SUBJECTS: Budget 2017, Anthony Albanese speech, APVMA relocation, Medicare levy, North Korea threat.
SUNDAY, 21 MAY 2017
HOST PATRICIA KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Welcome to the program.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Good to be with you Patricia.
KARVELAS: So let’s get to Anthony Albanese’s speech because there has been a lot of debate about this this week and he was meant to be my guest, he didn’t make it tonight. Do you agree that the budget is Labor Lite?
FITZGIBBON: Look I think the fuss about Albo is all about nothing. Sure there might have been some differences in emphasis but you need to remember that Bill Shorten on budget reply night was addressing the nation and of course Anthony Albanese was addressing the true believers at a union conference in Western Australia, so of course you will hear some differences in emphasis but I believe their messages are crystal clear and in unison.
KARVELAS: Okay you say crystal clear, but ultimately do you agree with Anthony Albanese that the budget was an ideological retreat for the Government?
FITZGIBBON: Well I certainly agree with Bill Shorten who said in his budget reply speech that the budget was an admission of guilt and a signed confession, they were the words he used, in other words, it was an admission on the part of the Coalition that they had their priorities all wrong from the point of the 2014 budget, and we were right on every occasion to block those so called zombie measures in the Senate. The minor parties can’t block these things on their own, they need the Labor Party also voting against them. So Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese both said the same thing, that we should celebrate that we took the fight up on those unfair measures - measures that hit the poorest families in our country the hardest and we are right to celebrate that victory.
KARVELAS: On decentralisation, you have been fighting Barnaby Joyce on this issue, we know this. If Labor was elected, would you immediately move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority back to Canberra?
FITZGIBBON: Well I hope the APVMA won’t be in Armidale by the time we are elected, if we are fortunate to win the next election. Sure he has four low level staff up there at the moment but no capital expenditure has yet been invested in the facilities there, so I am hopeful there is still an opportunity to stop this boondoggle, this pork barrel in its tracks.
KARVELAS: But if you can’t stop it and the movement has happened, will you move them back and waste more taxpayer money or will you let them be?
FITZGIBBON: Well I can’t commit to wasting even more taxpayers' money on the boondoggle. We will wait and see what the performance of the APVMA is like at that point. What we now know so far is that even though the move now hasn’t even occurred, the APVMA has lost up to 50 per cent of its workforce and its capacity to do its very important work has fallen by half also, so it has been pretty bad so far. We'd have to wait and see but I remain committed and determined to stop this process in its tracks because it is bad for our farmers, bad for our consumers and bad for anyone who relies on the APVMA and its regulatory processes including our exporters and indeed including every consumer who on a regular basis consume fresh fruit and vegetables which are subject to crop sprays.
KARVELAS: Just quickly, on this Medicare levy which Labor has a different position on, it effectively means you lose $400 million over the forward estimates, are you concerned the proposal costs too much, and doesn’t it conflict with this idea of the universality of the Medicare levy that you are now carving it out, that only high income earners pay for it?
FITZGIBBON: Well its not fair, the whole system loses its progressiveness Patricia when as a result of all the budget measures, millionaires are getting tax cuts and lower to middle income families are paying more. Of course the Labor Party could have said we will let the Medicare levy change with increases sail through and we will book the savings to our budget and we will be able to spend the money elsewhere, and of course we will let Malcolm Turnbull take all the blame – that was one option and that in a sense would be the easy option. But we need to be consistent on our fairness messages and we don’t believe it is fair for lower to middle income families to be facing a Medicare levy increase while Malcolm Turnbull is spending $65 billion giving tax cuts to big corporations.
KARVELAS: I know some of your colleagues internally were concerned that you didn’t book the whole measure. You’re not one of those and think that it was worth preserving the universal nature of Medicare so that the levy rise would be consistent across all income thresholds?
FITZGIBBON: No I don’t particularly in the context of the other changes where the Government was removing the deficit levy and giving a tax cut to income earners over $180,000 a year and spending $65 billion over the decade on tax cuts to some of the nation’s biggest multinational companies so in that context it wasn’t possible for Labor to support a levy increase on middle to lower income families.
KARVELAS: Okay I just want to ask you on a story that is breaking on our watch. I know that the previous guest Senator Scott Ryan was reluctant to comment but you are a former Defence Minister, in fact I think I used to speak to you then, we've been around for a while haven't we, when you were Defence Minister, but North Korea has fired an unidentified projectile according to the South Korean military, this at a time where there has been more pressure on China to try and put pressure on North Korea, are you concerned by these latest reports?
FITZGIBBON: I’m very concerned. It’s hard to know how concerned to be without access to the intelligence and fully knowing what has taken place, but this is a real serious challenge for the community of nations around the globe and we need to be very concerned about developments in recent years, but particular tonight in North Korea and we do need to work together as a community of nations to address the problem. It’s not going to go away, the point will come when the global community comes to the conclusion that we can no longer sit back and allow Kim Jong-un to further develop those nuclear weapons and his capacity to deliver those weapons at long distances.
KARVELAS: Based on this report tonight are you worried that the policy of containment is no longer working?
FITZGIBBON: Well we have been talking about North Korea as a so-called rogue state for much more than a decade now and given that he appears to be further progressing his aspirations as a nuclear state and as a state capable of delivering a nuclear warhead long distances, that is a sign surely that whatever we have been doing isn’t working. I do believe that the point will come when we, together as a community of nations, will have to revisit our approaches and something is going to have to give basically and a lot of people around the globe tonight will be focussing their minds on that very issue and those other options.
KARVELAS: Are we at that point already Joel Fitzgibbon because the frequency of these reports of tests is now increasing. This is already after President Trump has put pressure on China to try and use every means they have to try and put pressure on North Korea. Are you worried that strategy is now a failure?
FITZGIBBON: Well I am worried that he continues to progress his aspirations. If what we have seen tonight is true, and of course it only builds on many of the things that we already know, so I mean, the people that have access to the intelligence and focus all their time on these issues tonight will be asking themselves what are the next steps, what are the alternatives, because frankly, there are no easy answers.
KARVELAS: No there aren’t, thank you so much for your time.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.