SUBJECTS: New National Party leader, Coalition Agreement, Barnaby Joyce allegations.
LAURA JAYES: The top story now is Michael McCormack the new Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Nationals. Now for his take on it here is Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. Of course you are from the Labor side, the other side of politics are you welcoming of Michael McCormack at least recognising him as the best leader of the Nationals at this point?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: I think Michael McCormack has a wonderful opportunity ahead of him. We have a dysfunctional government; he has an opportunity to play a role in getting the show back on track. His first act should be to do his best not to be Barnaby Joyce; to put politics aside in many senses and to get on with some serious policy development. Barnaby Joyce’s model was to create division in the community and then robustly back one side, typically, his traditional base. The base of the National Party. There are many in regional Australia, and I encounter them every day, who are quite progressive and they want something different for our regionals. They want a heavy investment in people, in education and in regional universities. That’s our future in the region. Not Barnaby Joyce boondoggles and relocations of government departments and the like. That’s not what people are looking for. So Michael McCormack has an opportunity to be something different from Barnaby Joyce.
JAYES: Okay, well what should his first order of business be?
FITZGIBBON: To table the Coalition Agreement. Nothing could be more fundamental -
JAYES: Labor is obsessed with this Coalition Agreement. What do you think is actually in it?
FITZGIBBON: You might call it an obsession but nothing is more fundamental to our system of democracy than knowing what is in the deal that makes Malcolm Turnbull Prime Minister. Malcolm Turnbull only has 60 votes in the House of Representatives, Labor has 69. He only governs because he has an arrangement with the National Party and I think people are entitled to know what he said he’d do or not do to become Prime Minister. It’s pretty basic stuff and if he doesn’t table it, people are entitled to ask the question what does he have to hide?
JAYES: Now this a point of conjecture, isn’t this, doesn’t the Governor General know about the Coalition Agreement?
FITZGIBBON: I heard Bridget McKenzie (inaudible)
JAYES: Yes, I heard her say that too. Is that being contested?
FITZGIBBON: I will be very surprised and there is a Senate Estimates testimony to suggest that is not the case. The Governor General only needs to know one thing. That is the National Party is providing Malcolm Turnbull with the support he needs, the guarantee of supply for example, the confidence he needs to form a Government. He doesn’t need to see the detail of the Coalition Agreement. I think Bridget McKenzie may have misled the Australian community yesterday. The group of people who do need to see that Coalition Agreement are of course the Australian people more broadly. Can I just say that Theresa May in the UK and Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and I think Angela Merkel too have all entered into Coalition Agreements to govern. At least two of the three, I think all three have made those agreements public.
JAYES: I mean, what could there be a deal done? So if Malcolm Turnbull has agreed not to meddle in the National’s leadership. Would that be a problem?
FITZGIBBON: What that says if that’s true, and we just saw it play out over the last two weeks. What that says is Malcolm Turnbull said to Barnaby Joyce is no matter how dysfunctional you are, no matter hopeless you are and no matter how far you are off track in both political management or policy terms, I will have no authority -
JAYES: They are separate parties right?
FITZGIBBON: Actually they may be separate parties but what has occurred to me that further complicates the issue, it has occurred to me over the last few weeks is just how many people in the community haven’t really ever stopped to think about how this system works. Suddenly they find out though that the Nationals, all 21 of them and they are a minor party, the Nationals . Suddenly they are going to elect a new bloke or woman, and that person is going to be the Deputy Prime Minister of the country. For the first time people in the broader community have started to think about that and when you tell them that Malcolm Turnbull relies on the National Party, that they have got a deal which is kept secret, they give you a pretty cynical response.
JAYES: You’re someone who is pretty tapped in to the agriculture and farming community. I want to talk about these allegations that Catherine Marriott has put forward. She wanted it to be in secret. They haven’t been. But she has put allegations forward of sexual misconduct it would believe it would seem like it is a bit of an upgrade on a sexual harassment charge. We do not know the nature of what these allegations are. Barnaby Joyce has asked that they be referred to police and Larry Anthony agrees that they probably should be referred to police. How should this be handled? Barnaby Joyce needs a due course, a platform to defend himself adequately, but Catherine Marriott also needs the privacy to put these allegations forward as well. It is a very difficult situation.
FITZGIBBON: I have known about the Catherine Marriott situation for some time, or at least I have heard the stories. If I knew then Malcolm Turnbull and others have known about it for a long time.
JAYES: Do you know the nature of the allegation?
FITZGIBBON: No I don’t, and I don’t particularly want to know, but I think she took the right course, she didn’t want to. No woman, as you know Laura, better than me, wants to come out on these issues. It is obviously can be embarrassing and you can come off second best unfortunately and that is the real issue here. She did the right thing and tried to keep it under the radar and went to the National Party, obviously not really seeking redress for her but wanting it for the sake of other women and to make sure the National Party tackle this issue and ensure it doesn’t happen to others. She has done that on a confidential basis and then someone within the National Party, or I see Andrew Broad is blaming someone from the Libs, has taken that from her and that potentially and arguably is a strategy in favour of Barnaby Joyce.
JAYES: How is it a strategy in favour of him? He has just lost his job.
FITZGIBBON: Well because the moment he says – oh well this should be tested by the police, it gives the air of innocence on his part.
JAYES: This was the nail in leadership coffin.
FITZGIBBON: No but I am saying it gives the air of innocence. When someone with great bravado says, well refer it to the police if you have an accusation, it is designed to suggest they have nothing to be concerned about, but what it also does is undermines her claim.
JAYES: Yes, you’re right.
FITZGIBBON: When he says, there’s nothing to be tested here, it undermines her claim and is an unfair response.
JAYES: It is unfair on both parties.
FITZGIBBON: It is unfair on everyone and if it was a strategy it was a dumb one.
JAYES: I’ll just ask you one final question on this. If this was so widely known, and you said you had heard about such allegations for quite some time, doesn’t it seem a little bit dodgy to you that they have just been made formally and in writing on the week in which Barnaby Joyce was fighting for his political life? And in the end it ended his leadership career. Does that not seem strange to you?
FITZGIBBON: I could ask the same question of you as a member of the media about these rumours that have been swirling for a long, long time. But who knows what it was that Barnaby Joyce said along the path of this train wreck that caused Catherine Marriott to finally decide that this guy (inaudible) in her mind, this has to be addressed.
JAYES: Joel Fitzgibbon thanks so much for your time, I will see you in question time. Don’t get kicked out.
FITZGIBBON: I’ll do my best.