SUBJECTS: Coalition Agreement, Company tax cuts, Bill Shorten’s support for mine workers.
FRAN KELLY: For several years now, Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon has been trying to force the Coalition to release that agreement and make it public and has even taken that through the courts. He wants the Turnbull Government to follow other countries which release their own Coalition Agreements - in Germany, the UK and New Zealand. Joel Fitzgibbon is in our Parliament House studio. Joel Fitzgibbon welcome back to breakfast.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be with you Fran.
KELLY: The latest version of the Coalition Agreement was signed, well as far as we know anyway, by Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce after the 2016 election. Why are you so keen for it to be made public? It’s never been made public in the past has it?
FITZGIBBON: Well nothing could be more fundamental to our democracy Fran than the deal or the arrangement that allows a Prime Minister to govern. Malcolm Turnbull only has 60 seats in the House of Representatives, the Chamber of course which makes or unmakes governments. Labor has 69. Malcolm Turnbull only governs today because of the support of 16 members of the National Party. I think people everywhere are entitled to know what Malcolm Turnbull promised to do or not to do to secure their support. This is particularly true under the Westminster System; and you made the point that Theresa May in the UK and Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand have both made their Coalition Agreements public and Malcolm Turnbull should do the same.
KELLY: But as I say, it’s never been made public in the past, it’s a leader-to-leader agreement as we know and is described little more than an administrative document that goes to how the two parties work together in Government and Opposition. Who gets what staffing allocations and how many Ministerial positions et cetera. Why shouldn’t that be kept under wraps?
FITZGIBBON: It is extraordinary that no one has sought to secure the document in the past. I’m actually chasing two Coalition Agreements. One that was formed immediately after Malcolm Turnbull rolled Tony Abbott and the one which was formed after the 2016 election. It was that one agreed to post the leadership change that really sparked my interest in this.
FITZGIBBON: I’ll refer you to an article which I think first prompted me, by Simon Benson, writing in the Telegraph two days after Malcolm Turnbull took the leadership. He talks about the fact the National Party was seething about the leadership change, but had come around to Malcolm Turnbull because they had secured this new deal which went to a whole range of issues. No doubt this article was backgrounded by the Nats, because the Nats were out to justify the decision to get in behind Malcolm Turnbull. I’ll just read you a part of it, it says - “critical to the Nationals’ endorsement of Mr Turnbull as PM was a pledge written into the agreement that he would not change existing policy on climate change, or same sex marriage”. It then goes on to talk about a whole range of issues ranging for more money for stay at home mums, right through to some tertiary education funding which is quite ironic given we are talking about the National Party. In fact they backgrounded Simon Benson to believe that the value of the arrangements they’d dragged out of Malcolm Turnbull was about $4 billion which is hard to believe. So this agreement according to the Nats themselves went well beyond Ministerial arrangements and again, the Australian people are entitled to know what deals were made.
KELLY: Is that the crux of it? If it is making agreements on policy direction that the public should have a right to know about that? Is that the point you are making?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely Fran, and if Malcolm Turnbull continues to keep this deal a secret, people in the Australian community are entitled to ask the obvious question. What does he have to hide?
KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast, it’s 8.10am, our guest is Labor front bencher, Joel Fitzgibbon. We’ve learned the Prime Minister instructed his Departmental Secretary Martin Parkinson to look to see if Barnaby Joyce had breached Ministerial standards with his affair with a staffer Vikki Campion. Why do you think it took the Prime Minister a full fortnight to order this investigation?
FITZGIBBON: I think it’s fairly obvious it took Malcolm Turnbull a fortnight to work out Barnaby Joyce’s position was unsustainable in respect to how it affected Malcolm Turnbull.
KELLY: What do you mean?
FITZGIBBON: Well Malcolm Turnbull is tied to this secret agreement, he had no authority to sack Barnaby Joyce so two weeks into the saga, he decided the only way to move him on was to throw him under a bus and referring the matter the secretary of his department was one way of doing so.
KELLY: Is this proof we need a Federal ICAC? It’s a point one listener made this morning. It’s a good one isn’t it? If we had a formal process then questions over the PM’s timing or handling of any referral would be redundant, wouldn’t they?
FITZGIBBON: Well the debate about some sort of Federal body is a legitimate one and Labor has put forward a fairly strong position on that, but can I just go back to the thing with Malcolm Turnbull? There is all this fuss about who leaked the Marriott complaint to the media and the leaking of that request for an investigation is an offence to all of us, not only to Catherine Marriott but women everywhere and the broader Australian community. I don’t accept for a moment that it was in the National Party’s interest to leak that request for an investigation. It’s just inconceivable the National Party, despite all Joyce’s problems, thought that throwing their most high profile member under a bus like that was going to be helpful to the National Party. When looking for the source of a leak always, you look to who benefits. The main beneficiary of that leak was Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party and I think that is a theory somewhat endorsed by the Nationals’ Andrew Broad who said earlier in the week he understood the Liberals had that information.
KELLY: Well he also told us that he had no proof of anything and neither do you. We don’t know who leaked it and we will probably never know who leaked it. That’s the point isn’t it?
FITZGIBBON: The point is that someone leaked it and I am working through the likelihood that the Liberal Party was the source of that leak.
KELLY: The point is it is shameful that anybody thought to leak it, or as it has been described today, to weaponise such a thing for political ends isn’t it? That’s the point.
FITZGIBBON: It is shocking and it sends all the wrong signals to women in the workplace, any workplace, who are thinking about coming forward to report sexual harassment. It’s a message to them to think twice about doing so and it is an appalling situation.
KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast and it’s 8.13am. Joel Fitzgibbon, on the business of business tax cuts, the issue of business tax cuts is a clear point of difference between the Federal Government and the Opposition on a policy front. The Parliamentary Budget Office told Senate Estimates yesterday that the $65 billion price tag for the overall tax package for corporate tax cuts is fully factored into the Budget and fully costed. Doesn’t that undermine your position that we can’t afford it?
FITZGIBBON: The fact it is in the Budget doesn’t make it affordable Fran.
KELLY: They have costed it. Budgets are all about choices aren’t they?
FITZGIBBON: It is costed and it is in the Budget, but it doesn’t mean it is affordable or fully funded and -
KELLY: Well hang on, when Labor had a position on a number of points including your Gonski package you said it’s in there. Therefore it is fully funded and when the then Opposition challenged that, you said look, it’s there, it’s fully funded.
FITZGIBBON: Affordable is a broad term Fran, we’re talking about affordable in terms of our priorities. Labor supports developing an internationally competitive tax system but we have priorities and we shouldn’t be directing $65 billion worth of tax cuts to big corporations and high wealth individuals while at the same time the Government is cutting funding in health, in education and in so many areas of investment in our human development so it is about priorities. We are very happy and comfortable with our priorities and I think Malcolm Turnbull is going to continue to struggle to sell his.
KELLY: Well Chris Bowen the Shadow Treasurer has left the door open to supporting lower corporate taxes once the Budget is in surplus, but a meeting of a Labor Left on the weekend resolved to dig in and oppose company tax cuts, come what may. Would you support lower business taxes once the Budget is in better shape?
FITZGIBBON: I support an internationally competitive taxation regime, of course I do.
KELLY: Isn’t that what Malcolm Turnbull is after?
FITZGIBBON: But I also, I won’t support the funding of changes at the expense of other key areas of government responsibility, health and education amongst them.
KELLY: Can I just ask you finally, you are the Member for the Hunter in NSW which is a big coal mining area. What do you think about this report today on the front of the Australian today that Bill Shorten threatened to tear up the industrial laws, he was speaking at a rally before CFMEU members in Queensland. He called the laws a cancer that had been distorted to hurt mine workers. It’s in a recording of the speech obtained. Do you share those views?
FITZGIBBON: I think Bill Shorten was sending a very clear message that the Labor Party will stand behind mine workers and workers generally when they are being unfairly treated and I absolutely support him to that extent.
KELLY: Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you very much for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure Fran.