SUBJECTS: U.S. visit, trade war; drought envoy
KARL STEFANOVIC: Well it’s been an historic weekend for U.S. - Australian relations, hasn’t it? Aside from the pomp and ceremony at the state dinner, President, Donald Trump, and Scott Morrison are holding high-level talks on a range of issues. Up top of the agenda is China ahead of next month’s meeting between the U.S. and Beijing in a bid to end the trade war, but that didn’t stop President Trump from firing a few warning shots. Standing next to Scott Morrison the President called China a threat to the world that was building their army with American money. Well, Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Agriculture Minister and he’s on the line. Joel, good afternoon to you.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Karl, great to be talking to you again.
STEFANOVIC: You too my friend. Is that kind of language helpful to Australia?
FITZGIBBON: Just before I go there, Karl, could I just say the reason Scott Morrison’s celebrating new jobs in the United States is that we don’t have an industry policy here, and we don’t have the plantation estate to drive the investment. But no, that language is not helpful, and you know, the Prime Minister himself has said many times – as have we all – it’s not a binary choice. It doesn’t have to be the U.S. or China. We can do both, and China is such an important export market for us – about 30 per cent of our exports and about 96 per cent of the 30 per cent is resource sector and agricultural exports. So, I’ve got a very, very strong interest in this.
Look, you can manage these visits ahead of the game. Scott Morrison must’ve surely known, given the sort of fanfare put around the visit that this had the potential to be used to send a message to China, and you can negotiate what happens in the public meetings you have in front of the television screens, and of course, you have to be robust behind closed doors, and we will never really know what happened behind closed doors.
STEFANOVIC: So, you would’ve personally have been able to handle this a little bit better if you were standing next to Donald Trump?
FITZGIBBON: Well, we know Karl – Prime Ministers have lots of people around them, including a whole Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I’ve said before that, of course, a Labor Prime Minister would have accepted the invitation. Those visits to Washington by Australian Prime Ministers are always important, but we should be – and can be – in a position to negotiate the terms. Surely Scott Morrison was warned that the President could use the visit as an opportunity to send a signal to China. A signal we don’t really want to be part of.
STEFANOVIC: You have to take into consideration, though, that the U.S. at this point, is our greatest ally. You want to; you don’t want to upset the U.S., surely. So, that’s the balance. I mean have obviously deal and trade with, but surely this is good news for Australia and the Prime Minister at the moment is doing what he believes is a great job over there, and it would have to be said that Donald Trump isn’t getting on with too many other people around the world at the moment, so what – that’s got to be a huge benefit to Australia.
FITZGIBBON: Yes, and of course the United States is our most important strategic relationship, just as China is our most – by far – our most commercial relationship, and we don’t need to be placed in the middle of the trade war they are having with one another. I think we need to be…
STEFANOVIC: But we are though. We’re kind of in the middle of it anyway. Six of one, half a dozen of the other when you’re dealing with the U.S. when we’re on a grand tour over there. We’ve got to accept all benefits that can come from the U.S. as well as being okay with China.
FITZGIBBON: Well, you say all the benefits, I mean, this $150 million investment in a rocket to Mars…
STEFANOVIC: Well, let’s not even go there.
FITZGIBBON: Doesn’t come as good news to my agricultural constituents, our farmers…
STEFANOVIC: I agree with that.
FITZGIBBON: Who are just struggling and are getting no assistance. But, yes, look it can be a win-win, but again, DFAT would’ve surely been advising the Prime Minister that there’s a risk given the nature of the invitation and the fanfare around it that the President would use it to send messages to – certain messages to China, and we should’ve been much better at avoiding putting, allowing ourselves to be put in that position.
STEFANOVIC: It’ll be a while before you’re over there with the U.S. President
STEFANOVIC: Yes. Well, a Labor Prime Minister. Sorry to say that.
FITZGIBBON: I thought you were going to talk then, Karl, about an aspiration I didn’t even know I had.
STEFANOVIC: Come on, you’ve all got that aspiration.
FITZGIBBON: Not me, Karl.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Just finally, and quickly – Barnaby Joyce has been criticised for not offering a report during his tenure in the Drought Envoy. Barnaby does a good job for the bush, though.
FITZGIBBON: Where’s the evidence of that, Karl? I mean he was Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister for a number of years, and there’s been absolutely zip for rural and regional Australia. Remember he said he was going to build all those dams – 100 of them he claimed originally – and they’re yet to even turn a sod of soil…
STEFANOVIC: I think they’re a good idea though, the dams. Aren’t they, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well, they can have application. The last government, federal government to build a dam was a Labor Government, Karl, in the *inaudible* area in Tasmania. So, they do have application in certain places, but all Barnaby Joyce did, of course, is raise false hope – raise expectations – that he was going to do X, Y and Z, and he never delivered on any of it, and he’s been called out again. He was made, put into this position, Drought Envoy, all he did was use taxpayers money to run around the country and campaign, and when I rightly asked for his Drought Envoy’s report – surprise, surprise – there isn’t one, and he’s changed his story about six times as to why he hasn’t delivered on. It seems his latest excuse is that the dog ate his homework.
STEFANOVIC: Good to talk to you, Joel. Thanks so much.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure, mate.