SUBJECTS: Live export; animal welfare reform, Government investment in Vietnamese red meat processing workforce.
LEON BYNER: The Shadow Agriculture Minister is Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, you would know this. What penalties could the Federal Government currently apply, but have not so far?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: The penalties are actually currently quite substantial Leon both in dollar terms and in the capacity of the Department to rescind the license to operate. In fact I think over time given the culture that has been developed in the Department by Barnaby Joyce in particular, there has been a bit of a moral hazard here because I think there has been a reluctance to impose the penalty because they are so substantial as strange as that might sound.
BYNER: Yeah but you see I just played you, and it was important we all heard this, Mr Littleproud’s very strong condemnation and then we find weeks later nothing has occurred in retrospect since that footage was broadcast. We are going to nail you. Really? With what? With what?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah he settled down pretty quickly didn’t he Leon and all we have had so far is the announcement of four reviews, some of which will not be completed now until after the next election.
BYNER: What about the investigation into his Department that provided him with false information?
FITZGIBBON: He is saying that he expects that to be due at about August of this year. Theoretically that could even be after the election next election.
BYNER: Why does it take so long to ask somebody in a Department how come I got a report that was whitewashed?
FITZGIBBON: It shouldn’t take so long. In fact he has got two reviews into the Department. He asking them to look again at the review of the Awassi and he is looking at the culture within the Department which I welcome but it’s not going to satisfy the animal welfare concerns of people watching those ships sail today and next week.
BYNER: What is Labor’s view on this?
FITZGIBBON: Well those vessels should not be sailing and they wouldn’t be sailing if the Government had generally accepted my offer of a bipartisan approach. Why did I want a bipartisan approach? Because I believe you will only get real deep and meaningful reform if both the major parties are on the same hymn sheet and therefore you won’t have future Governments turning the policy around. But they shouldn’t be sailing also because they are sailing because the Government has spent the last five years doing nothing and created this situation and Bidda made the point the Department might find that vessel meets the standards but the big question is are the standards high enough, given the Minister’s Department found the Awassi met all those standards.
BYNER: Alright, I’ve got a question and that is how do you feel about this country giving Vietnam $146 million to train people to do jobs which could easily be done here in Australia? Do you think that is a good move?
FITZGIBBON: There has been a lot of talk about the pub test lately Leon and that certainly doesn’t pass the pub test.
BYNER: What is Labor’s view on that?
FITZGIBBON: Our view is that we have to start investing in our own sector. We need an Australian red meat industry plan. I have been talking about this now for many months with Kim Carr, the industry Shadow Minister and I have been starting to work on it from Opposition. Australians expect us to create value and jobs here in Australia first and foremost. Now if we are going to have a live export trade, there may be some merit in helping the Vietnamese meet the standards that we expect of them and there is foreign aid component to that investment as well, but Australian jobs must come first. You never hear David Littleproud, Malcolm Turnbull or any of them talking about the opportunities we have here in Australia and I sat down in Brisbane just on Thursday night and had dinner with a number of meat processors who say there is capacity, we do have the capacity to do more here in Australia, to export more frozen and chilled beef and to create more jobs in Australia, but we do need Australian Government guidance and assistance.
BYNER: You have heard a very interesting array of opinions and we started off deliberately playing Mr Littleproud’s view and as I say again, my somewhat surprise to all this is given Mr Littleproud’s strong condemnation of what was seen on television, now a few weeks ago, why has there been no prosecution, no fine, nothing? It’s as if it’s business as usual.