SUBJECTS: Government not allowing a vote on the live sheep export trade; Malcolm Turnbull has lost the confidence of his Party-room.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: What happened in the House of Representatives this morning is extraordinary. It is clear that the Prime Minister has lost his Party-room. It is also clear that this Government has lost any policy or moral compass. Be in no doubt about it that what happened this morning occurred because Malcolm Turnbull didn’t believe he could win the vote on the phase out of the live sheep trade. The reason he doesn’t have the numbers is that those who are going to cross the floor in the Parliament reflect the overwhelming majority feel about the live sheep export trade. The Australian community wants the live sheep trade phased out. That is why so many of Malcolm Turnbull’s backbench were prepared to cross the floor this morning. Now, it is six weeks on from the night we saw that terrible footage on our television screens. These increased penalties were allegedly a centrepiece of the Government’s response. Now, the Government has pulled its own Bill. It has gone off into the never-never. We don’t know when it will return. But it is time the Government took serious action in response to what we saw on our television screens on the 60 Minutes program.
JOURNALIST: Has Sussan Ley’s Bill got a chance at all?
FITZGIBBON: Sussan Ley’s Bill requires an absolute majority of the House of Representatives, 76 votes, and obviously that is challenging. My Amendment this morning would have only required a simple majority of the House of Representatives, that is the big difference. The Amendment was a mirror image of the Sussan Ley Bill, but the prospects of success were much greater. Obviously Malcolm Turnbull did his count and concluded my Amendment would have been successful this morning. That is why the Bill was pulled.
JOURNALIST: How many crossed the floor?
FITZGIBBON: Well Malcolm Turnbull didn’t give them the opportunity to cross the floor. And, as we have seen in the past, a lot of pressure is applied on Members contemplating crossing the floor. And they are prone to change their mind at the last minute. In fact, I have seen them physically restrained from crossing the floor by Members of the Liberal Party. So we will never know how many would have crossed the floor this morning, but it is pretty clear that Malcolm Turnbull believed there would have been sufficient number for my Amendment to pass and therefore to phase out the live sheep trade over a five year period.
JOURNALIST: But in this case specifically, were you aware of any Liberal National Members ready to cross the floor?
FITZGIBBON: I am aware of Liberal Members who were prepared to cross the floor this morning. Obviously I am not going to name them, I don’t want to put even more pressure on them . They are already under significant pressure from Malcolm Turnbull. It is very clear that is the case. So I will let them decide whether they want to have that known publicly. But certainly Malcolm Turnbull came to the conclusion that my Amendment had a great prospect of success.
JOURNALIST: How many roughly were prepared to cross the floor?
FITZGIBBON: I am not just simply going into numbers. It is clear that Malcolm Turnbull came to the conclusion that they was a good chance my Amendment would win this morning.
JOURNALIST: Just to be clear the Bill that was the Government’s Bill was to make harsh penalties?
FITZGIBBON: The Bill that was before the Parliament involved increases in the penalties to those who breach animal welfare standards. Now, we were going to support the Bill because we believe it does no harm; but there is no sense really in increasing penalties which are never imposed. Historically we know that no one is ever penalised substantially for these breaches. So, really the increase in penalties is really a token response by this Government.
JOURNALIST: Are you willing to drop your amendments to get that through though?
FITZGIBBON: I am willing to work with the Government. I extended a bipartisan hand to the Government the day after we saw that terrible footage on our TV screens.