SUBJECTS: Banking Royal Commission; Turnbull’s $17 billion hand out to the banks; Turnbull Government failing on biosecurity; developing the Northern Territory; NAIF.
LUKE GOSLING: Thanks for coming down here. It is great to have Joel Fitzgibbon in town and we have got Jason Clare coming to town as well this week. I think it shows our commitment to assisting industry and putting some flesh on developing the North . We have heard a lot from the Turnbull Government about developing the North, but not much action. We have got the Food Futures Conference on this week so it is great to have Joel up here. We have been talking to industry and I will let Joel talk about that shortly. Before I do that, I just wanted to talk about this Banking Royal Commission. Right here, this week, in Darwin we have got the Banking Royal Commission, and over the last couple of days we have been hearing about stories from people, real people, getting screwed by banks and financial institutions, including vulnerable people from the communities here in the Northern Territory. We have got this insane situation where we have got a Prime Minister who avoided having a banking royal commission for over 600 days, was forced to have it, and what we have seen is he has been protecting institutions that have been ripping off Territorians, ripping off Australians. But yet ,he is still going to reward them with a $17 billion hand out in the form of corporate tax cuts for that very high end of town. And we know, that in Prime Minister Turnbull’s world view they deserve a $17 billion tax hand out but we also know that 60 per cent is going to go to overseas shareholders. We would rather see $17 billion not go to the banks, but go to our education system. So we want to support business, we will support business, but at the same time we are calling for accountability for these institutions that have been ripping off people on the land, and ripping off indigenous Territorians like we have been hearing about this week. But it is great to be here with Joel. The dry season is here. There is heaps on in the Top End. We have got some high level conferences going on in Darwin. I will just hand over to Joel to tell us a bit about that. Thanks mate.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Thanks Luke. It is great to be back in Darwin. As Luke indicated, Jason Clare and I will both be here this week doing a round of consultations with Luke. Today I will speak at the food forum. Unfortunately there will be no Turnbull Government representative at that forum. This is unacceptable and I know a great let down for the organisers. It shows a contempt for Northern Australia on the part of the Turnbull Government. Luke and I have been consulting various stakeholders, industry leadership groups, over the course of the last couple of days and what I see is a group of people still absolutely confident that we can build on our aspirations here in the North, particularly in the agriculture sector. But groups bitterly disappointed that after five years of government, all the Turnbull Government has delivered is a report or two. We had a Northern Australia White Paper. It is gathering dust. It has had no real effect on development in the North. We had an agricultural White Paper. It is gathering dust. It has had no real positive impact for the agricultural sector. We have seen the collapse of the CoAG process and the cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States. I have just met with Minister Ken Vowles who is doing a great job here in the Territory but, like me, he laments the fact that Barnaby Joyce actually abolished the Steering Council on Primary Industries, the CoAG Committee in charge of enhancing cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States. As a result of this we see biosecurity issues emerging, like the Whitespot disease in prawns, which caused terrible devastation aired publicly on Monday night. One thing is clear, the Government has gone missing on important issues biosecurity. Our biosecurity goes to the heart of our competitive advantage in the agriculture sector and it is most disappointing the Government continues to drop the ball. Malcolm Turnbull comes to the Territory from time to time for a selfie. But he never comes here to consult the key stakeholders and to deal with the real issues. Until the Commonwealth is prepared to get serious about development in the North, we will continue to fall short on our aspirations. If I could just pick up on something Luke just said about the Banking Royal Commission, as the Agriculture spokesman, I see these stories on a daily basis, real people are hurting out there as a result of the behaviour of the banks. Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues voted against a royal commission 23 times. Now he wants to reward the banks with a $17 billion tax cut. It is not good enough. It is about time the Turnbull Government started sticking up for our farmers, rather than siding with the perpetrators of some of these terrible acts we’ve seen imposed to the detriment of our farming community.
JOURNALIST: In terms of developing the North what would Labor do?
FITZGIBBON: Well you know the most common issue raised with me, with respect to our aspirations for the North, is workforce. We need more people working in the Territory. There are too many people not working that could be working and we have a workforce shortage generally. But we need a whole-of-government approach. This is where CoAG comes to the fore again, what we need to be dealing with is local issues and it starts with Gonski, fully funding Gonski, making sure people secure the early skills to take up these opportunities. It is about investing again in vocation education and training, an area of public funding which the Turnbull Government has cut over the course of the last five years. And of course it is getting in our high schools and making sure young people understand the opportunities of the 21st Century in some of these sectors. And of course it is about fine tuning the visa system so that when we can’t fill jobs with local people we have foreign workers who are capable of doing that on a short term basis.
JOURNALIST: What about the notion of a tax free zone to encourage more businesses to come and relocate to the Territory and set up their offices here and employ more people.
FITZGIBBON: My experience is tax free zones is something politicians say when they have nothing else to say. We need to be dealing with the issues that have been raised with me this week and they go to foreign investment and the Turnbull Government has been doing its best to push foreign investors away from Australia including Northern Australia. We need to do something on work force. There are still opportunities for water infrastructure projects that are real and meaningful. Not just throw away lines about “catchment dams”. These are the things that matter to both farmers and other investors in the North. And we need to stick to the things that have been raised with me this week.
JOURNALIST: What about some of the Federal agencies’ offices being moved here? Public servants?
FITZGIBBON: Well the Territory has a strong history of public service and a strong public service itself. We don’t have any problem with agencies being moved to Darwin, in particular, and other parts of the country. As long as by moving them you don’t undermine the capacity of the agency to do its work, as we have seen in the case of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority where Barnaby Joyce tried to pork barrel it to his own electorate only to destroy the capacity of that agency. And I think Luke, the Government has actually moved workers away from the Territory recently with the Australian Electoral Commission. Is that right? So let the Turnbull Government be honest about what it is doing. Shuffling jobs around doesn’t create new jobs.
JOURNALIST: Would you have liked have seen more investments made from the Infrastructure Fund?
FITZGIBBON: Obviously. The NAIF has become a bit of a joke in Canberra. It has now funded one project, and we welcome that, but this Government has had five years. It likes writing reports but it doesn’t like doing things.