SUBJECTS: Citizenship issues, Sam Dastyari, Milo Yiannopoulos, Coalition leadership change speculation, post office closures, Newcastle Knights, Cessnock Goannas.
2HD WITH RICHARD KING
WEDNESDAY, 6 DECEMBER 2017
HOST RICHARD KING: Final week of sitting for Federal Parliament and joining me now is our most senior local Federal pollie. Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon is on the line. Morning Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be with you Richard.
KING: Well it’s such an interesting time in Australian politics Joel. Where do we start? Maybe the Marriage Amendment Bill, do you think it will get through Parliament this week?
FITZGIBBON: Well first I will say thank God for iPhones. You wouldn’t be game to go into a meeting these days being locked out from text messages. The whole world seems to change by the hour. Same sex marriage, I think it will pass the House of Representatives either today or if not certainly tomorrow. That’s a fait accompli. The numbers in support of that are now overwhelming. We might see some debate about some amendments but all of them will fail. People just want to get this done now and want to reflect the will of the people in the marriage survey and we need to move on.
KING: So in your opinion it will be done and dusted before Christmas?
FITZGIBBON: Oh absolutely.
KING: Alright, now the citizenship saga, when this first hit the fan out Prime Minister sort of gloatingly said, we don’t have a problem with the Coalition. Obviously they do have massive problems. Bill Shorten made similar comments and it would now appear maybe five Labor MPs who have been dragged into this citizenship saga Joel.
FITZGIBBON: I doubt there will be five in the end, but there are certainly a few who have problems. We use David Feeney as a perfect example. We claimed our system was very robust and it was and it is, but when have a look at David Feeney’s explanation, he declared what he truly believed to be the case and he says he renounced about 10 years ago now but he just can’t find the evidence to prove that in writing. We need to be able produce documents and he says after extensive searches, he’s unable to do so. He has had to declare or concede that he can’t do that and he has in fact referred himself to the High Court.
KING: It looks like we are going to have one of these massive by-election Saturdays sometime in the new year and I think from the point of view of voters, the expense these things incur, you can understand the frustration. It does seem a bit farcical that this has dragged on and has seems to be going on and on Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Super Saturday I call it.
FITZGIBBON: (inaudible) next year. Voters and residents generally are very frustrated by this. I understand that and they think it is all very silly. But the constitution is our foundation document and we all respect it as we should. The founding fathers declared or came to the conclusion when writing that document, that you can be a dual citizen if you like, but if you want to be a Member of Parliament and potentially sit in the National Security Committee of the Cabinet, then we believe you should have allegiance to one country. I don’t think that has changed much Richard. There are parts of the constitution that now seem a bit anachronistic and archaic and right to change. Another part of Section 44 talks about the office of profit under the Crown for example which I now think is outdated, but I think the principle that you should be expected to have allegiance to one country only if you want to take that important position, still stands and I reckon you can be pretty sure in the future no one is going to be foul of it. I don’t think you need to change Section 44i. I think you can be very confident now with all the publicity that people will be very acutely aware for the need to renounce if they have dual citizenship, so I don’t think an expensive referendum is necessary. I think we just need to do the sensible thing. I absolutely understand the frustration of people and we saw that in the New England by-election last Saturday. That just became a referendum on the election. Having an election, and people said this is ridiculous, the cost is silly and I have better things to be doing than lining back up at a polling booth and they voted with their feet.
KING: Yes and as a result of that by-election Saturday, Barnaby Joyce I believe could be officially back in Parliament by this afternoon.
FITZGIBBON: I would be very surprised, I mean if he’s back in the Parliament this afternoon, the writ will have been returned in record time. I understand Malcolm Turnbull would want to get him back quickly. If the electoral commissioners are independent, they shouldn’t be under any pressure from politicians to hurry things up. Their main job is to make sure all their T’s are crossed and all there I’s are dotted.
KING: Labor Senator Sam Dastyari has been described as a walking crisis. He was also described by Christopher Pyne, I think it was on Monday, as Sichuan Sam. Look I listen to the Senate quite often and to me, and to me, he is certainly no great performer on the floor. Do you think his days are numbered in politics?
FITZGIBBON: I didn’t know you were such a masochist Richard listening to the Senate. Sam Dastyari is 34 years of age and he’s a very talented guy.
KING: Okay, where do his talents lie Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Let me tell you Richard, on the policy front, he is very smart on the politics and on the strategy he is very savvy and very smart. He is 34 years of age and has done some silly things he regrets. I didn’t reach the Federal Cabinet until I was 44, I think or there about. Sam Dastyari is elected by the residents of NSW. He has 10 years to rehabilitate himself and be in the Cabinet at an age when I reached those dizzying heights. He has time on his side. He has not technically done anything wrong. He has done some silly things.
KING: He’s a bit of a showman, just like this Milo Yiannopoulos the darling of the Alt-Right, but I just had a quick Facebook comment from Peter who said that news was Milo was great last night and the looney left didn’t win. He is attracting a lot of attention but he is a bit like an old style sort of showman, Milo Yiannopoulos. He’s a strange one. What is your take on him?
FITZGIBBON: First of all, Sam is a bit of a showman and when you put yourself out there, you are always at the risk of getting knocked off, everyone wants to have a crack at you. That’s Sam’s problem. Milo, he is just a disgrace from my perspective. He’s a white supremacist and we don’t need him at Parliament House. Also, I respect David Lyonhjelm’s democratic right to bring him in to our democratic house. The thing about people like Milo is that people are disillusioned with our democracy and our political system and even the two party system and they are looking for something else and that vacuum will be filled by the Pauline Hansons of the world and the Milos of the world. The best response mainstream politicians can give is to do better and win back the respect and support of people generally.
KING: Yes well there are certainly many politicians that seem to be a bit on the nose. Our Prime Minister seems to be a bit on the nose, hence we has this strange comment from NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro to Alan Jones on Friday morning, that in his opinion a great Christmas present for Australia would be for the Prime Minister to resign. Certainly division within the Coalition has been a problem for him since, well he was elected as the leader. Do you think his days are numbered?
FITZGIBBON: I do Richard. I think one of the reasons Sam Dastyari is (inaudible) is that the Prime Minister is desperately trying to change the political narrative trying to put a different issue on the front pages of the newspapers because he is in so much trouble and politicians across the political fence of course talk to one another in the Parliament and you shouldn’t be too surprised by that and it’s all the buzz of the place. He is losing support at a rate of knots and he’s in real trouble. People will be disappointed with the prospects of yet essentially another leadership change and another change in Prime Minister mid-stream. At the end of the day Richard, these things come down to, in terms of individual voters in the party room. They ask themselves, am I coming back at the next election? Am I going to be re-elected? And every day more and more Coalition members are asking themselves whether they are set to come back under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.
KING: Nineteen past seven, our most senior pollie, Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon. You have recently had a bit to say about the number of post office closures particularly on the western side of Lake Macquarie. This is something that has been happening for a long time. Why have you suddenly taken an interest in this Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well Richard after 30 years in an electorate office I don’t go off half-cocked and look I understand very few people are sending letters these days and we are all on our devices and sending emails etc. so the dynamic of communication has changed dramatically. But I have got five post offices closing in my electorate just on the western side of Lake Macquarie. I think that is extraordinary and something is going wrong. There are all sorts of reasons for it even beyond the fall in letter writing. These are licensed post offices so they are really small businesses and are people who take the lease from Australia Post to run these businesses and we have problems with landlords and all sorts of other issues. But I ask myself whether Australia Post is really trying hard enough, and if its standing by and allowing five post offices in such a small part of the region to be closed. I worry about elderly people in particular who still use letter services and they don’t use electronic devices like you and I might. I recognise there are challenges for Australia Post but I am just calling upon them to think about community service to ensure people do have access to essential services. They made $146 million last year and were paying their CEO $5 million annually. Surely they can find a few bucks to keep these services open. Remembering some of these small business run mixed business, so you might have your deli and newspapers on one side of the shop and post office on the other. They keep those businesses viable and in that sense those businesses keep local communities vibrant.
KING: And finally, a couple of quick sporting questions. Great news for the Knights in signing Mitchell Pearce and your beloved Cessnock Goannas have signed one of the Mata’utia brothers and obviously for the Knights fans, they will be looking for a better season and for Goey fans you’ll be looking for a better season next year Joel.
FITZGIBBON: It’s an exciting year coming for me. Both the Goannas have made some great purchases and have a really good captain coach in Al Lantry and of course the Knights are buying up big so I look forward to a much better year for both clubs. I do hope though that the Knights continue to respect and take care of their juniors and I hope that Brock Lamb continues to play an important role in the team. Yes we need to be competitive and to be competitive you need to buy marquee players, but, I do like the idea of our juniors getting a go as well.
KING: Here, here! And do you think that England have got a chance of winning the second test in Adelaide?
FITZGIBBON: You know Richard, we’ve been so busy in Parliament House, I haven’t followed it, you know. I do think that’s unlikely so I’m pretty happy about that.
KING: Good to talk to you, and if we don’t catch up before Christmas, I hope you and your family have a safe and happy Christmas Joel.
FITZGIBBON: And to you, your team and all your listeners Richard, thank you.
KING: Joel Fitzgibbon, our most senior Federal pollie, Member for Hunter on 2HD.