SUBJECTS: Announcement of Labor candidate for New England By-election, Joyce’s personal life, citizenship audit, chaos and dysfunction in Turnbull Government.
THURSDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2017
HOST LAURA JAYES: The Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon joins us, who is it? Make the big reveal. Who is the Labor candidate who will be the potential king slayer in New England?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: It is an exciting announcement for us Laura. David Ewings is an excellent candidate. He ran for us in the 2016 Election. He said at the time, he was in the New England contest for the long haul and he has backed those comments up today by announcing his candidature again. He is an excellent candidate; former RAAF background; has had whole life-long experiences in industries and importantly absolutely adheres to Labor’s key objectives of inclusive growth and equal opportunity for all.
JAYES: Do you think he can beat Barnaby Joyce?
FITZGIBBON: We are in this contest to be absolutely competitive Laura. We have hit the ground running, we have chosen an excellent candidate. You will see other Shadow Ministers from Labor come through New England over the course of the next few weeks. We intend to give the people a choice, and of course we want the local people to send Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce a message, that is, they’re tiring of the dysfunction and chaos in Canberra and they are sick of their priorities. Priority tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting services in health and education and of course Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate NBN is a very big issue here in Tamworth.
JAYES: Do you think Barnaby Joyce’s personal life should be off-limits in the weeks that follow?
FITZGIBBON: I would always prefer Laura that people’s personal lives be off-limits. I am not interested in talking about or delving into Barnaby Joyce’s personal life. We want to talk about health and education; and a transition to a lower carbon economy; Malcolm Turnbull’s failures around an NBN; job insecurity; casualisation of the workforce. All these things are happening on their watch and that’s what we want to talk about.
JAYES: So you intend to keep this campaign pretty clean then and stick to the issues that actually matter to New England?
FITZGIBBON: Well I am here at Tamworth Base Hospital and I choose this as the setting for the announcement as it is emblematic of the real contrast between Malcolm Turnbull and Labor. We invested $120million in this hospital when we were last in government. Malcolm Turnbull is cutting investment. Of course I could have gone to a school, where there is a stark contrast in schools’ funding. I could have gone to a university, I could have done it next to a NBN node. All of these are emblematic of his failings and what we stand for as a Party and alternative government.
JAYES: Westfarmers’ boss Richard Goyder has had a pretty big crack at both the Labor Party and the Coalition over, yes, the chaos we have seen on citizenship but also this populist tone that is taking hold in Canberra. Does Labor take any responsibility for that? Because Richard Goyder has said some of the chaos we do see in Canberra, and he wasn’t levelling this just at the Government, by the way, he said it is really hurting things in the business community. Consumer confidence, for one, he says is taking a hit and there is no chance that that might improve any time soon.
FITZGIBBON: Well certainly the chaos and dysfunction in Canberra is hurting confidence. It sounds like he was talking about a lack of leadership in Canberra, and of course that bone has to absolutely be pointed at Malcolm Turnbull and his followers. By contrast, we have almost been governing from Opposition. Bill Shorten has been showing strong leadership in capital gains, negative gearing reform, further engagement in Asia, penalty rates and supporting the workforce. These aren’t always easy decisions but we think they are the right decisions; and we are out there talking about these important issues while they just fight amongst themselves and deal with their day to day crises.
JAYES: Any chance of some leadership from Bill Shorten on a national audit of all MPs and Senators.
FITZGIBBON: Well what we have chosen not to do is fair to say Laura, is not politicise the issues around section 44. Sure we went after Barnaby Joyce for doing the wrong thing and remaining in Parliament once he was forced to “fess up”. But we have not made a political issue of 44 itself. We are not fearful of a full audit because our processes are so robust and I think that has been proven. It is for Malcolm Turnbull to show some leadership and work through these issues.
JAYES: To be fair we have heard the same from the Liberal Party as well, that their processes are pretty robust and voila, Senator Stephen Parry, on Friday, dropped a bombshell. What is Labor’s process? How can we be sure? There is evidence to suggest at previous elections Labor didn’t have a perfect process in place and if you look at the High Court’s decision on a black letter reading of the Constitution, won’t people like Katy Gallagher, or once upon a time at least, people like Katy Gallagher, Lisa Singh, Susan Lamb, could have been ineligible because they sent off their renunciation of their dual citizenship in the UK before nominations closed but they didn’t actually get a reply until after nominations closed? Can you really say that Labor’s process is perfect?
FITZGIBBON: Well first of all Barnaby Joyce has to start taking responsibility for his untidiness. He has not done that. He is trying to blame everything else and anyone else he can find. The fact is the Nats have lost a number of people and the Libs have now lost a person. We haven’t. I have been through that procedure myself. It is very robust. We are asked whether our parents or grandparents were born overseas and if we say yes to any of those questions, then Labor’s lawyers go through another process to make sure there is not a problem. Now, I can’t absolutely guarantee that that’s always going to be perfect. But the proof is in the pudding, we haven’t had a problem up until now. We are not going to be fearful of an audit -
JAYES: Isn’t that though, Joel Fitzgibbon, that is the problem though. You can’t absolutely guarantee it and that is the problem with this entire saga.
FITZGIBBON: I can agree with Malcolm Turnbull on one thing. People have to take personal responsibility, something Barnaby Joyce has been unprepared to do. Whether an audit is good value for taxpayers, I’m not sure. We have had $122million wasted on a same sex marriage survey, a by-election in New England which is a very expensive exercise for the Australian people, I would simply say to any Member of Parliament, Member or Senator, if you think you have got a problem, come forward and we will have it tested. And we are very confident about our own position in the Labor Party.
JAYES: Okay, just finally, Tony Windsor ran a pretty good revenge mission against Barnaby Joyce, he got involved in the High Court process at the taxpayers’ expense, I might add. But he says he is not going to run in this by-election. He was a pretty distant second to Barnaby Joyce at the last election. But he does have a pretty popular base there in New England. Have you got any inside word? Do you believe Tony Windsor won’t run? Because, of course, nominations don’t close until Thursday, there is a chance?
FITZGIBBON: Well given the strength of his statement Laura I would be very, very surprised if Tony Windsor changed his mind and ran in New England. We are focussed on where his vote from the last election will go. We think there is a great opportunity for the Labor Party. Bill Shorten and I said four years ago now, that we won’t allow any regional seat to go uncontested. We want the people to have a choice, and we think the choice this time is a very, very stark choice. And we will be in there giving them the opportunity to vote for Labor and send a very strong message to Malcolm Turnbull, and those who follow him, that they are sick of the dysfunction and they are sick of the cuts in our most basic services.
JAYES: Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for your time.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.