Subjects: Tax Cuts, Shadow Cabinet, Christopher Pyne.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Joel, welcome.
THE HON JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES: G’day PK.
KARVELAS: You have said in the past that you can’t deny the punters a tax cut from Opposition. Do you still believe that?
FITZGIBBON: That proposition applies equally to the Government PK. There is no policy rationale for insisting we deal with that part of the package that comes into effect in five years’ time. What we are saying very, very clearly is that we stand ready tomorrow to support both stages one and two and of course even improve stage two by providing those tax cuts earlier; so it’s the Government threatening to deny people a tax cut sometime very soon, not the Opposition.
KARVELAS: The Government is unprepared to split the bill, so we know this, they have repeated this so many times I could not possibly count it. If your amendments fail, what next? Are you prepared to vote the whole bill down?
FITZGIBBON: PK we don’t know that they are unprepared to split the bill -
KARVELAS: They have told us that they are unprepared.
FITZGIBBON: Well there is a fair bit of bravado coming through from the Government. They have already failed on their commitment to introduce the first stage by July 1 this year; so they are behind the eight ball and they’re trying to catch up with all this boldness in the media. But the fact is, that people will see that our proposition of just deferring for a few months a tax cut that doesn’t come into effect for five years is a reasonable one and I think people genuinely will be asking the question – why doesn’t the Government just accept Labor’s very reasonable proposition to allow stage one and two through the Parliament this week and indeed improve stage two because, as we know, many people in my electorate, and electorates right across the country will not get a tax cut in the next three years under the Government’s current proposal.
KARVELAS: OK, so in the scenario that the Government continues to insist it will not split this bill, are you prepared to vote the bill down? You, Joel Fitzgibbon, do you think Labor should vote the bill down?
FITZGIBBON: I still think the question PK, they are the Government, they have a proposition before the Parliament, a package of tax cuts and the question lies with them. Are they prepared to this week deal with the tax propositions that come into effect immediately and throughout the course of the next three years or do they want to continue to hold the Parliament to ransom, hostage effectively, and say if we can’t get all of our tax propositions through, we are going to deny low and middle income tax payers a tax cut. So I think the onus, I mean people are pretty quick to come to the Labor Party. I mean the only reason PK our position matters so much is the Government has been unable to persuade the Senate Crossbench of the merits of its tax cuts proposal, particularly stage three. So I think the onus is on the Government, I think pressure is on the Government, they have already missed their deadline on delivering the tax cuts on July 1. This coming Sunday, something like 700,000 Australians will be earning less for their Sunday work than they did last Sunday. And they are under enormous pressure. We are giving them an opportunity to deliver on the tax cuts that are in the near term and it is absolutely reasonable for us to ask for more time to assess and research the impact of these larger tax cuts which are effectively on the never-never. At a time when of course the economy is in trouble on their watch and we want to know if the economy continues to deteriorate and they are going to proceed with stage three, how will they pay for, and what other Government services and infrastructure will have to be cut to pay for them?
KARVELAS: Ok, so you have warned you can’t run a government in exile, isn’t that what this is?
FITZGIBBON: No, not at all. We are doing what oppositions should do. Our job, particularly in the Senate, is to make law better. And that is exactly what the Senate will do. No doubt we will fail in our attempts to proceed with the amendments in the House, but the Senate is the house of review. We are doing the responsible thing, we are trying to manage the legislation, trying to make it better law for the Australian people and the Government, quite frankly, should get on board. If they can get the Senate Crossbench in the end, well so be it, but it is pretty clear the Senate Crossbench is unhappy with stage three as well. And the Australian people will be asking themselves as well, if the Senate Crossbench is nervous about stage three, there must be something not quite right.
KARVELAS: OK, well, in the scenario where you are forced, as you will be at some point, to vote on this entire bill, do you, Joel Fitzgibbon, I am wondering what you can tell me, you said that Labor MPs should be more free to say what they think, so I would like to know what you think, do you think it wise for Labor to vote the whole thing down?
FITZGIBBON: I think it is absolutely wise for Labor to send a very clear signal to the Australian community that after six years of increasing taxes, or increasing tax take on Australians, it is absolutely right that we should be giving working Australians a tax cut, but it is absolutely right also that we shape that policy in a responsible and effective way and I think people expect us to do just that.
KARVELAS: Okay. So you have to answer my question directly please. Do you think it’s wise for Labor to vote this down? To be voting this down when it comes to the Senate?
FITZGIBBON: Well we haven’t made a decision whether we will vote it down. What I am saying is that what is wise for us is to reflect the views of the people we represent and indeed the people who we don’t necessarily represent who would look at stage three and ask; one whether it is economically responsible at a time when on this government’s watch the economy is in trouble. They are asking themselves whether it is fair in its distributional impacts in other words are they concerned about too much of the money going to higher income earners and whether indeed there are going to be cuts in other areas or the government is going to give up on its efforts to bring the budget back to surplus so they are reasonable questions.
KARVELAS: Okay you just said though that you haven’t made a decision on whether you will vote stage three down. Do you think it’s wise to vote stage three down?
FITZGIBBON: Well I stand by what I said PK earlier in the interview and what I have said in earlier interviews as well. I think it is unwise for political parties to get between a taxpayer and a tax cut but that is exactly what the government is doing by knocking back what is a very reasonable and responsible proposition on our part.
KARVELAS: Do you personally think stage three is unfair?
FITZGIBBON: I will deal with stage three, like the rest of the party, as a member of the shadow cabinet if and when we fail to get our responsible amendments up in the Senate. I think the government is under a lot of pressure here. I think the Crossbench in the Senate is wavering and the government is getting nervous about its position. That provides us with a good opportunity to make this tax cut package better.
KARVELAS: Okay but do you personally think stage three is unfair?
FITZGIBBON: Well I’m just not going to talk about stage three until we know whether we have that debate PK. I’m a member of the shadow cabinet and the shadow cabinet will take a position on that and I will of course support and abide by the shadow cabinet’s position.
KARVELAS: My understanding - based on a couple of tweets, Samantha Maiden has tweeted that Anthony Albanese has had some sort of rant and rave about leaking, that there has been more leaks in the last three weeks than the last six years. Has there been?
FITZGIBBON: I’ve never seen Anthony Albanese have a rant and a rave. Certainly in the caucus today he reminded people that we have a quality team and we have a strong agenda and if we can maintain strong unity, we will be a very serious force at the next federal election.
KARVELAS: Did he warn people not to leak?
FITZGIBBON: He emphasised the fact that it is important when the party makes a decision we stick together on that decision and unity is our best path to an election win in three years’ time.
KARVELAS: Do you share his sentiments? Do you think there is a worrying development that in the last three weeks that there has been some leaking?
FITZGIBBON: Of course there has been some leaking. That’s just a matter of fact. When you get leaks from the most senior ranks in the party that is unhelpful for the party and its prospects. Like Anthony, I discourage people from leaking and I encourage people to back the collective decision. That’s the best way forward and of course unity gives us the best prospects of success at the next election.
KARVELAS: Why are we seeing this though? I mean you can say don’t do it, I suppose you have to get to the heart of why it is happening. Why are we seeing this leaking?
FITZGIBBON: Well I can’t provide for you what’s going on in the minds of people who have chosen to share information but we have gone through a very difficult period and maybe for some people this is the way of dealing with that pain but look I’m confident that we will remain a united team and we have been a united team for six years and will continue to be a united team and I believe we will be a very powerful force at the next federal election.
KARVELAS: It’s interesting you say that because some Labor MPs have told me unity got them nowhere. I mean they were unified under Bill Shorten and yet look at this election result. What do you say to those people?
FITZGIBBON: Well you know if any Labor MP who has been around for a while is telling you that PK I suggest you count them on much less than one hand and I can suggest to you that they lack experience because disunity is death, unity is strength and it’s unity, well a path of unity that will take us to success at the next election.
KARVELAS: Now I’m not saying you are a leaker but you did say people should be free to speak more freely. How does that fit in to the unity message?
FITZGIBBON: Well PK there are certain phases along the conversation to an eventual party decision and the point I was making is that people shouldn’t be locked into positions early and indeed before a formal position is taken. People should feel freer to express their view particularly in their electorates but I’m a firm believer that once the party has taken a united position or a collective decision then people should be out their arguing for that decision.
KARVELAS: Just on another issue, former defence minister Christopher Pyne could face a Senate Inquiry into his consultancy job. Labor supports the inquiry; do you think that would be a good way to clear this up? And should the rules perhaps be made clearer?
FITZGIBBON: It’s hard to see how Christopher is not in breach of that 18 month rule. I read his statement carefully and I read it objectively and you know I don’t want it to be a witch hunt but it is difficult to see that he is not in breach and I think it’s appropriate for the Parliament to take a look.
KARVELAS: Okay thank you so much for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure.