FRAN KELLY: Joel Fitzgibbon will be around the Shadow Cabinet table today. He’s the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources. Joel Fitzgibbon, welcome back to Breakfast.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: I’m one very happy NSW MP this morning Fran so it’s very nice to be with you.
KELLY: I guess we are talking State of Origin, yeah?
FITZGIBBON: We are indeed.
KELLY: Jim Chalmers the Shadow Treasurer sounding on Insiders yesterday like it was going to be a no from Labor on the third stage of the government’s tax cut package. What’s your view? What will you be telling Anthony Albanese around that Shadow Cabinet table today.
FITZGIBBON: Well I’ll certainly share my views Fran with my Shadow Cabinet colleagues and I respect that process but my starting point is that you can’t deny the punters a tax cut from opposition particularly so soon after an election where we had our backsides kicked. And we can’t afford to give our political opponents the opportunity to blame us for a bad economy, an economy which has gone bad on their watch.
KELLY: So when you say you can’t deny people a tax cut from opposition that’s the same as saying Labor should wave it through?
FITZGIBBON: Well no there are various strategies to consider but three other key points need to be made. First Labor took a bigger, more progressive and affordable, better targeted tax package to the last election so we support tax cuts. In the face of bracket creep they are essential. Second, Labor’s position has become important only because the government hasn’t been able to convince the Senate Crossbench that its tax package changes are good changes and third Government Ministers are increasingly saying that tax cuts are needed for the purpose of economic stimulus. Now this is an admission that on their watch the economy is in trouble. But there is another very important point. The key difference between being in government and being in opposition is that in one position you get to change the tax system and in the other you don’t. So Labor’s problem is that because the government is unwilling to decouple stage three from stages one and two – stage one of course we support, the only option then if we are unable to force a decoupling which is of course should be our first objective is to support the whole package or to support none of it. Now the latter option would deny low to middle income earners much needed tax relief, tax relief we ourselves were promising during the election campaign. So this is the dilemma for Labor and we will continue to war game the situation and use our authority. We remain Fran the largest single political party in the Parliament and we should use our weight and influence to try to push for that decoupling and to fight these unfair stage three cuts which are effectively in any case on the never-never.
KELLY: Okay so that would suggest that as reported in the New Daily for instance today that Labor will try to amend the legislation to split off stage three of the tax cuts when the bill goes to parliament next week. If that doesn’t work then Labor will vote for the full package to pass. Is that your position?
FITZGIBBON: Well we have a process to go through and you can be sure that Anthony Albanese will allow for a free ranging debate and give every member of the caucus the opportunity to express a view but we certainly won’t be running up the white flag and accepting these regressive and very expensive at $95 billion tax cuts which are weighted to high income earners. We still believe that is unfair, we still believe they are regressive –
KELLY: Hang on, if you believe they are regressive and unfair then there is no way Labor would vote for them ultimately is there?
FITZGIBBON: Well I just made the point that if we can’t force the decoupling and the government wrongly insists on leaving the package as one, our only option is to support all of it or to support none of it and again the latter option would deny low and middle income earners much needed tax relief so the government is being recklessly stubborn. It provides us with a very significant challenge and this morning we will start working through the answers to that challenge.
KELLY: Last week Labor backbencher Peter Khalil broke ranks saying Labor should just pass the full tax cut plan and get on with it. It’s exactly in the vein of what you were talking about last week when you said Labor MPs should have more freedom to publicly express views that are counter to opposition policy. He said I think the parliament would benefit much more from allowing MPs to speak more freely to express their views. In that vein can I just ask you again do you think or will you say publicly do you think Labor should support all three stages of the government’s tax cut package if that’s where it comes down to?
FITZGIBBON: I think I’ve made it pretty clear Fran that we can’t deny low to middle income earners a tax cut. We are a tanking economy and of course wages are flat lining under this government and they are now in their third term. We need to deliver them that relief and our challenge now is trying to work out how we deliver that relief without rolling over on this regressive and expensive stage three, which of course has to be paid for and of course one of the questions we’ve been asking, given the economy is in trouble and revenue will continue to decline, what government investment in services will need to be cut to deliver these high end income taxes? Is it health? Is it education? Will it be a cut to roads funding or indeed cuts to pensions?
FITZGIBBON: These are reasonable questions for us to be asking.
KELLY: Jim Chalmers in that interview yesterday too also personally apologised for some of the language, class warfare language that he and others in the Labor team used during the campaign describing people earning $200,000 a year as the top end of town. I would say there would be a fair few miners in the Hunter region who might be earning that sort of money sometimes. Did you feel that language biting and did you feel comfortable with the language?
FITZGIBBON: I thought Jim Chalmers was on the money with respect to everything he said yesterday morning.
KELLY: But what did you think during the campaign? Were you uncomfortable with that language?
FITZGIBBON: I make no bones about it Fran, I was disappointed with it and I have made the point on a number of occasions since the election when we said we were going to take money from the rich to give to the poor, we failed to define who the rich are. My coal miners on their $160,000 a year with potentially a negatively geared house were entitled to ask themselves whether we were talking about them, and the rest is history.
KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. It’s 16 minutes to 8. Our guest is Joel Fitzgibbon, he’s the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources. The government may not need Labor to get the tax cuts through the Senate, Joel Fitzgibbon. Centre Alliance is in the mood for talking and has the government considering the idea of setting up a domestic gas reserve on the East Coast for new projects in a bid to boost supply and keep the lid on power prices making sure the tax cuts aren’t gobbled up by rising energy prices. As the Shadow Resources Minister is that an idea you support?
FITZGIBBON: First of all the government said it would do no deals and it should not.
KELLY: Not even this one?
FITZGIBBON: Gas is a really important issue. Access to affordable gas is critically important to household budgets and for our manufacturing sector, but a good gas policy doesn’t make the stage three tax cuts good policy as well. So there should be no horse trading between the two, they are not –
KELLY: Do you support this idea of a gas reserve?
FITZGIBBON: On gas we need to do two things. We need to get more gas out of the ground. That should be our primary objective it is a supply issue. If we get more gas out of the ground then we will be able to meet our domestic needs at an affordable cost and earn export revenue from other countries so that’s the key and we need to bring new urgency to that. We need to ask people to ask themselves when they turn on their gas heater at home or fire up their gas hotplate, where does the gas come from? This is a really important question Fran. Secondly we do need to develop a national interest test. We are unique in the world in that we don’t have some control which ensures we meet our needs at a domestic level and therefore we need to be doing this prospectively. What the national interest test looks like I am open. We want a bipartisan approach to this. It’s too important for politics. We want to be part of the solution not part of the problem. I have already had a discussion with Matt Canavan on this issue. We need to work together to get this right. We need to maintain a manufacturing sector in this country and we don’t do that if we don’t do something about gas prices.
KELLY: Can I just ask you finally and briefly the Prime Minister gives a major speech today. He’ll flag the government’s intention to bring the Ensuring Integrity Bill to parliament next week. That will toughen penalties for unionists who break the law and he is also inviting employers to get involved in industrial relations reform to provide evidence to make the changes to IR reform. Is the Coalition signalling it’s no longer gun-shy on IR Reform?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s certainly right out of the Tory playbook isn’t it Fran? I mean the economy is in trouble and the government stands for nothing. It promised nil at the election other than these tax cuts so of course the default position is to launch an attack on the trade union movement. It’s a mistake particularly at a time when wages are flat lining. So the government needs to start showing some initiative and start talking about what it’s going to do about productivity and the economy rather than spending all of its time putting up these false debates whether it be on Medivac whether it be on the unions. They are all largely a distraction form the key issue here and that is the state of the Australian economy an economy which is in pretty bad state.
KELLY: Okay it’s not to say it’s not linked I suppose but Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you very much.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure Fran.