SUBJECTS: Government’s policy back flips, dairy industry, failed drought policy and Agriculture White Paper; Peter Dutton au pair scandal.
TIM SHAW: The Member for Hunter is in the great seat of Hunter this morning, Joel Fitzgibbon welcome back to 2CC Breakfast Canberra.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: It’s great to be with you Tim.
SHAW: Mate has he taken the wind out of Labor’s sails? Because the great thing Labor has been able to do is be on the front foot with their consistent leader over the last five years is to tear apart consistently Coalition policy. Well it’s had an effect because the stuff you were probably relying on to win an election has just been kind of reneged upon by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. What’s your take on the back flips on policy?
FITZGIBBON: Well I just heard you quote Nick Cater, we all know his politics comparing Scott Morrison with Sir Robert Menzies. I don’t think too many of your listeners will appreciate that comparison. Look we have changed Prime Ministers Tim but, well we almost had all of the same policies. We have seen a back flip or two but I don’t think that Scott Morrison is fooling anyone. For example giving up his strive to lift the pension age to 70 is something he has done out political convenience it’s not something he believes in. He voted to raise the pension age about at least six times in the Parliament and he has argued the case now for many, many years. I don’t think anyone believes he’s changed his mind. The same applies for the tax cuts to the big end of town including the big four banks. Again he has dropped that out of convenience not because he no longer believes in it.
SHAW: Look it’s a really good point and again a savvy leader or a savvy political machine says, well what does Labor got on us, what did you run in Queensland? Mediscare it worked really, really well. The future of this Government depends on what happens in Queensland and I spoke yesterday to the Dairy Farmers Organisation in Queensland and they are saying we want a 10 cent levy on every litre of milk sold. Now Scott Morrison says the answer isn’t a new tax. But David Littleproud the Agriculture Minister has thrown his weight behind calls for this 10 cent levy to be applied to fresh milk sold at supermarkets. What’s Labor’s position Joel Fitzgibbon?
FITZGIBBON: Well first of all Scott Morrison can start dropping policies but he has got to be able to demonstrate he has a vision and a plan for the country and he certainly doesn’t have that and you can see through this milk debate there is division in their party even over fairly straight forward issues by comparison. But I think on the 10 cent per litre of milk question we are asking the wrong question. The query we should be making is why would the supermarkets be required to go down this path? Why is this market in milk so dysfunctional that the price doesn’t move with supply and demand. Your listeners would have seen slight increases in meat prices in their supermarket as a result of the drought. A simple supply and demand equation, but we can have dramatic changes in the milk market and the milk price never moves. This is all about the market power of both the retailers and the processors. It’s always quite a curiosity to me that the processors and the retailers need the dairy farmers as much as these dairy farmers need the processors and the retailers but they don’t seem to exert any market power. Now this is an issue that is not a result of the drought. We have been living with this for up to five years now and Barnaby Joyce’s response was to have an ACCC Inquiry. The Inquiry took some 18 months which I found very frustrating. But it finally made some recommendations four months ago particularly about addressing these market power issues and the power imbalance between the dairy farmers and the processors in particular but the Government hasn’t responded to them. If he could just get back to his day job and do this important work, we wouldn’t need to be having a debate about putting an extra tax on consumers.
SHAW: What would Labor do? What would you do as Minister today? You have got Minister Littleproud saying, yeah we are open to that conversation. What would you do as the Minister?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s always dangerous running interference from Opposition. I would like to take a bipartisan approach.
SHAW: Oh go on, give it a crack. Give it a crack.
FITZGIBBON: But certainly I would have moved on milk a long, long time ago. You recall we had the Murray Goulburn debacle where overnight the company just decided to change the milk price retrospectively and farmers were out of pocket by literally hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight. At that time I called upon Barnaby Joyce to join with me and jump on Murray Goulburn. We had the power to do so and they had the power to switch what they call their profit sharing mechanism to give that money back to the farmers. Barnaby Joyce refused to do so and at the same time the new Minister has refused to embrace the very mechanism the ACCC has recommended to address this issue, but for some strange issue, he refuses to move. And yet yesterday while we are open to the conversation he was very happy to jump on the idea of putting a tax on consumers, a tax which of course we have to remember is regressive because you know, a new 10 cent tax on me won’t do me too much harm but a struggling family with five kids will feel the impact of a 10 cent per litre new tax so we have to consider both sides of the equation. We shouldn’t have to hurt one group in our society to help another.
SHAW: You’re Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Australia, we have got the Minister responsible Bridget McKenzie, she is out and about and I have spoken to the Country Women’s Association and they are deeply concerned about limited services frankly not enough health services in rural and regional Australia. I asked Fiona Simson last week at the National Press Club how did agriculture get it so wrong with that 2015 White Paper - no reference to drought. What do you see so far as the direction agriculture is taking. And it’s more than just raising money for bales of hay isn’t it Joel Fitzgibbon? There needs to be a long term future for the vibrancy and the economic powerhouse that is rural and regional Australia. Has Labor got a plan?
FITZGIBBON: That’s right Tim and I saw you ask that question and it was spot on. The 2015 White Paper, a long time in the making was just a grab bag of boondoggles, silly promises which the Government thought would be popular in the market place. We need a long term vision and we need to predict and foresee what the whole market both domestically and internationally is going to look like in the future. What challenges will come upon it including of course climate change. You can’t have a drought policy until you accept the climate is changing and it is going to impact on our natural resource base. So you have to ask yourself where the demand is going to be, and how consumer preferences are going to change, what challenges there will be and what we need to be doing now to ensure we have the best opportunity to capitalise in the areas where we get a premium return on our investment in our natural resource base. This Government doesn’t ask itself that question, and if you’re not asking the question, you can’t find the answers. There are lots of things that need to be adjusted in the agriculture sector. We have to make sure our limited natural soil and water resources and indeed the labour and capital resources are going to the areas where we get the greatest return. As far as those struggling farmers go, we have to determine how we get the best farming practices down inside the farm gate, in a timely way to ensure they are as productive as they possibly can be and they are best placed to be resilient up against drought into the future. They are the big issues we need to be looking at. That’s not what the Government is doing. They are very fond of announcing short term populist kind of policies. They are doing nothing to help the long term future of the agriculture sector and they are certainly not doing anything to help farmers who desperately find themselves in what is a terrible drought.
SHAW: You are absolutely right. A quick one, Richo, former Senator Graham Richardson was scathing yesterday in his opinion piece in The Australian and he said this whole au pairs thing is an absolute hypocrisy and it was interesting that Secretary Pezzullo said in evidence yesterday at the Senate Committee that Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison hadn’t altered the reference points from former Labor Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. More than 4000 cases came to Minister Dutton’s point, but only 25 were tourist visas. Is this just a silly witch hunt star chamber Joel Fitzgibbon? Shouldn’t we get on with the real business of running the country rather than looking at what Minister Dutton did or didn’t do in regards to phone calls from mates?
FITZGIBBON: I have to disagree Tim. I didn’t see all of the hearings yesterday but I saw enough to come to the conclusion that the extent to which Peter gave express service to people in high places when compared to the norm, the average if you look was somewhat extraordinary and I think the Senate is absolutely entitled to pursue the issue and to ask the relevant questions. I think the Australian people want to know that people are treated fairly, favours aren’t done for the elite and they do hear stories, very sad stories about desperate people seeking help from the Minister of the day because they are about to be separated from their children for example and not given help and yet people in elite positions can pick up the phone on a Sunday about an au pair and get express delivery service. I think that turns people off politics.
SHAW: Big shout out to people of the Hunter through you Member for the Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon and thank you so much for your time.
FITZGIBBON: Centre of the universe Tim.
SHAW: Good on you buddy. We did ask Minister Littleproud to join us on the program and he was unavailable.