SUBJECTS: Ministerial Code of Conduct, Barnaby Joyce, Coalition Agreement.
HOST PATRICIA KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture. Welcome to the program.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: PK, good to be with you.
KARVELAS: So the PM announced the ban on sexual relations on Thursday. Why did it take until today for Labor to back it?
FITZGIBBON: Because we didn’t want to fuel the distraction PK, that’s all this is all about. We will always support any initiative that makes the workplace safer, but what we know is Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday night wanted to be talking about a Code of Conduct rather than the real issues surrounding Barnaby Joyce. It’s a distraction and it is also designed to send the subliminal message that Barnaby Joyce hasn’t done anything wrong, but if the Code of Conduct had been stronger, he would have done wrong. It’s a pretty unusual defence.
KARVELAS: Should the sex ban also apply to other MPs? Why just Ministers?
FITZGIBBON: Patricia, Malcolm Turnbull had a thought bubble on Thursday afternoon and I’m not going to have a thought bubble this evening.
KARVELAS: But Labor has backed – if you’re calling it a thought bubble, Labor has backed it today. You’ve supported the thought bubble by that logic.
FITZGIBBON: Well if we are going to make changes to the Code of Conduct, which go to safety in the workplace, which has never been the case, then let’s talk properly. Let’s get some experts in, get their opinions, ask them what that framework would look like and of course we would be up for that conversation. I’m not going to do what Malcolm did last Thursday and just come out with something in order to distract from his real problems.
KARVELAS: Why did you support it if you think it is just, you know, made up on the spot and not based on evidence?
FITZGIBBON: Two reasons, it’s like workplace safety in the mines or in an industrial environment. We’re not going to oppose things that could be making the workplace safer, but we certainly weren’t going to make this the issue by somehow opposing it. That’s exactly what Malcolm Turnbull wants us to do. He wants us to be talking about the Code of Conduct rather than the many breaches Barnaby Joyce has made in offence to the Code of Conduct.
KARVELAS: So would Labor seek to improve or refine the Ministerial Code in this area if you formed Government? You have mentioned experts and bringing them in. Is that something you think you should do?
FITZGIBBON: Well if you’re going to improve standards in any workplace at any level then you wouldn’t do it by way of your imagination. You would take advice and do it over time and in consultation and having given it some thought and that’s clearly what Malcolm Turnbull didn’t do last Thursday. He wanted to be talking about the Code of Conduct rather than questions over Barnaby Joyce’s travel allowance, his mate Greg Maguire and talk of taxpayers’ money going into his business, the creation of jobs for his partner. Not just once but twice. Highly paid jobs which apparently, weren’t even needed.
KARVELAS: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said today there are still areas of a politicians life that are and should be private. Where do you see that line between private and public when it comes to the lives of politicians? Because these new rules mean, as the Prime Minister said today, if it was revealed that these sexual relationships were going on, these people, these Ministers would lose their jobs. Where is that line?
FITZGIBBON: I think Julie Bishop made some sense today. We want to be able to attract good people to politics. While it has it’s attractions and advantages many of them indeed, it also brings some other considerations. Separation from family is one. It’s obviously stressful and the workload is considerable. The other thing people do consider I’m sure when making a decision about running for office is whether they want to be living in that fish bowl. I suppose the tougher you make it or the more likely you make it that their private lives are going to come under scrutiny, the less likely they are to take the decision to commit to public service and that can end with a smaller and less attractive pool of candidates.
KARVELAS: So you think there is a real risk by going too far that people will just be scared to run for Parliament?
FITZGIBBON: Well we want to make sure good people, competent people and trustworthy people, people with imagination are still running for Parliament. People with an ambition for their country and for their local constituency. You do need to make sure you don’t make that too unattractive a proposition. I’m not saying that imposing community standards is sufficient to force them to make a decision not run for Parliament. I’m just saying in all manner of things we need to be careful not to make running for Parliament and committing yourself to public service too unattractive a proposition.
KARVELAS: Just on another issue, you want the Coalition Agreement between the Nationals and the Liberals to be made public. You’ve been pushing for this. If that agreement were to be made public, how would it change the current situation?
FITZGIBBON: Well we don’t know Patricia because we don’t know what is in it. What we do know is that Malcolm Turnbull has been fighting me in the Federal Court to keep it a secret. It begs the question if he’s fighting so hard, lining up highly qualified lawyers, paid for by the taxpayer, what has got to hide? This first came to a head for me when Malcolm Turnbull rolled Tony Abbott. Obviously Barnaby Joyce and some of the Nats weren’t too happy about that but Barnaby Joyce came back into line by declaring they had secured a new Coalition Agreement that made it all just dandy and fine. It prompted me to ask the question, well why don’t we have access to this Coalition Agreement? Remembering the Labor Party is the largest single Party in the House of Representatives. Malcolm Turnbull only governs and is only able to form a Government by going into a Coalition with a minor party called the National Party. I think there is nothing more fundamental to our democracy for people to be able to access what is in that agreement. The agreement that actually allows him to be Prime Minister.
KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for coming on.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.