Now, in my own home town in the Hunter Valley I have people pulling me up in the street saying, “I do not want the NBN” because they have heard from friends who are already connected that the second-rate, Turnbull’s second-rate NBN is inferior to the ADSL2 service they already had, so we’ve got two sort of digital divides now, a divide between city and country and a divide between those who already have Barnaby’s…NBN and those who don’t want it.

FULLER: Barnaby Joyce’s argument is that what the multi-technology mix would provide would be sufficient for what we need now.

FITZGIBBON: Well I dare Barnaby Joyce to walk into any pub or supermarket in Tamworth and put that proposition to the people who are already having a very bad experience. It is not the position, I said in the Tamworth Town Hall for Q&A during the last election campaign and when Barnaby made that suggestion there, the whole hall, hundreds of people basically howled him in response. They know what they are experiencing.

FULLER: On the APVMA, this is what Mr Joyce had to say on the show on Monday about in particular the ALP’s I guess position not to support its transfer to Armidale:

            BARNABY JOYCE: The ALP wants to take APVMA out of Armidale, okay? That is how the APVMA is going to help New  England,

FULLER: But public servants don’t want to come here

JOYCE: Well we had 450 applicants for the last round of jobs so that shows that there is a lot of interest actually. So what that means is all the people doing the courses, the courses we have designed, the ALP wants to wind all that back.

FULLER: That’s Barnaby Joyce on our program on Monday morning, we are talking to Joel Fitzgibbon, the Shadow Agriculture Minister for the ALP. So I mean despite I guess what you do read is a sense of criticism that the move out of Canberra maybe in the National debate, there is broad support for its move to Armidale. Why won’t the ALP see the benefit of supporting this transfer to promote more job opportunities in country towns.

FITZGIBBON: Well first of all Kelly, Barnaby Joyce just makes up numbers as he goes along. I don’t know where he gets that 400 figure from, but the base of APVMA is an illusion in Armidale, it’s a hoax basically, one perpetrated by Barnaby Joyce.

FULLER: How can it be a hoax when there is people in the region here… they are set up in the Centrelink building, it’s not a hoax, they’re there.

FITZGIBBON: Three admin people sitting in a Centrelink building, Kelly doesn’t make an APVMA. The reality is that Barnaby Joyce hasn’t been able to make this work and won’t be able to make it work, in fact he has already got new strategies in place. He is now going to de-regulate the work of this very important agency. He is going to be farming the work out to the private sector certified regulator if you like, because he can’t make this work so in the end he hopes that he will pretend to have an APVMA in Armidale, a handful of people there but the real work will be done by those who are still in Canberra or worse, those who are in the private sector now certified to do this important work. That is a backward step for our farming sector and it delivers no benefit to Armidale.

FULLER: Why is it a backward step having the private sector step into this environment if it’s possible, why can’t Australian’s benefit from a bit of, financially from research and development.

FITZGIBBON: Well the certified regulators won’t be in Armidale, they will still be in Canberra or Sydney or Perth, but I believe the work of the APVMA’s very, very important. It approves chemical sprays who goes onto our food so this goes to human health. They approve all the animal medicines that we rely upon, both our farmers and anyone with a companion animal and I want a Government agency in control of those threatening chemicals. I don’t want it farmed out to the private sector, I don’t want it to be regulated. And the other thing Barnaby Joyce is doing is setting up an IT system so the regulatory scientists and lawyers who refuse to Armidale can work from their homes in Canberra. It’s a hoax Kelly, it’s not going to happen so we are having a debate about something which is really just a fiction.

FULLER: Have you though encountered some concern about the ALP’s position during your visit on APVMA.

FITZGIBBON: Yeah, I was having a cup of coffee with a number of regional councillors here in Armidale and of course like any local they would love to have a new Government agency here in Armidale and we support them and Labor has a very, very proud history on decentralisation, but it’s got to be able to work and sadly, you know, if the APVMA was always struggling to get these high qualified scientists and lawyers in Canberra, and then certainly haven’t been able to get them to Armidale, this is people whose husbands or wives also work in Canberra, they’ve got their kids in Canberra schools and they just don’t have an interest in moving to Armidale. It’s no reflection on Armidale, these kind of qualified people can too easy get other jobs in Canberra or Sydney, etc. so it’s just the practicality of it Kelly. Decentralisation can work if properly planned and in some circumstances but the last agency you would try to move is the APVMA which is so dependent on these experts and which is now bleeding those experts and already its performance has collapsed and therefore our farmers aren’t getting the crop sprays and other products they need in a timely way.

FULLER: But given what you said though and you’re still encountering opposition on the ground to your position, is this going to be a dangerous, I guess vote, possible losing device for any candidate you put into the seat because there’re obviously local support for the move regardless of whatever the public servants are telling you in Canberra.

FITZGIBBON: Well, while ever Barnaby Joyce is running around perpetuating fiction, the hoax, well of course it makes our challenge difficult. My first response would be to this is to the whole country, the farmers, the vets, people with companion animals, health, export, because the sprays have to be tested for exports, my first obligation is to that and I’ll keep saying to people is well that’s what we need to get right and if we can make Armidale work, fine, but Kelly it’s not working and it won’t work but of course Barnaby Joyce is not going to admit that this side of the by-election or indeed before the next general election.

FULLER: Joel Fitzgibbon is with us on New England North West, he is in the region and you can tell there must be a by-election in the air. We’ve got all kinds of politicians and Canberra reporters about, as well talk about this campaign. So who will the ALP run in the by-election, have you made the decision and how much support will they receive from the Party?

FITZGIBBON: We have Kelly and you and your listeners will have to wait just a few hours and I will make that announcement, I’ll be with the candidate in Tamworth this afternoon and listening to the community. That person is a very good candidate, I am very pleased that that person has agreed to take up the position and again we will be campaigning here. We will have people like me, shadow ministers, coming through and talking about the key issues, health, education, the NBN, work place fairness and opportunity, the list is very, very long. You know, we made huge investments, you’re talking about the APVMA in Armidale, we spent $30million at UNE on the new agricultural education building and those various programs out there. Here in Armidale in the city centre where the APVM has 3 people, there are about 20 Centrelink jobs gone – 3 in, 20 out. So there are some important issues here that are having a real impact on people and their lives and we will be talking them all the way to the by-election today.

FULLER: Right and just to the support though, how much support will the party receive. You know last time the candidate David Ewings, he couldn’t actually take time off work to campaign so I guess that was a pretty big hit to his ability to be present in the region but I mean like will there be a significant investment or will it just be really through seeing figures popping up and doing photo ops.

FITZGIBBON: No we’re very serious about this by-election because again we see it as a good opportunity to urge people to send a message that they’re not happy about all these cuts, particularly in education and health, they’re unhappy about the NBN, they’re not happy about the withdrawal from Centrelink. The list in very, very long and I think that we will have people coming our way and using this by-election to send a clear message to Canberra that it is tired of the chaos and dysfunction and it is tired of a government that puts tax cuts for the big end of town in front of basic services both in investment and education and health.

FULLER: Barnaby Joyce has called for the next federal election, sort of an omnibus of referendum questions including a question about section 44. I guess that’s a fair way off now, but do you support an audit of all politicians and their ancestral stories as to finally end this drip feed of pain in the electorate the community are going to go through as more politicians fall foul of this part of the constitution?

FITZGIBBON: Its interesting isn’t it Kelly, Barnaby Joyce ignored section 44, he breached 44, he suffered the price and his key issue or policy now is to change 44. Well who will be surprised? I mean this is the guy who had a leadership position and couldn’t talk on those big national change in politics and has chosen only to do it now he is out of the Parliament. I find that extraordinary. No one in the Labor Party has a fear of an audit, the question only becomes is there is a decent return for the tax payer, is there a point in it. Let’s have the conversation. We want to stop the chaos and dysfunction in Canberra.

FULLER: Alright, Joel Fitzgibbon thank you for talking to us this morning.

FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure Kelly. 


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