SUBJECTS: Government’s response to the McCarthy Review into northern summer live sheep exports, Labor’s plan to transition away from live sheep exports, John Setka and the union movement.
LAURA JAYES: Joel Fitzgibbon joins us live from our Canberra studio, no stranger to our audience here on Newsday, Joel we speak to you again. Look they haven’t gone as far as you would have liked, you probably expected that, but as I have been reporting today this might have an effective forced transition out of the industry for some. For some operators these new conditions might make it really difficult for them to continue?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Thanks for making me wait Laura and sit through their Prime Minister’s interview. Can I just ask you a quick question, that interview style thing he does at these press conferences, like a modern day Geoffrey Robinson, what is that doing for Sky’s ratings? Sending your ratings up or sending them down?
JAYES: I couldn’t tell you, I am not privy to that kind of information. But look, let me take it on notice, and I will get back to you.
FITZGIBBON: What about Ann Sudmalis, was that an endorsement or a kiss of death from the Prime Minister? I wasn’t quite sure.
JAYES: Who knows, we shall see when the preselection will be sorted out. But thanks for derailing the interview, I will let you know what that does to our ratings as well. What do you say about this live trade, the moves that the Government has made today it could make some of these dodgy operators simply unviable, they might be forced out? That is a good result isn’t it?
FITZGIBBON: Well it is an interesting point isn’t it? Both the Prime Minister and David Littleproud seem to be trying to say we are going to make it so tough on these exporters that we are going to weed them out of the system and they talk about stocking densities 30 per cent lower. So what impact is that going to have on sheep farmers? I mean Labor has got a plan to transition the sector out over a considerable period of time.
JAYES: What impact do you think it will have, the stocking density?
FITZGIBBON: Nothing for animal welfare. The science is in. The Prime Minister said he would rely on the science. He hasn’t relied on the science. Both the Australian Veterinary Association and the RSPCA have said the science says, and I have looked at that work, that it is not possible, regardless of the stocking density to take sheep into the Middle East at those temperatures and at that humidity and at the same time meet community expectations on animal welfare. It is just not possible.
JAYES: Sorry, I will just put this question to you, then allow you to continue. If you are so concerned about animal welfare, what more can you do to stop this trade being taken up elsewhere? Described as the “drug dealers’ defence” in the past, there is a certain point to this, if Australia stops exporting live sheep, couldn’t Kuwait, Qatar get these animals from somewhere like Iran?
FITZGIBBON: And I agree with you Laura, it is the “drug dealers’ defence”. Consumer preferences are changing both at home and overseas. Traditionally much of our live export has gone to developing nations, nations which are now emerging out of development status and they are looking for higher premium, higher quality, more expensive foods. Australia should be in the lead in that respect. We should be transitioning our sheep producers to something better, something where they get a higher profit on a sustainable basis. Where, we create more jobs, like in our meat processing factories here in Australia exporting higher premium product to the rest of the world. This is the future for Australian agriculture. Do you know what our main competitive advantage in agriculture is? It is our reputation as a producer and provider of clean, green safe, high quality, ethically produced food. And if we lose that reputation we lose our competitive advantage so there are bigger things at stake here. We believe we can transition the sector out. That would be good news for farmers, good news for animal welfare and good news for the Australian economy.
JAYES: Talking about an independent regulator, we’ve seen a number of other announcements today, we’ve talked about a few of them: stocking density and making sure ventilation is better; upgrading of ships; there is talk about CCTV; we are now looking at fines up to 10 years, a couple of million dollars for some of these operators; also there is another review into the Department itself that Minister Littleproud is looking at, at the moment. Would that help? An independent regulator sitting outside of the Department, and I am not just talking about the live sheep trade here, the Government has gone a little bit further, an independent monitor on all live export ships, which will include cattle, from now on. But what about an independent regulator sitting outside the Department, like the ACCC does, is that a good idea?
FITZGIBBON: There isn’t one Laura. It is political spin. Have a look at the transcript and have a good look at exactly what Minister Littleproud said.
JAYES: The principle of having an independent regulator?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, Labor introduced - I was the Minister, I established an independent Inspector General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports to oversee the regulator. If this had been done, if Barnaby Joyce hadn’t abolished that position then we probably wouldn’t have seen that terrible 60 Minutes footage. If he hadn’t stopped the review of the ASEL standards and delayed them three or four years then we wouldn’t hopefully have seen that 60 Minutes footage. David Littleproud is today for the first time calling the Department the Independent Regulator. He hasn’t used that form of words before. It’s spin Laura. Nothing is changing. The Independent Regulator is the Department and under David Littleproud’s plan the Department will remain the Independent Regulator without the oversight of an Inspector General.
JAYES: Let me talk to you about John Setka. He has spoken to Sky News today and he is basically said he needs to break the law to protect the interest of workers. What do you have to say about that?
FITZGIBBON: Before I go there Laura I’m not going to miss the chance - Christian Porter told you this morning that if this is not the last chance for live sheep exporters – I’ll read it as I don’t want to misrepresent him, “If it’s not the last chance then it’s close to the last chance” what does that mean? Look I’m not going to go on about the Setka incident. Look they are talking about the Royal Commission into unions being a joke. It has been proven to be so. I’d be happy to talk as equally about what is happening in the Banking and Financial services Royal Commission as I am about what is happening in the union movement. The guy has been acquitted by the Magistrates Court and of course Ministers lining up to further defame him today, I don’t even know John Setka, with all sorts of suggestions he’s been penalised on numerous occasions. Ask yourself what those prosecutions were for. Their workplace laws are so restrictive just trying to get onto a work site as I understand it these days, can technically be a breach of the law. So next time they tell you these guys have been fined a thousand times or whatever they are claiming, ask what they were fined for. I suspect in most cases, they were fined for trying to stick up for workers notwithstanding the legislative barriers this Government has put in their way.
JAYES: So you are lending some weight to that argument that sometimes he needs to break these regulations in the interests of workers?
FITZGIBBON: Well you know, in the history of mankind and our progress Laura has been built on civil disobedience. I mean when you have got a Government in power that makes it impossible for our trade union members to represent workers, we have a problem.
JAYES: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks so much for your time.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.