Transcript - Radio Interview - ABC News Radio - Wednesday, 19 September 2018

SUBJECT: Strawberry contamination

SANDY ALOISI: The Opposition Spokesman for Agriculture joins us now. Joel Fitzgibbon good morning.JOEL FITZGIBBON,

: Good morning Sandy.

ALOISI: First your response to this announcement from the Federal Government that it will devote a million dollars to deal with this contamination scare.

FITZGIBBON: We welcome it of course. I had a conversation with the Queensland Minister, Mark Furner yesterday. I advised Bill Shorten that the Minister was writing to Minister Littleproud in Canberra asking for a million dollars to match the investment of the Queensland Government. Bill Shorten immediately agreed we should support that. We did and we welcome the fact that the Government has now moved and made that commitment.

ALOISI: And Barnaby Joyce has also called for a fairly substantial reward for anyone who gives information finding the person responsible for contaminating the fruit. Do you agree with that approach?

FITZGIBBON: Well Barnaby Joyce will take any opportunity to get himself into the news, I don’t think his intervention is helpful.

ALOISI: Do you agree with his suggestion?

FITZGIBBON: I’m not an expert on what level of reward attracts people to make contributions. I have no idea. I do know though that State and Federal Governments together should do all they can to address this problem and indeed to keep some calm in the community because in the end, it’s the consumer which will determine the fate of the strawberry industry. We need to be telling consumers to be very, very careful about the way they consume strawberries and other fruit, but the best thing they can do for the sector is to continue to buy. The strawberry industry creates about 800,000 punnets of strawberries every day and of course, if you keep it in perspective the number of cases of contamination have been quite small. So I say to people, be very cautious but please continue to support these industries.

ALOISI: We spoke to a strawberry farmer earlier this hour who said that she and other farmers have been devastated by what has occurred. I think she said her sales were down by at least 60 per cent. What is your message to strawberry farmers this morning?

FITZGIBBON: That we stand by them, both Federal and State Governments, political parties, I hope of all persuasions. We all want to help but of course what we can do is limited because in a large sense it’s outside our hands but if the Queensland Government comes back to the Commonwealth Government and says we’ve got a new proposition and we need more money, the Commonwealth Government should be there standing by their side.

ALOISI: And Joel Fitzgibbon we have such a strong record on food safety here in Australia. Do you think these food incidents will impact on our reputation in that area?

FITZGIBBON: They certainly have the potential to. Our key competitive advantage on exports markets with respect to our food is our reputation as a provider of clean, green, safe and ethically produced food. And if that reputation becomes undermined, it’s going to put enormous pressure on the industry. So we can’t afford to leave any stone unturned here and the Commonwealth and the States need to work together. We saw with the White Spot disease outbreak with the prawn industry in Queensland not that long ago the Commonwealth was too slow to advise the Queensland Government of the problem and that made the situation worse. So we need to be working closely together. Sadly the Government abolished the CoAG Committee where Agriculture Ministers should be doing this good work together. We need to restore that process. We can’t do too much in this area. It is just so critically important.

ALOISI: Joel Fitzgibbon good to speak with you, thank you for your time.

FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.

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