Transcript - Television Interview - Sky News - Thursday, 4 July 2019

Subject: Live Sheep Exports

DERRYN HINCH, PRESENTER: As I mentioned in my opening remarks, a ban on live sheep exports is still high on my agenda. I brought my first petition of 30,000 to Canberra in 1982 – before social media – and in the Senate decades later, I tabled a petition with about 200,000 names demanding that ban. Now, one person who has worked hard towards a ban is the Opposition’s, Joel Fitzgibbon. I spoke to him a short time ago, and I asked him how far backwards have we gone with the Morrison Government’s new Agriculture Minister, Senator Mackenzie? She’s been – since she called – several of her colleagues “crazy” for supporting a ban on live exports. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES: We certainly haven’t further progressed the issue, but it depends now on whether Scott Morrison is prepared to put the silly games aside – the politics aside – and follow the science, and what we do know is that the Government didn’t respond to the heat stress report prior to the election. Why? Because it wanted to keep the issue beyond that election, and we very strongly suspect that the heat stress report will say that the trade is not viable, or you can’t meet reasonable animal welfare standards above 28 degrees wet bulb temperature.

HINCH: Well see, I know that some, some of the people that strategically on this, think the economics will be what kills it – what kills the trade – because if you block it for the northern summer that takes a huge number of months where they can’t go.

FITZGIBBON: And there is some truth in that, and it’s worth noting that I think David Littleproud is no longer the Agriculture Minister because he tried too hard on live sheep, I mean he effectively killed the sector through heavier regulation and I give him some credit for that, but again and it will depend -

HINCH: He always said some of the stuff was bullshit – that was the word he used.

FITZGIBBON: Yes, he acknowledged, you know, the misdoings of the industry. He regulated very hard. He commissioned a whole range of reports – three or four reports, one we’re still waiting on – but they all basically said the same thing, and that is that this sector can’t meet reasonable animal welfare standards and therefore should not have a future.

HINCH: Yes, well I mentioned Sussan Ley and Sarah Henderson. It was very clever of the Government – of Scott Morrison – to give them their 20 pieces of silver or 30 pieces of silver. I mean, he suddenly puts them in the outer ministry and so they can’t even debate their own bill.

FITZGIBBON: Yes, well I’ll rarely give Scott Morrison credit on the policy front, but I will give him credit for strategic cleverness. I mean, he bought them off. They took their 30 pieces of silver. They were two very, very junior positions in the executive, but it was enough to bind them to the executive’s decisions, and of course, disappointingly suddenly they didn’t care about the live export sector anymore. Now, Sarah Henderson lost her seat consequently.

HINCH: Yes she did.

FITZGIBBON: And Sussan Ley had a big swing too, probably more for other reasons – water in particular – but Sarah Henderson might be just wondering now if she’d still be in Canberra if she’d done the right thing and followed through on her convictions.

HINCH: The other thing that is frustrating and saddening is that we came so close – as you know – until this section 44 thing hit and suddenly people started dropping like flies and people who we knew were going to support the ban were suddenly not there and facing by-elections et cetera, et cetera, and I could see it all going backwards then and it really, really saddened me.

FITZGIBBON: Well it’s true. We were so close, in fact, we had the numbers but we didn’t have the absolute majority in the House of Representatives to bring the matter on for a vote. That was the difficulty. On the raw numbers the simple majority was there to pass that bill, and of course, the Senate – with your support – would’ve also supported the bill. So we almost changed the law from Opposition and I think we would’ve got some significant credit for that amongst a very large slice of the Australian people.

HINCH: Now we know – you and I both know – we discussed it, we argy-bargied a bit that Labor wanted to have five years to phase it out, the Greens wanted it immediately, I’d said two or maybe three and that was only because when Labor was in power and you put an overnight ban on cattle it actually caused some cruelty because there was such a mess that nobody knew what to do with cattle stranded and things like that. And I agree that for the farmers’ sake you’ve got to phase it, and I’d love to see – I remember in Townsville once during the last campaign, the campaign before last – you had both Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull promising $100 million for a new stadium, and I said “Why don’t you put the $100 million into the Townsville abattoir and build the biggest frozen meat business in Australia?” Put all those poor bastards from Queensland Nickel, put them in there and give them all jobs. 

FITZGIBBON: I stand by our commitment to five years, you know, obviously we would have liked to have done it more quickly, but we do have to take care of our sheepmeat producers and the others who rely on the industry – transport, feed, people who sell the feed, et cetera – so I wanted to make sure there was a transition period for them, in stark contrast to what David Littleproud did. I mean, he killed the industry sort of overnight by regulation, but on no occasion did he reach out to sheepmeat producers with a helping hand to assist them in that transition to something better.

HINCH: Yes because it does – and you do have to keep that side of it in mind and that’s why I figured I finally agreed with you that five years. You – you’re very persuasive, you talked, you talked us around.

FITZGIBBON: Thanks Derryn.

HINCH: On that – I mean you are this is complementing you as a politician – you are a voice of reason. I mean, you come back suffering the loss – surprise loss – of that election, you’re sort of saying, you know, we’ve got to think things through. We’ve got to lick our wounds and maybe heal the wounds and see where we go from here on things like taxation and other things as well. 

FITZGIBBON: Well, I’m also a loyal party member and, you know, I was feeling uncomfortable with many of our policy positions pre-election but I wasn’t going to be disloyal and express them publicly then but I think post-election – after such a heavy defeat – I think that’s the right time to express a view views and I’ve certainly been doing that.

HINCH: Yes, it’s – I can say this to you being a sitting politician – I feel for Bill Shorten, he must be sitting there thinking “What the hell happened?” I mean, I had my moment of “What the hell happened?” Coming back to Canberra today was not easy. Walking into the building and not being, going into the Senate and knowing that the Senate was sitting and you sort of feel you’ve got unfinished business, but I can empathise with people who have lost their seats and also we all thought – I’m sure Liberals thought – that you were going to be in Government and you were going to be a Minister.

FITZGIBBON: Well, the opinion polls still had us winning. The first exit poll on election day after the polls closed still had us the victors. So, a lot of reflection is needed. I think Bill Shorten will take some comfort in the fact that everything he did, he believed in and they were based on his deep convictions and social justice and a fairer Australia. So, he should take heart from that. It’s a very surprising loss but he’ll dust himself off, he’ll be okay. 

HINCH: I went to, my last probably semi-official job was the amazing Bob Hawke Memorial at the Opera House. It was extraordinary. We all thought, “Oh good old Bob, he’s taken one for the team. He’s just won his fifth election in a row,” but it didn’t happen.

FITZGIBBON: Yes, it was an amazing send off for an amazing individual. You know, a mix of larrikin and intellectual. There will never be another Bob Hawke, nor will there be too many Prime Ministers who can claim such a legacy in policy terms.

HINCH: Yes, yes. Going back – one final question – going back to the live sheep exports – what do you think will happen now? What’s your policy? You still obviously believe it should be banned? It should be stopped? It should be phased out over the five years? Is that still right?

FITZGIBBON: Yes, I’ll continue to argue that case, but I think we have gone backwards in Parliamentary terms. We’ve lost the opportunity – certainly in the House of Representatives and probably in the Senate as well where the crossbenchers, the crossbenchers they’re probably not as sympathetic to my position as they were previously. So I think it’s going to be very hard now to progress the issue. However, when Scott Morrison finally responds – or his Minister finally responds – to this heat stress report , they’ll have a lot of difficulty justifying not moving on the industry.

HINCH: Well, as I said in my introduction – I first brought my first petition here in 1982 when I think, I think Nixon was the Minister of Primary Industry back then. So, I mean people who think this is immoral and cruel are not going to give up, but it’s a sad time. 

FITZGIBBON: One thing I will certainly continue to insist on is that people set aside this mortality rate as a test for animal welfare. I mean, the number of sheep who die is not a test of how successfully you’re meeting animal welfare standards. I mean, some people rightly say the sheep that die are the lucky ones. It’s the others that suffer for weeks that are the main concern.

HINCH: Well that takes me back to  - one of my successes was a trans-vaginal mesh inquiry in the Senate, and the argument was that 85 per cent of these operations and implants were successful – 15 per cent weren’t. That’s a level you cannot exist with whether it be people or whether it be animals. 

FITZGIBBON: Not an argument I would run.

HINCH: No. Well, Joel it’s always good to see you.

FITZGIBBON: Great, pleasure Derryn. Good to see you. 

HINCH: Thanks for your time.

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