SUBJECTS: Animal rights activists, electric vehicles, Adani.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister has condemned vegan animal rights activists who staged mass protests across the country today. Protesters shut down one of Melbourne’s busiest intersections during peak hour this morning. Others broke into abattoirs and farms where they released animals and threatened farmers. Scott Morrison called their actions shameful and un-Australian. The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack went even further.
[AUDIO GRAB] MICAHEL MCCORMACK: They break into these people’s properties, they cause all sorts of mayhem, they tie themselves to milking machines, tractors and farm equipment. I mean, they should be locked up. At the end of the day they should actually be locked up and for a good time to serve as a lesson to others not to do the same thing. Why don’t they go get a job? Seriously go get a job and do something. Do something that’s real and honest for a change.
KARVELAS: That’s the Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack there. Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture. Welcome back to RN Drive.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Good to be with you PK.
KARVELAS: Were these protests today an attack on farmers as the Government says?
FITZGIBBON: Well Michael McCormack’s response was a somewhat sophisticated one wasn’t it PK? It’s just silly language but I do stand with the millions of Australians who like me, love their red meat, pork, chicken and other food products and we should feel free to secure our protein from those sources as long as that food of course is produced in an ethical way. And likewise, farmers are entitled to get on with the business of producing our food. The question becomes where do we source our protein if we don’t have source of protein in our red meat or other products?
KARVELAS: Let’s not prosecute the arguments of where you can get protein if you want to go vegan. I think it’s more about rights and responsibilities and the right to protest too because the Deputy Prime Minister says the protesters should be locked up. Do you agree that they should essentially face jail time. Should they?
FITZGIBBON: Well that sort of language is extreme and I think it just feeds into the work of the protesters. I recall when Four Corners had that program on this issue looking at farm invasions recently. One of the protesters simply said ‘well we got the publicity we were looking for, that was all we needed’ and we have to have a sophisticated response. Sure, if our laws are found wanting and they aren’t sufficient then we should move on them. One of the points that needs to be made is that I do sadly feel that Federal Government inaction on the animal welfare front over the last six years has helped to fuel these protests. I mean they abolished Labor’s Inspector General for Animal Welfare, they gave a sort of green light to the live sheep trade which caused all sorts of breaches of animal welfare standards so Government does have a leadership role to play here. The laws are mainly in the domain of the state governments and I note a number of state governments are already moving to strengthen their laws but really the Commonwealth could have been showing leadership here through the CoAG process, a process this government effectively abolished six years ago
KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says the Federal Government would join any civil action against these animal rights activists. Would Labor support that? Do you think that would be a good way to send a message?
FITZGIBBON: Patricia I know the law well but I don’t even know what that means? What does it mean when the Prime Minister of the day, a senior member of cabinet for six years, a government which relaxed animal welfare oversight says he’s going to join a civil action – against who? This is just the sort of spin you get from a government that has no record of achievement –
KARVELAS: Presumably what he’s talking about is perhaps a farmer or farm group perhaps some getting together and that the government would help them and join in their action trying to pursue an outcome here.
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s a funny response from a national government Patricia. Is that his best response? He’s going to somehow join in civil action. If as the Prime Minister of this country he believes that the laws suddenly are too lax after six years in government then he can bring other leaders together and do something about them.
KARVELAS: Well the Attorney General has asked the Privacy Commissioner to investigate whether a website called Aussie Farms, and this has been reported about before about Aussie Farms - at least in some cases inaccurate information about the location of farms has breached its obligations under the Privacy Act. Do you support that and will it make a difference?
FITZGIBBON: Look we are prepared to have that conversation if we believe it makes a difference, of course we will support it but it appears to me again to be policy on the run. What is clear is that having people invade farms and steal livestock from our farmers is unacceptable practice. Now I have seen in Queensland Mark Furner the Minister there has sensibly established some sort of taskforce as what is part of the problem PK is that many of these offences take place so far away from even the smallest country town and you know what the size of the police force is in some of those areas. We need some sort of plan and coordinated response so the people perpetrating these acts can be held to account.
KARVELAS: Well the Attorney General has also written to State and Territory Attorney Generals and police ministers asking them to consider strengthening their criminal trespass laws. Is that something you would support?
FITZGIBBON: Of course we support him writing to our State Ministers.
KARVELAS: And you think they should strengthen those state laws?
FITZGIBBON: He said review and if the answer is stronger laws, then yes let’s review them and look at them but I suspect this is a far more sophisticated problem than just the penalties and it needs a far more sophisticated response and again, this is a Government that for six years has undermined our animal welfare standards in this country. David Littleproud the Agriculture Minister was out there calling for a boycott of donations to the RSPCA. That is hardly leadership and only fuels the cause of the protesters.
KARVELAS: Well what do you make of that? Okay you’ve sort of gone there. Let’s go a little further on it. He says there should be a ban on donations to the RSPCA. Would you, are you saying people should continue to donate to the RSPCA and that they are a fair organisation?
FITZGIBBON: Of course people should feel free and welcome to donate to the RSPCA. They do wonderful work in our community and of course it was the same Minister who not that long ago decided to call a boycott on one of our major supermarkets on the milk issue when so many of our dairy farmers rely on that retailer to sell their milk. This is just so unsophisticated and so populist. This government should have seen this issue coming and should have been working with state governments a long time ago to review these laws to determine whether they are sufficient. Remembering PK that there is a serious biosecurity issue here too when people are trespassing on farms and we just had a major biosecurity review yet the government didn’t bother to go there.
KARVELAS: Just moving on to another issue. Scott Morrison has accused Labor of trying to end the weekend through its electric car strategy. It says people in regional areas don’t want them. What’s your assessment of how people in regional areas feel about electric cars?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s an insult to people who live in the regions PK. It’s suggesting that we aren’t concerned about the environment and we aren’t sophisticated enough to have an interest in electric vehicles. It’s an insulting and silly thing to say and of course in regional Australia you will find all sorts of people just as you’d find all sorts of people in the capital cities. I know that some of my local councils have already been making submissions in the hope of having EV vehicle fuelling stations. They want to be part of that new and modern economy just as much as people in our capital cities do.
KARVELAS: Okay, you say that but the Government has taken issue with you mandating the number of electric cars on the roads rather than having them as an option. Is this a top heavy approach? Labor forcing people to drive electric cars?
FITZGIBBON: Well we haven’t mandated anything and we haven’t been forcing people to do anything either.
KARVELAS: You’ve committed to a 50 per cent target.
FITZGIBBON: We are trying to facilitate a greater uptake of EVs in Australia. We are international laggards. We are so far behind in this new technology and that is a responsible thing to do. As has been revealed at Senate Estimates Josh Frydenberg, the country’s Treasurer had the very same objective.
KARVELAS: What is Labor’s position on the Adani mine? If the Environment Minister signs off on its groundwater management plan, it’s the last federal hurdle. Will Labor support the mine?
FITZGIBBON: We’ve always been very, very clear PK , I’m the Member for Hunter, I’m a supporter of the coal mining industry but every project has to stack up environmentally and has to be able to stand on its own two feet and run the gauntlet of both of those tests and that’s our position. We are not the government of the day and it’s interesting that Minister Price seems to be under duress from some of her cabinet colleagues and other people within the party when we know that the law is very clear and she should be making decisions free of any outside influence. It’s just highlighting –
KARVELAS: Okay if she does make the decision and gives it a sign off, will Labor support it because she would have given it sign off and that means it would be ready to go right?
FITZGIBBON: Well PK we haven’t seen what is before her and we haven’t seen the outcome of these things. What we do know is that these projects should only proceed – look as the Ag Shadow I know better than most the potential consequences of getting water policy wrong. The impact on our natural environment and our water resources and our farmers so we will do what the law requires us to do just as this government should do what the law requires it to do and that doesn’t seem to be the case when we have people trying to influence the Minister responsible when the law clearly says outside influence is inappropriate.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.