SUBJECTS: New National Party leader, Coalition Agreement, corporate tax cuts, Chinese domestic politics.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: In about thirty minutes time the National Party will meet to determine who will be our next Deputy Prime Minister. In my experience, Australians care little about who will be wearing the akubra. They really don’t know any of the candidates. What has them more curious is how it is that the National Party, all 21 of them, is about to determine who will soon hold the second highest office in the land. They don’t understand the Coalition Agreements. And they certainly don’t understand why the Prime Minister and his National Party counterpart is so determined to keep the Coalition a secret from the Australian people. We see in Germany, Angela Merkel, released publicly her agreement with the minor parties; we see in New Zealand, the new Prime Minister releasing her arrangement with other minor parties. Why is it that Malcolm Turnbull is not prepared to share with the Australian people what he promised to do, or not to do, to form a government? Now the Labor Party is 69 members strong in the House of Representatives. The Liberal Party has 60 members. Malcolm Turnbull is only Prime Minister today because of arrangements he’s entered into with a minor party called the Nationals. The Australian people are absolutely entitled to know what arrangements Malcolm Turnbull agreed to, to be Prime Minister. Malcolm Turnbull is so determined to keep it a secret he has been fighting me in the courts for the last couple of years to keep that a secret. Barnaby Joyce you will recall said that the first, second, third and sixth aspiration with respect to the Coalition Agreement is that it remain a secret. Now Malcolm Turnbull today, before he goes entering into a new Coalition Agreement with the new National Party leader must table that document. Must share with the Australian people exactly what deals he did to become the Prime Minister of this country. He should stop spending big amounts of taxpayers’ money fighting me in the courts. He should just hand the document over. And Michael McCormack, if he is to be the new leader, could get off to a good start by not being Barnaby Joyce, by doing just the opposite of Barnaby Joyce, and to share also that Coalition Agreement with the Australian people. It is the right thing to do and they should together do it today. If Malcolm Turnbull fails this test, if he continues to hide the Coalition Agreement from the Australian people, then the Australian people will be absolutely entitled to ask the question - what is he hiding, what deals did he enter into to be the Prime Minister, and why isn’t he prepared to share those deals with the Australian people?
JOURNALIST: What do you think he is hiding?
FITZGIBBON: Well we just don’t know what he is hiding, because Malcolm Turnbull won’t share that Agreement with us. What we do know is that when Malcolm Turnbull rolled Tony Abbott, the National Party was angry and then they agreed to get behind Malcolm Turnbull because they had secured a new Coalition Agreement. The implication was it was a Coalition Agreement which was extensive and going very much beyond Cabinet arrangements, that is, who was in the Cabinet or not in the Cabinet, but to policy issues. Now, we need to know what Malcolm Turnbull promised and indeed how consistent those promises are with the general objectives of the Liberal Party.
JOURNALIST: Like you said, Michael McCormack is expected to emerge as Nationals leader, what do you expect from his leadership as Deputy PM?
FITZGIBBON: We know that Michael McCormack is the first non-farmer to lead the Nationals since Charles Blunt. That is an ominous sign for Michael McCormack. Barnaby Joyce was certainly all hat and no cowboy. So Michael McCormack is going be off to a slow start to prove that he can adequately represent the farming community. But of course this goes beyond agriculture. This is a party which purports to represent rural and regional Australia but Michael McCormack over the last four years has lined up to vote for every cut Malcolm Turnbull has imposed on rural and regional Australia. So he is off to a bad start. He comes off a low base – it is going to be a big job for him. But it would be a very good start for him to do what Barnaby Joyce wasn’t prepared to do and that is, share the arrangements with Malcolm Turnbull with the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: On corporate tax cuts [inaudible] Is Labor split over its opposition to corporate tax cuts? The National Left faction over the weekend has become more resolved in its opposition to that but Chris Bowen left open the possibility of supporting it if the economy was in surplus.
FITZGIBBON: The Labor Party is united and strong on this question. We support internationally competitive tax arrangements but we have bigger priorities at a time when the budget is under enormous stress. Those priorities go to the productive side of the economy, investing in people, investing in health and investing in education. This is so important if we are to be internationally competitive into the future.
JOURNALIST: So as Chris Bowen said, if the economy was in surplus, it’s something that could be reconsidered?
FITZGIBBON: Tax cuts and a more competitive tax model internationally is always an aspiration of the Labor Party. But at this time when Malcolm Turnbull is cutting so many programs that directly impact on Australians, we have other priorities and we will continue to pursue those priorities.
JOURNALIST: PM in court, and we were funding that basically. So are you funding your own -?
FITZGIBBON: The Australian taxpayer is paying expensive lawyers to keep Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition deal a secret. I partly funded my own fight, but we have actually reached out to the community for support. We have been crowd funding our legal action and we also have support from the legal firm we have engaged but it is a case in point that the Australian people have been prepared to donate to this cause. That’s a reflection on how angry they are that Malcolm Turnbull would do a deal to become Prime Minister and then hide that deal from them.
JOURNALIST: Are there any positives to come out of this whole fiasco? Do you see any positives for the Labor Party?
FITZGIBBON: I think the one interesting aspect to come out of this fight in the National Party is that the Australian people have finally come to realise that Malcolm Turnbull does not have the numbers to be Prime Minister in the House of Representatives but indeed he relies on the support of a minor party called the National Party to serve as the Prime Minister and he has entered into deal to be Prime Minister which he is not prepared to share with the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: One more question, news out of China that the Government there is looking to amend their constitution to ask Xi Jinping to run for more than two terms as President which is the first time and is unprecedented. Are you concerned or should Australia be concerned about this consolidation of power in one person?
FITZGIBBON: How the Chinese deal with their domestic politics is a matter for the Chinese.