SUBJECTS: Government’s delay in releasing McCarthy Review into northern summer live sheep exports, divided Turnbull Cabinet. By elections.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Agriculture Minister and joins us tonight, welcome to the program.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be with you PK.
KARVELAS: There’s a whole industry at stake here and people’s livelihoods. Why shouldn’t Cabinet create, you know, basically better checks and balances to ensure this awful, awful, horrendous - these deaths don’t occur again?
FITZGIBBON: Well we certainly should be ensuring that they don’t occur again and we should be ensuring it in an orderly way which ensures that sheep meat producers - farmers are not unnecessarily disadvantaged. In fact we believe we can lead them better off economically if this is done the right way. The mystery here of course is that David Littleproud took a submission to Cabinet last night and was rolled. The Cabinet couldn’t reach an agreement. We know they deferred it until Monday’s Cabinet meeting and yet given all the fuss this morning about the deferral they’ve now decided to make the announcement tomorrow so one of two things have happened, they’re going to make the announcement without going back to a Cabinet process which would be pretty extraordinary in itself, or they’re meeting tonight and we know that not to be the case.
KARVELAS: So, you’re claiming to know what’s happened in the Cabinet meeting that the Minister was overruled on his recommendations, that’s what you’ve claimed. But in truth we don’t actually know what’s happened in that meeting we’re going to find out tomorrow right?
FITZGIBBON: Patricia you know better than that, we know what happened in that meeting.
KARVELAS: Well I actually don’t. I do not know what happened in that meeting.
FITZGIBBON: Well I have my sources, David Littleproud organised a sort of Budget style lockup this morning at 8am ahead of a 9 o’clock announcement on the results of the review and the Government’s response. People flew into Canberra last night from all over the country to be part of that lockup and this morning it was called off because David Littleproud was not able to get his proposition through the Cabinet last night. Now we don’t exactly know what that proposition is or was but I suspect it was something too soft an approach and a response for many in the Cabinet and they asked him to go back and do some more work but the Government have panicked this morning and has called the announcement on tomorrow and no one believes that any real work was done between last night’s Cabinet meeting and the announcement of an announcement tomorrow.
KARVELAS: So there will be no ban for the northern summer this year. What changes should be enforced by the Government to improve conditions? Now I’m hoping for not your position but something that you would suggest that could be a good interim position because even you say that you know you’re not going to get rid of this industry overnight so clearly there needs to be some interim provisions that even you would suggest.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah absolutely, we need to phase the trade out slowly, probably around about five years to give us an opportunity to make sure farmers aren’t disadvantaged to put them on that higher value curve chasing premium markets more value adding here in Australia, creating Australian jobs but that will take time. So in the meantime we need to do two other things. We need to get rid of this summer trade because all the evidence is that is not sustainable, it can’t be done in a way consistent with our expectations on animal welfare and we need to regulate harder give more oversight to and ensure enforcement is right on the balance of the trade between now and in five years or so they’re the things we need to do.
KARVELAS: And the Live Export Council made a submission to the McCarthy Review calling for independent observers on ships and stocking densities to follow a heat stress assessment model. Is that the best approach as well to go forward?
FITZGIBBON: Things like observers and CCTV cameras are fine Patricia but they don’t stop the carnage. If you hit a climatic event in the northern summer in the Middle East no one on board can do anything about it. This was the admission from the industry itself only less than two weeks ago when Graham Daws from Emanuels, one of the big exporters said what happened with the Awassi which is the subject of the 60 Minutes Report was a climatic event that no one can control. We can’t give a guarantee. So if the industry itself is saying it can’t be undertaken without a guarantee on animal welfare standards. Now as we understand it tomorrow the Minister, and I can’t be sure about this, will announce two things basically – and there will be other things like observers no doubt and maybe some stiffer penalties. This review was into the summer trade - the key two points as I understand that came out of McCarthy is one- stocking densities and of course temperatures and what I think David Littleproud will do tomorrow is announce not insignificant reduction in stocking densities as recommended by Dr McCarthy but what he won’t do as I understand it is accept the second recommendation and that is because of the climate conditions in the northern summer in the Middle East is that these voyages cannot be undertaken consistent with our animal welfare standards. That is the finding also arrived at by the Australian Veterinary Association. So he is going to reduce the stocking densities I suspect which will be a good thing, but he is still going to allow the summer trade to continue. Have a think about this Patricia. This is a little bit like saying you can’t leave three children in a car in the searing heat while you run into the supermarket, but you can leave two in. So you are reducing the density by a third but it doesn’t help the other two children and that is what I think David Littleproud is proposing tomorrow. If that is the case, then it is unacceptable.
KARVELAS: Well then finally, we know Sussan Ley has her own Private Members Bill, she wants to get rid of the trade and she is clearly building her numbers and Sarah Henderson another Government backbencher also backing that approach. So you could get together with Sussan Ley if you backed her legislation and you could actually get rid of this straight away right?
FITZGIBBON: We have been getting together regularly and negotiating the terms of that Private Members Bill. Obviously I was determined for the phase out to not happen any quicker than five years because again I don’t think we can transition farmers positively in anything less than that and we want an immediate cessation of the summer trade. We are very close Patricia and think we’ve got an arrangement and if we can put that deal in place, she will put the Bill in place on Monday. The problem is the Government will never give it the opportunity to be debated on let alone voted on in the Parliament so we need an absolute majority - 76 votes in the Parliament. Now Labor had 69 and there were 5 crossbenchers. There was Ley and the Member for Corangamite so we were very, very close but last week we lost three of our backbenchers and Rebekha Sharkie fell on her sword as well. She was supportive of the Bill. So it just got a whole lot harder but the processes in the House are so slow that it may be that those byelections are done and dusted by the time we proceed to that point and some of those numbers if not all of them, will be restored and in that case we only need a couple more backbenchers on Tony Abbott’s side to come with us.
KARVELAS: Tony Abbott’s side?
FITZGIBBON: Tony Abbott’s side indeed, indeed.
KARVELAS: The other side of Parliament. You can’t be losing Longman can you?
FITZGIBBBON: Well we won’t lose Longman.
KARVELAS: Won’t you?
FITZGIBBON: We don’t want to lose Longman for many reasons but yeah, we don’t want to lose Longman for the purpose of this vote of course.
KARVELAS: Hey Joel, thanks so much for coming on.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a great pleasure.