PARLIAMENT HOUSE COURTYARD
MONDAY, 6 JULY 2015
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Sometime yesterday or last night, the Leader of one political Party in Australia told the Deputy Leader of another political Party which TV program he can and cannot appear on. This is an extraordinary situation, this is not Soviet Russia, or even modern day Korea. This is Australia - a democracy. And Barnaby Joyce should be able to appear on any program he likes and I call upon him today to stand up to the Prime Minister, to reject his edict and appear on that television program tonight. If he does so he will certainly have my support. I think he will have the support of both the Labor Party and the broader community who expect their senior Ministers to appear and explain their plans for the nation. Today Barnaby Joyce will launch, officially as I understand it, his Agricultural White Paper. Tonight was a wonderful opportunity for him to attempt at least to sell that White Paper. I think it is a deficient White Paper substantially, but this is his opportunity to explain the White Paper to the Australian community and to account for some of the numbers in particular in that White Paper. Today Barnaby Joyce needs to stand up. I think the Australian community expect him to stand up. The Prime Minister was with Barnaby Joyce just on Saturday morning, he could have had this conversation with Barnaby then, that would have been the courteous thing to do. But instead, he picks up the phone either yesterday afternoon or last night, in a last minute approach to order Barnaby Joyce not to appear tonight. Well I think he should. We have got to ask ourselves why the Prime Minister is doing this. He says it is about Zaky Mallah, I think it is about much more than that. The Zaky Mullah incident is behind us, the ABC has acknowledged its mistake, it has apologised, it has been subject to an independent inquiry. Now this is not about Zaky Mallah, this is about the Prime Minister and his mind games. His mind manipulation and his determination to shut down any debate which he doesn’t believe is in the interests of him and his political Party.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe the Prime Minister has gone too far? We have heard the “heads will roll” comment and now we have seen an ongoing onslaught, if you like, against the ABC now with frontbenchers being told they cannot appear at all on Q and A. Is the Prime Minister going too far against the ABC?
FITZGIBBON: “The heads should roll” phrase was very unfortunate given around about the same time he was on national television, in prime viewing time, when children are watching the television, using phrases like “the death cult is coming to get us”. Now that is an extraordinary thing for a Prime Minister to say, he has got to be building confidence and aspiration in our community, not fear. But this of course is what he is about, he is about mind games and shutting anyone who doesn’t agree with him.
JOURNALIST: But the PM’s Office says it isn’t appropriate for a Minister to appear whilst this independent audit by the ABC is still ongoing – is that not reasonable?
FITZGIBBON: Well people will just laugh at that prospect won’t they? So there is an independent inquiry which I believe wasn’t necessary in the first place, looking into why someone did and didn’t decide to have someone on a television program and the Prime Minister thinks you are somehow going to interfere with that process by allowing Barnaby Joyce to appear on the program tonight. That is just a ridiculous proposition. The Australian community will see it as such. This is a high rating show and Tony Abbott doesn’t like it because somehow in his mind he believes the conversation generally speaking, leans to the left and is therefore somehow a disadvantage to his aspirations.Well, have a think about that. He is shutting down community debate because he doesn’t believe it is in his own political interests. That might be the first time we have seen this in this country in modern political history.
JOURNALIST: What does this say about the position of the Nationals, given this was their Deputy Leader and in one of their prize portfolios going to speak?
FITZGIBBON: Well we know that the Agriculture White Paper was a creature of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Prime Minister himself rather than Barnaby Joyce.We know thanks to leaks from Barnaby Joyce’s own side that the original draft was full of to quote “every crack pot idea we’ve seen in the last twenty years” I think it was. So it is obvious Barnaby Joyce has been rolled on the White Paper and I welcome some of that by the way as I suspect those “crackpot ideas” would have been just that. He has been rolled on the White Paper and today was his big day - National Press Club. I will be attending the Press Club to commit myself again to my determination to have a bipartisan approach, notwithstanding the fact that I think the White Paper is a failure. And tonight on Q and A, an opportunity to explain himself, to account for some of those rubbery figures in the White Paper, to share his aspirations for agriculture, to talk about things that matter to the National Party generally, because he is their Deputy Leader. He has now been denied that opportunity because of some obsession the Prime Minister has about Q and A.
JOURNALIST: In all honesty, how much of a conversation, a realistic conversation about agriculture and what it really means and what the White Paper is trying to achieve do you think Barnaby Joyce could expect on Q and A, compared to say, the questions he got yesterday on “Insiders”?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I have appeared on Q and A on many occasions and a number of television programs in recent months where I have been very pleased by the level of interest in agriculture. One of the things I was determined to do when we lost government was to lift the profile of agriculture and you know I think the odd stoush Barnaby and I have from time to time does help to lift the profile. I think people see two energetic people going hard, fighting the key issues within agriculture – that is a good thing. I believe that Barnaby Joyce on the very evening of the day he launched formally the White Paper he would have had an opportunity to share some of those views, to share his aspirations for agriculture. The Prime Minister has just denied him that opportunity.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull is due to appear before Q and A next week, so if the Prime Minister rolled Barnaby Joyce this time, it sets up an interesting potential showdown with Malcolm Turnbull. What is your [inaudible]
FITZGIBBON: Well I would like to have twenty dollars on Malcolm Turnbull appearing on Q and A next Monday night. I would be amazed if Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t do what Barnaby Joyce should do today and give the Prime Minister the single finger and get on with it. I would be very shocked if he doesn’t show the strength to appear next Monday night.
JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten’s personal rating is shockingly low, isn’t it time to seriously reconsider his leadership?
FITZGIBBON: Well I have got a strong interest in opinion polls, I have watched them for a very long time, I study them closely and what I saw this morning was two polls that have Labor ahead on the two party preferred basis. And in my experience one of the things that fuels that primary vote and the two party preferred vote is of course the Leader. So yes, Tony Abbott is throwing the kitchen sink at Bill Shorten, investing some $70 or $80 million in a Royal Commission and of course that is going to take a little bit of bark off but I am confident Bill Shorten will come out of that process very well but two polls today, both favouring Labor, I’ll take that any day.
JOURNALIST: Labor is still ahead, do you ponder where you might be if you had a popular Leader?
FITZGIBBON: I believe we do have a very good Leader now and he is doing a fantastic job in the most difficult of circumstances, Opposition is always hard and we have a Prime Minister so desperate within his own Party Room. Look I believe that Tony Abbott’s support in the Party Room remains very soft. I don’t see Tony Abbott safe at all and it is very clear to me that he is going to do whatever he can, whatever it takes to ensure he remains the Leader and I think that is partly that’s what the Q and A ban is about.
JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten appears at the Royal Commission on Wednesday, you said that is going to “take some bark off” are you worried? Should Labor be worried?
FITZGIBBON: No, I have had conversations with Bill about this, he seems very confident.This is a person who has aspired to lead the Party for a long, long time, I don’t believe for a moment that anywhere along that path he would have done anything that might have threatened those aspirations.He seems very very confident in himself and I am very confident he will come through that process very well.
JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce has challenged you on the bipartisanship on the Agriculture White Paper and also for you to go to Bill Shorten and contribute the sort of money that is in it – though you have doubts about the figures but there is still a significant portion of new money. Have you done that yet? Will you be doing that?
FITZGIBBON: No Colin, I don’t have any doubts about the figures, these figures are outrageously inflated, some of them go out to ten years of course.The bulk of them are repayable loans over a ten year period, many of them are reannouncements, many of them are contingent upon State Government contributions, so the bucket of money is not a large one at all and of course you will see a very substantial policy from the Labor Party well before the next election. But can I say, I was the one who first offered the bipartisanship, I firmly and genuinely believe that we need to get agriculture out of the short political cycle, I sat down with Barnaby Joyce over a beer and talked about what the White Paper might look like, I asked him to ensure he included in his consideration Labor’s National Food Plan because there was some very very good work done there. I was very pleased when he very quickly echoed my sentiments – that he said he wanted to work with me to take a bipartisan approach - and I have tried. But this White Paper is so disappointing that it becomes pretty difficult.
JOURNALIST: But will we see a statement from Bill Shorten the Opposition Leader, on his support or not for the Ag White Paper?
FITZGIBBON: I have said the White Paper does have some good initiatives in it – FMD changes the obvious, counsellors in our overseas posts the obvious - I haven’t had a close look but improvements in traceability will be a good thing, improvements in quarantine will be a good thing if it is not offset by earlier cuts and they are questions that still remain unanswered. So of course Bill Shorten will support anything that does no harm and a little bit of good, my complaint is that this was a lost opportunity, this is a White Paper that could have done a lot of good. Thanks everyone.