SUBJECTS: NSW Labor and ICAC; Drought Envoy, Barnaby Joyce.
SKY NEWS HOST, CHRIS KENNY: .Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for joining us, I want to get onto Barnaby Joyce in just a minute but that breaking news there, out of the ICAC commission. Julie Sibraa, was brought in to tidy up the New South Wales Labor’s Party’s governance procedures, and she says the processes around donations was sloppy and terrible. That would be the understatement of the year, wouldn’t it?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good to be with you Chris. Yeah, that’s disturbing testimony from Julie and it just reinforces the need to take what’s happened in Sussex Street very, very seriously, and to make an unqualified commitment to reform Labor at the state level, and Anthony Albanese has made it very clear that’s his determination. I’ve spoken with people like Mark Lennon, the President of the New South Wales Labor Party. He gets it. He understands how serious this is and he understands that reform must not only be done but it has to be seen to be done.
KENNY: you’ve been involved with the New South Wales Labor Party for decades and you’ve been involved in all sorts of fundraising, above board of course, but my question to you really is that when you have someone from inside Sussex Street headquarters saying that their processes around donations were sloppy and terrible, does that ring true to you? Is there anything you’ve seen or experienced that suggests, yeah, that is the case, the place was run in a sloppy manner?
FITZGIBBON: well thanks Chris for reminding people how long I’ve been around. I’m of course, as an MP, not close to the internal machinations of Sussex Street but it’s clear that they haven’t kept pace with the New South Wales electoral laws which are, as you know, very, very strict – very, very tight. They make fund-raising very, very difficult and they demand, rightly, very serious and meaningful disclosures. And ironically Kaila Murnain had already started cleaning up this mess, now she’s fallen victim, sadly, to that process, but…
KENNY: she won’t be the last head to roll, though will she?
FITZGIBBON: well, we’ll wait and see, but the process of cleaning up started under her, it will continue but we need to re-energise it and progress it more quickly and again demonstrate that we’re not only reforming but we’re being seen to reform. The key thing is that we are taking this very, very seriously.
KENNY: Okay, I wanted to talk to you about matters in your portfolio. You and others have been critical of Barnaby Joyce, the former Deputy Prime Minister of course, who was given that job of Drought Envoy, or Envoy, and you’ve been critical that he didn’t file a final report, pulling together all of the information he may have gleaned in his time as Drought Envoy. Let’s have a look at a video that Barnaby Joyce posted on Facebook, really responding to the criticisms he’s received.
Barnaby Joyce Video:
Barnaby talking: look at this, another letter from the Prime Minister [showing pieces of paper], after I’d sent him something. And on and on and on and on and on, it goes. So, Mister Fitzgibbon, this is actually just some of the correspondence because others I just sent direct, about darned drought. So you goose, stop saying I never sent off reports…
KENNY: he’s certainly responding directly to you there Joel Fitzgibbon. Is that good enough, a few letters back and forth with the Prime Minister’s office?
FITZGIBBON: well he sort of protests too much, doesn’t he Chris? I nice source of amusement for me when I saw that video last night. The first point is, it wasn’t me who first accused him for not delivering a report, it was the Drought Minister – David Littleproud – who in a response to an Order for Production of Documents in the Senate, wrote on behalf of the Prime Minister, saying, we can’t – we the Government can’t table or produce Barnaby Joyce’s report because he didn’t write one. And of course Barnaby has been in melt-down since then because he’s been caught-out and his responses have been at least fivefold. First, he said he wasn’t required to submit a report; then he said he did submit multiple reports; and then he said he couldn’t submit a report because he’d been sacked, and then of course he said he was sending text messages. And now he’s talking about letters to the Prime Minister. I mean, the Prime Minister – Barnaby Joyce is irrelevant now, in this debate. The Prime Minister has to explain to the Australian people what he sought to achieve by appointing Barnaby Joyce into this new position of Drought Envoy and what return on their investment did taxpayers receive as a result of any activities Barnaby Joyce undertook? What’s pretty clear is that he didn’t do much and the Prime Minister can clear this up today by producing any correspondence between him and Barnaby Joyce and second, of course, tabling the Drought Coordinator – Major General Stephen Day, the Drought Coordinator’s – report. We know it exists, know the Government is keeping it a secret, he needs to table that report. The Australian public are entitled to know what Major General Stephen Day found. We suspect, Chris, that the Major General was critical of the Government’s drought response and that’s why they are hiding behind Cabinet secrecy.
KENNY: we’ll see, when it comes to that. But in broad terms, as you know Barnaby Joyce’s connections and experience in the bush, and you know that he was appointed to this role. –Tony Abbott had a similar role in indigenous affairs, a sort of – to try and put their experience and contacts to good use when they weren’t in the ministry. Do you question the impact that Barnaby Joyce would have had, getting around the country, speaking to people in drought-affected areas, finding out what they wanted, and relaying it back directly to the Prime Minister?
FITZGIBBON: well as The Guardian pointed out this morning, following their research though the, the body that determines our entitlements, Barnaby Joyce didn’t do much travelling around the country at all. In fact he spent most of his time in his own electorate trying to shore up his own political prospects. But the important point here is that Barnaby Joyce – yes – is from the bush but as Deputy Prime Minister and as Agriculture Minister he had a number of years both to prepare us for drought and build the defences for drought. He said he was going to build dams here, dams there, dams everywhere. Of course, in the six years they’ve had, they’ve not even turned a sod of soil, let alone build a dam or develop a dam. So, nothing Barnaby Joyce says now, six years on, is worth tuppence, because he had the opportunity, he missed the opportunity. The Prime Minister needs to get involved now and stop using things like Drought Envoys and Drought Coordinators and Drought Summits and Drought Taskforce to kick this thing down the road, so he can avoid spending more money. Our farmers need assistance, they needed it yesterday and the Prime Minister should get involved now, explain the situation behind Barnaby Joyce, but more importantly, that aside, start doing something for our farmers and our rural communities which are literally running out of water.
KENNY: well that’s the real issue isn’t it? What’s going to be done now? The point is that Drought Envoy position has been scrapped, Barnaby Joyce doesn’t have a job, and in fact it was ended very suddenly after the election. I think he found out about it through the media. So I mean he didn’t even have any notice to prepare a final report, if that’s what it’s all about.
FITZGIBBON: yeah but Chris if you were really worried about our drought-affected farmers and rural communities and you were sacked, wouldn’t you write a report anyway? Wouldn’t you say okay I accept the fact I’ve been moved-on from my position but I’ve done all of this work, I still want to share it with you, and here it is? So, what? Did he just have a dummy-spit, and say, well I was going to write one but because you’ve sacked me, now I refuse to offer any advice about how farmers might be assisted? I mean, either way, he’s a lost cause. So can we just get back? We can’t make up for the six years we’ve lost doing nothing, but we can just get back on track, re-energise our efforts and start doing something for our farmers.
KENNY: well in the short term, of course, what you can do is financial assistance of various kinds, where it’s needed. In the medium to long term, you can do a lot more with water infrastructure. You mention dams. You’re right, the Coalition have talked about them a lot, not built any. In fact no one in this country has been building dams in recent decades. Can Labor be of assistance either in Government or in opposition, state and federal, to actually get behind and build some dams, because a number have been proposed – significant dams in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland – and all have fallen victim to political campaigns against them.
FITZGIBBON: of course we can Chris, and the last federal government to fund a big water infrastructure project – you can call it dams if you like – was a Labor government, in the Midlands area, in Tasmania. So, we did it, Chris. But in six years they’ve not been able to, despite the fact that from Day One we’ve offered bipartisanship on this issue. Anthony Albanese stood at the Drought Summit in Dubbo and declared that we stand ready to back the Prime Minister on any amount of money he wants to spend. Something I’m sure our ERC might have been interested to hear. Anthony Albanese made that unqualified offer, so why isn’t Scott Morrison spending more money? Why doesn’t he get creative? Do you know Chris, you’re talking about financial support: Farm Household Allowance, is sort of the unemployment benefit for farmers in times of emergency or drought. It has a more generous assets test, but they’re now taking Farm House Allowance off farmers, Chris, because they say that they’ve now been on it too long. Well here’s one idea: no one who supported that policy at the time, that is a restricted time-frame, could have ever perceived that this drought would be so long and so severe. So why don’t we just at least [clicks fingers] Scott Morrison could do this today. ‘No, we’re now going to extend that period so we’re not taking farmers – farming families – off income support in the middle of what is probably our worst drought in history.
KENNY: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure, Chris.