SUBJECTS: Live Exports.
JOSEPH THOMSEN: Joel Fitzgibbon is the ALP Shadow Agriculture spokesperson and former Minister and could yet be the next Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon welcome to the program.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Nice to be with you.
THOMSEN: Are you and Sussan Ley on the same page on this one?
FITZGIBBON: Well thankfully politicians of all stripes are working together and certainly showing a willingness to work together to deal with this very, very serious program. Something that has been haunting the Parliament since 2011. It is time we worked together to fix the problem and get on with a system which satisfies community expectations.
THOMSEN: Is the answer to end live exports of sheep to those two Middle Eastern countries?
FITZGIBBON: Well I certainly don’t want to be taking precipitous decisions like that. If the Parliament were to do that, and it has never been done before, we have had pauses before by necessity, and of course the Labor Party was criticised in 2011 for the pause in the live cattle trade. But what that brought was very significant reform in that trade and you know since then that part of the sector has been able to demonstrate itself to be responsible. Now we are doing it with sheep and we need to work together toward a similar model -
THOMSEN: Except as Sussan Ley herself points out, nothing has changed for all the conversations and every time there is vision that leaks out there is a talk about it then later on more vision leaks out showing conditions haven’t changed.
FITZGIBBON: And this is what happens when you have poor leadership. Under Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce the trade was basically sent the message that it had an unqualified support from Government, when you do that of course you get companies ignoring the standards, ignoring the rules, and of course taking risks.
THOMSEN: That’s a political characterisation, this has happened under both Coalition and Labor Governments and it has happened for a long time. What’s your position on stopping either the live export trade, or if not doing that, how do you guarantee that conditions will somehow be made humane across the board?
FITZGIBBON: Well I reject the idea that political leadership doesn’t matter. It does. Labor has demonstrated a willingness to show that leadership. Now under David Littleproud, it appears the Government is prepared to work with us to do the same. That is critical because you won’t change culture in the sector while ever the politicians are fighting and while ever one side of politics is giving them an unqualified leave pass. I am very serious about this reform process. I am grateful that David Littleproud is also very serious. But I have said that, while I am very willing and I have extended a bipartisan hand that David Littleproud seems to have accepted, while we are willing to work with the Government, one thing is almost unconditional that is, that we have to have an independent cop on the beat watching over these companies. I created the position of Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports when I was the Minister in 2013 and unfortunately Barnaby Joyce abolished that position on coming to government. I think that is a necessary condition of our arrangement, we need independent oversight of the sector.
THOMSEN: Alright what does that mean exactly? Whether we have had or haven’t had it obviously hasn’t stopped these sorts of inhumane incidents. Are you talking about cameras on every ship? With regular examining of the footage?
FITZGIBBON: Well it hasn’t stopped it because we haven’t had the Inspector General because Barnaby Joyce abolished the position. Can I quickly say before we go back to that, it doesn’t stop there. Standards absolutely have to change. Up until now we had the debate as to whether particular companies have broken rules and what sanctions should apply -
THOMSEN: OK but none of these are specifics. What are you specifically going to do to ensure humane operations in exports?
FITZGIBBON: I would appreciate if you would let me finish. What I was about to say is, it is clear the Department last week, looking at the latest estimates declared no rules were breached. It is very, very clear the standards are not sufficiently high. That’s why I welcome the fact the Minister has now agreed to review the standards and in terms of those northern summer months when sheep are being exported to the Middle East in extreme heat I will be very surprised if the review comes back and says that is sustainable. I suspect we have seen the end of that summer months trade.
THOMSEN: When you talk about reforms are you talking about cameras? Would that be included in reforms?
FITZGIBBON: Well cameras are obviously a necessary part of the equation, that’s the easy stuff really. What we need to do is to get the industry to accept the economic equation will be changing for them. I think it is clear to anyone who saw that footage on 60 Minutes that you can’t humanely move 60,000 sheep on a vessel that size and expect that you can meet community standards on animal welfare. That is very, very clear to me. The economic equation is going to change I think for the sector and of course, I want also to be leading a program of reform in the red meat sector generally. I want to see us doing more value adding in Australia, creating more jobs in Australia and doing less live export.
THOMSEN: We heard Sussan Ley say there that she has a farming background and that it is not just down to the heat on the ships if they are actually dying. She says in her experience sheep can survive quite warm temperatures, if they are dying on that kind of scale, it is more than just heat, it is conditions and a complete failure of whatever the framework is supposed to be. It seems like there are a lot of problems to address with talk about reforms.
FITZGIBBON: Of course, it is not just about heat. Sheep need to be able to lie down, they need to move around on the vessel, that is just basic common sense. The sector has to realise that Parliamentarians on both sides of the political fence are working together, putting behind us, I hope, the tit for tat of the past and sending a very clear message that we expect them to meet community standards and if they can’t, well there will be consequences
THOMSEN: So do we have any concrete outcome from all of this other than talking about reforms? And can we confirm that you are not proposing, as Sussan Ley is, to stop the live export trade in sheep to those two countries?
FITZGIBBON: I realise, like many Australians, that many, many producers rely heavily if not entirely on this trade so to precipitously shut down the trade would damage many, many of our farmers right across the country.
THOMSEN: Susan Ley is suggesting to end it incrementally though.
FITZGIBBON: All those things are in the mix but there is no point me extending a bipartisan hand to the Minister and saying let’s fix this together and then going ahead of him and telling him how I think it should be fixed. I have laid down some conditions.
THOMSEN: But you could be the next Agriculture Minister and you have got to have some sort of a policy position on it don’t you?
FITZGIBBON: And that’s a very good point. I want to create situation where no matter who is the Minister from which of the political parties, as we change office from time to time, we have a policy framework in place that is acceptable to both of those political parties and is therefore sustainable.
THOMSEN: What about what is acceptable to the general population though. How can people have confidence, and I’m just asking this as an objective question. How can people have confidence that whatever the outcome of this discussion about reforms is, that it is actually going to achieve a concrete change? How can we have confidence in that?
FITZGIBBON: If I can get ahead of the Minister having extended an offer to work together and pre-empt all of his reviews and enquiries - that would be a mistake. I need him with the resources of his office to come forward with some proposals and I hopefully can accept them and then we settle the bipartisanship and can have changes in Government and not be concerned those policies will be unravelled in the future. That is my main aim but it’s very, very clear we need an independent oversight, we need a review and changes indeed to the standards. They are not good enough and that’s very clear and we need penalties for those who breach the systems sufficient to ensure that breaches never occur in the future.
THOMSEN: One last questions. Let’s say that you have this chat with David Littleproud and let’s say whoever is the Agriculture Minister following the next Federal election that reforms are put in place that you’ve agreed to on a bipartisan basis. Then in 12 months, 18 months, 2 years more similar vision emerges. Then what?
FITZGIBBON: Well that’s obviously very hypothetical, let’s go one step at a time. I’m determined to press and force change in this sector and I don’t think anyone believes that it’s sustainable in the long term and I have said many times that if you starting again you wouldn’t have this trade, but we do have this trade and we have many people and people’s livelihoods linked to it including our farmers so we need to go hard on the reform process and see where that takes us. I do know one thing, community concern over this industry will likely grow over time and the sector should be sitting up and listening to that and thinking about what it does in the future.
THOMSEN: We’ll leave it there. Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Agriculture spokesperson. Thank you very much for your time.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.