Transcript - Radio interview - ABC New England North West - Thursday 23 November 2017

SUBJECTS: Gina Rinehart’s $40K agriculture award to Barnaby Joyce, Shenhua Mine.


HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Agriculture Minister and he has been campaigning with the Labor candidate for the New England by-election David Ewings for the last couple of weeks. Good morning to you Joel Fitzgibbon.


HOST: I guess first if we can this morning take a detour. The news mining magnate Gina Rinehart awarded the newly created National Agriculture and Related Industries prize and a $40,000 cheque to Nationals candidate for New England Barnaby Joyce is dominating the news. First he looked shocked and accepted it, then his office told us he would donate it to charity, then they clarified further and said he would politely decline the financial reward. Were you disappointed you were not in the running for the award?

FITZGIBBON: Extraordinary event Kelly. If you are going to have an award like that, there are thousands of people who work in agriculture and agribusiness who are doing innovative and entrepreneurial things so politicians should have been right at the back of the pack. But I heard the NSW Farmers’ Federation president say he thought Barnaby Joyce was embarrassed. He was clearly excited. He was so excited he announced on stage how he was going to spend it – that is on his own farm. This was very poor form and fails every possible test including the ethics test. I really don’t know what Barnaby Joyce was thinking but this was clearly a donation wrapped up as an award.

HOST: Did he do the right thing though? He ultimately decided not to accept it in any form.

FITZGIBBON: Well it’s like the guy who gets caught with his hand in the till and then seeks to be let go by handing the money back. The crime has already been committed. It’s inconceivable -

HOST: He didn’t commit a crime, he was given something and he didn’t orchestrate it. There’s no suggestion that he did. He genuinely said he was caught off guard by it.

FITZGIBBON: Kelly it’s inconceivable Barnaby Joyce who flew to Canberra for that dinner did not know that award was forthcoming. Gina Rinehart is allegedly his close mate. She wouldn’t have done that without giving him the heads up. That is without question. Even if he hadn’t know, any politician with any morality or instinctive intelligence would have immediately said thanks for this, but I can’t possibly in the middle of a by-election campaign, accept $40,000 in cash, please give it to a worthy charity instead. He didn’t and that’s what he could have done. Rather, he accepted it and clearly accepted it on the evening and even talked about how he intended to spend it.

HOST: We did invite Barnaby Joyce onto the program this morning. His office told us he wasn’t available and he was having a day off today and we are hopefully trying to organise an interview with him early next week so hopefully –

FITZGIBBON: Kelly, he’s not having a day off. He is campaigning in Queensland. He’s had a night out at the glitzy, black tie dinner in Canberra and now he is off to Queensland to campaign in the state election there. This is the height of arrogance. He won’t participate in any of the public debates with other New England candidates. He is taking the electorate again so for granted that he is off to Queensland to campaign because he thinks he’s a sure thing in New England. Well I think people should reflect on that and respond in time.

HOST: Do you think that anyone who is a supporter of Barnaby Joyce will be worried about the appearance of this situation?

FITZGIBBON: Of course they will because Barnaby has a long history with Gina Rinehart. We know he has often been a beneficiary of her jet aircraft. She donated $50,000 to his election campaign in 2013. She flew him to India for a wedding and of course she has been quite a beneficiary of Government decisions in the last few years. Look we expect business people to influence Government policy or at least to make a contribution to public debate, but I know there is growing concern about the undue influence she has on Barnaby Joyce and I know plenty in the New England will share those concerns with the broader Australian community.

HOST: It’s seventeen to nine, ABC New England North West, Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Ag Minister in Federal Parliament. To another issue In July, here’s what the NSW ALP said about the Shenhua mine when the NSW Government announced it was buying back part of the mine. This is Adam Searle talking.

SEARLE: The Government should just cancel the Shenhua Watermark project in total. They could have brought this to an end more than four years ago themselves. Instead they renewed the loan. That licence expired last October and still they are entertaining the possibility of mining on the Liverpool Plains putting prime agriculture land and water at risk.

HOST: Adam Searle there talking in July this year. Has Federal Labor adopted the same position Joel Fitzgibbon?

FITZGIBBON: Well Federal Labor has been very consistent on these issues for many, many years. We consistently say the science has to determine the decision on these matters. You are very right to have Adam Searle on because this is primarily a matter for the NSW Government. Many years ago now Labor in Government in Canberra decided these things shouldn’t just be left to state government and in partnership with Tony Windsor, the then local member in the New England we decided to put the Federal Government more in play by establishing a water trigger under the EPBC, that’s the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. That allows now the Commonwealth to intervene on projects with not just flora and fauna but also on water. Now Barnaby Joyce and the then opposition opposed …

HOST: (Inaudible) why is it appears then that you are not saying you support the ALP at a state level? Why does the Federal Labor Party not support what the NSW Party is doing suggesting the project should be canned?

FITZGIBBON: The Federal Labor Party’s position is clear. It’s got to be based on science and if the science doesn’t stack up, then you don’t approve the project.

HOST: You have a stridently different position to the ALP at a state level.

FITZGIBBON: No I think they are exactly the same position. If the science can’t be proven then you don’t approve the project. The problem for us in Canberra now is that for the last three or four years, the Turnbull and Abbott Governments have been undermining the Commonwealth’s capacity to make an informed decision by undermining the funding to the independent scientific committee we rely upon to make these decisions. This is always a jobs versus environment debate Kelly, so we have to make sure the decisions are the right ones. Therefore we need to properly fund these independent bodies to make sure we are getting the right advice. It’s very, very clear under the stewardship of Barnaby Joyce and his cabinet colleagues, that capacity at the Commonwealth level has been undermined. Now if you wanted me to say the Commonwealth, a Labor Government would oppose the mine when we don’t have the science, the important thing is if the science can’t be proven we can’t allow extractive industries of any kind, which by and large for 50-100 years, to be threatening sustainable industries including agriculture which might sustain us for thousands of years.

HOST: You mentioned jobs. Is the ALP at a Federal level hamstring by the CMFEU on this issue because of jobs and what guarantee do you have that it will create lots of local jobs.

FITZGIBBON: Kelly I’ve never had a conversation with the CFMEU about Shenhua. It’s not our concern. Our concern on all occasions is to have evidence based policy and when making these decisions, relying on the science. If you are going to rely upon the science you have to properly fund the independent scientific committee that provides the advice and the Turnbull Government has been cutting the funds. That’s the big problem here.

HOST: There still hasn’t been a water management plan provided for the mine, to our understanding. Would you support the Environment Minister pressing go on the water trigger if there was an ALP Government?

FITZGIBBON: Absolutely. If the expert scientific committee wasn’t able to guarantee a Federal Labor Government that a project posed no threat to our water table then of course I believe a Labor Government in Canberra would be most concerned and would move to block the proposal.

HOST: Locally it seems some of the candidates – Country Minded and the Greens are trying to make this an election issue for the Labor Party, you essentially said this morning that you are not in agreeance with the ALP at a state level –

FITZGIBBON: No, No I didn’t say that Kelly at all. The State Labor Party would be the consent authority at the state level. I am saying that a Federal Labor Government would properly fund and reverse the undermining of the scientific committee – the undermining by this current Federal Government. We would properly resource it and if it told us that a project could not proceed without posing any threat to water tables or water in general, then we would block the proposal.

HOST: Alright Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for talking with us this morning.

FITZGIBBON: It’s a great pleasure.


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