Transcript - ABC Statewide Drive Victoria - Wednesday, 22 November 2017

SUBJECTS: Gina Rinehart’s $40K agriculture award to Barnaby Joyce, Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.


HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Joel Fitzgibbon, good afternoon.


HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, he’s declined. Story over.

FITZGIBBON: No I don’t think so and I don’t think any Australian would see it that way. Barnaby Joyce had ample opportunity last night to say, look this is a very nice gesture, I thank you for it but you know I can’t accept the cash of $40,000. Please take it back, donate it to a charity or indeed give it to a thousand other people in the agriculture sector who are more deserving than me. It’s only amongst the chorus of condemnation this morning that he has decided to give the money up.

HOST: Well he gave it back, so it’s a non-issue.

FITZGIBBON: He has given it back, but you don’t avoid punishment for robbing a bank by giving the money back Nicole. It is inconceivable that Barnaby Joyce didn’t know he was receiving that award last night, therefore he had ample opportunity to think about it. Even if he hadn’t, I mean all of us are surely smart enough instinctively as politicians to think immediately - wow, $40,000 cash from a mining magnate in the middle of an election campaign, no thank you.

HOST: Well he didn’t rob a bank. He was honoured for his contribution to agriculture and he returned the money. This suggestion that he has acted in a criminal manner is profound overreach don’t you think?

FITZGIBBON: Well we know Gina Rinehart gave him $50,000 for his 2013 election campaign and we see now another $40,000 donation dressed up as an award. You say he was acknowledged, but acknowledged by who? No one is prepared to say today they had any role in this and everyone is denying any knowledge of it. It appears the only judge in the event was Gina Rinehart, his long-term benefactor. If that’s not the case then she come out and say so.

HOST: He wouldn’t be the first person though to be provided with a favour from mates. This is something that is quite common in political circles.

FITZGIBBON: I think it needs to be looked at in the context. He’s contesting an expensive by-election in New England. He could have been in Tamworth last night debating publicly with and against his fellow candidates. But instead he flew to Canberra. I’d like to know how he got to Canberra because he has a history of using Gina’s jets – to pick up $40,000 no doubt designed to be a cash contribution to his campaign. I think that makes it a lot different than some of the other examples you might have been referring to and indeed, Gina has a long history of donating money to Barnaby and taking him on trips to India and you remember that Gina Rinehart was the beneficiary when the Government knocked out her competitors when she was making a bid for the S. Kidman and Co properties.

HOST: What are arguing there? What is the point you are making?

FITZGIBBON: The point I’m making is all about -

HOST: Are you saying Gina Rinehart is being given political favours by the Turnbull Government?

FITZGIBBON: I’m saying, you were suggesting it’s fairly normal for business people to give donations to political parties. That is true. I said that I think most Australians would look at this in its context, the by-election campaign and the history of the relationship with Barnaby Joyce and Gina Rinehart and they will be seeing this as an inappropriate act.

HOST: Everybody is doing everybody favours though in the political sphere while the rest of us sit out here in voter-land and pay our taxes and try to get by. I’m reading a story from the Australian from October 17, 2015 about Bill Shorten appearing at the Royal Commission into the Unions where it was revealed that he had hired a young Labor member to work on his 2007 election campaign and the employment of this young man had been funded by what amounted to an undeclared political donation. So the point that I am making is, yes Barnaby Joyce may have received $40,000 from Gina Rinehart that he has now returned, but there is all of this sort of political favours and money being shared amongst friends in the political sphere. This is not something which is just confined to the Nationals or the Conservatives or to Barnaby Joyce. Everybody is in on this giggle.

FITZGIBBON: The point I’m making is I’m not judge or jury here. This has had universal condemnation throughout the country today no less indeed from the National Farmers’ Federation who were very quick this morning to disassociate themselves from the award that was given last night.

HOST: Did they know? Did they know Barnaby Joyce was to get this award?

FITZGIBBON: The National Farmers’ Federation says it didn’t know by way of the Twittersphere today so I can’t challenge that. I have no reason to doubt them. Although it has been revealed the National Farmers’ Federation was given $60,000 from the Agriculture Department to run this so called hashtag Ag Day and I think, well some people might think that’s money well spent, I think the majority of Australians will be asking questions about whether $60,000 on a hashtag campaign is the best use of public money and it still is a little bit confusing the link between the campaign and the dinner last night and of course these questions will continue to be asked and I think Malcolm Turnbull as the current Agriculture Minister has some very significant questions to answer.

HOST: What are you claiming? That Barnaby Joyce’s Department has provided $60,000 to assist a project which is championed by his friend Gina Rinehart who then gives him $40,000?

FITZGIBBON: What is very clear is that last became the festival of Barnaby. Bubbling speeches about Barnaby Joyce in the middle of an election campaign. Now we don’t know what the link is between the $40,000 and the $60,000 contributed by the Department of Agriculture. Maybe there is no link but I think it is the role of the Opposition to hold Government to account and to ask questions people expect us to do that and we will continue to do so.

HOST: Okay so he has given the money back. What do you now asking be done?

FITZGIBBON: Well the question first of all is would Barnaby Joyce have given this money back this morning if it hadn’t been so controversial? Everything we saw last night suggests he would not have. I mean he looked at that cheque last night, gazed at it and said wow, what can I do on my own farm with this. He didn’t look anything like a guy who was planning to give the money back. I think the whole range of questions to be asked here about the interactions between the various sponsors and organisers of the event, but more particularly the role of the Government in what has been really a seedy experience for most Australians.

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, Richard Di Natale is today calling for National Voluntary Assisted laws after the Victorian Parliament passed its historic legislation through the Upper House. What’s your view on Voluntary Assisted Legislation?

FITZGIBBON: Well I know it is a very challenging and confronting issue Nicole and I had to deal with it myself way back in the Howard years when we overturned the Northern Territory legislation. I, like most people can see deeply both sides of the argument. Last time when I was given an opportunity, I voted against euthanasia, mainly because I think when you have any doubt you default to safety. I remember saying in my speech that people claim this is about giving people a choice. My main fear is that in some circumstances, people won’t have a choice.

HOST: So if you were to take office, you would again seek to overturn the Victorian legislation?

FITZGIBBON: Oh no, the Commonwealth isn’t capable of overturning state legislation. It was a unique case because it was  a territory Government which was making the change and the Commonwealth has absolute power over what they do. I doubt the Commonwealth would ever again have to make the decision because as I said it is a matter of individual states. I would never criticise or be critical of anyone who is backing a plan for euthanasia. I am very close for example with Jaala Pullford, the Agriculture Minister in Victoria and she is doing a fantastic job based on her own personal experiences advocating for her side. I respect everyone in this debate. I’m not sure what I would do if I had the opportunity again. But what I would do is what I did last time and that is spend many hours researching the subject and updating myself because it’s more than a decade ago when I last dealt with it. I do instinctively hold in my mind some caution about sanctioning euthanasia. Euthanasia happens on a daily basis now as we speak by well-trained doctors who make difficult decisions. The law says now to increase a sedative to the point where it accelerates death is a very legal thing to do and doctors are doing it all the time. In fact I suspect very strongly that they did so with my own father.

HOST: What do you mean?

FITZGIBBON: Well my father had very, very advanced dementia and his body was basically shutting down in the end. I have no doubt his medication was increased to both reduce pain and the stress of it all, but there’s little doubt in my mind that it also accelerated his demise and I would much rather doctors be making that decision than having politicians sit in political chambers making that for them.

HOST: Doctors will be making that decision in Victoria Joel Fitzgibbon.

FITZGIBBON: I haven’t had a close look at the Victorian legislation. I don’t claim to be an expert on that at all, but I am just making the point that you try to put euthanasia into statutes, with rigid laws, it does create some problems but again I say I respect all arguments and if I ever am confronted with the need to make a decision again I would be researching and consulting widely again.

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you so much for your time.

FITZGIBBON: It’s a great pleasure.


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