SUBJECTS: Live export; Barnaby Joyce’s performance as Agriculture Minister; Investigation of Agriculture Department; Bipartisan approach to animal welfare reform.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: The Federal Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, has flagged possible prison sentences and fines for company directors who fail to ensure animal welfare on live exports. He has announce a review of Government regulations associated with the trade and provision of experts to oversee shipments. The Minister is meeting with WA Government officials and also live export industry leaders to discuss animal welfare concerns and solutions. The company behind the latest furore over the treatment of the livestock is due to send another vessel to the Middle East. For more on this story joining me live here in the Perth studio is Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. Good to see you. Thanks for your time.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Good to be with you Ash.
GILLON: I know you are been holding talks on this very issue here in WA, meeting your State counterpart Alannah MacTiernan. Is it your view that these cases we saw on 60 Minutes the other night are isolated cases or do you think this sort of treatment is quite widespread across the industry?
FITZGIBBON: I am very concerned we have a systemic problem. What makes me think that? Well, we now know that the Department found no fault in the events that were shown on Sunday evening. Now if they found no fault, it can only mean one of two things: either their investigations are underdone and inadequate, and I think that is the sort of culture you can expect in a Department that has been led by Barnaby Joyce for the last four years; or the standards are too low; or more likely, both. And we need significant reform here, the business-as-usual case is simply not good enough. As you know I have extended a bipartisan hand to David Littleproud, I said let’s clean up Barnaby’s mess together, let’s work in cooperation, and let’s get this thing done.
GILLON: David Littleproud has taken a series of measures in response to this. He is taking quite a strong line including investigating his own Department and its response in the handling of this issue. What do you make of the idea though by your WA State counterpart Alannah MacTiernan to ban live exports for trade for essentially three months of the year in the hottest months, which for the Middle East would be June, July and August, do you see that as a reasonable idea?
FITZGIBBON: I think they are all matters we should consider. Labor commissioned the Farmer Review in 2011 after the suspension of the live cattle exports to Indonesia and it was certainly something Bill Farmer canvassed then. When I was the Minister I appointed an Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports and my theme was to have him review any unfinished business including the recommendations of the Farmer Review. Unfortunately Barnaby Joyce abolished the Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports. This was an extraordinary thing to do and I am saying to David Littleproud, I thank you for working with me but it will be underdone if we don’t resurrect the Inspector General and indeed an Independent Office of Animal Welfare and they can have a look at all these issues.
GILLON: If the polls are right you may very well be the Agriculture Minister again within the year if Labor wins the next election, in that case would you rule out banning the live export trade?
FITZGIBBON: I never take anything for granted in the terms of the election, but you are right, I may have that opportunity and what I want to do now with David Littleproud in a bipartisan way, so that whatever reform we put in place will have support beyond the election no matter who was in power is the important thing. I don’t think it is time to preempt any part of that review.
GILLON: Sure, but do you come to the table.
FITZGIBBON: Banning live animal exports is not on my agenda, no.
GILLON: That isn’t something Labor is looking to pursue at all?
FITZGIBBON: No, this is an important industry, it is a big export earner, many in the cattle industry, for example the northern producers rely upon it absolutely. If you were starting again, would you have a live export trade, probably not. I don’t know that we will ever meet community expectations and standards but to precipitously rid ourselves of the industry now would cause great harm to many rural producers and I think that would be a mistake.
GILLON: So it is purely the economic argument as to why that is off the table for Labor? For critics of the live export trade say the future is in sending boxes of chilled meat overseas and processing here.
FITZGIBBON: This is why Kim Carr and I have been promoting the idea of the development of a red meat industry plan so we can look at more value-adding opportunities in Australia, more jobs in Australia, higher export revenues as we pursue premium prices. But you have got to be careful not to generalise, for example, in the live cattle trade to Indonesia, there is a foreign aid component helping the Indonesians become more self-sufficient, we are helping them to meet their protein needs and we are helping them create jobs in feedlots all the way to the wet markets. So you can’t generalise. There are other aspects that need to be considered too.
GILLON: You mentioned Barnaby Joyce a couple of times in this interview unprompted, this is a bit of a free kick I acknowledge, but what do you make of Barnaby Joyce’s comments setting this deadline for Malcolm Turnbull considering the last few months?
FITZGIBBON: Firstly, in agriculture he not only spent four years doing nothing, he spent four years wrecking the show. He sacked his Departmental Secretary for standing up for his misdeeds and live trade is the perfect example where we have gone backwards when he has been too focussed on his boondoggles like the APVMA relocation, which is damaging to the Ag sector. But we know his comments are designed to wound Malcolm Turnbull. He is angry with Malcolm Turnbull. He thinks Malcolm Turnbull is a failure. Peter Dutton’s remarks on immigration are not on immigration, they are a leadership pitch by Peter Dutton. The game is on and they are divided and weak. They need to get back on focussing on the country. We are hoping to be the Government after the election but there is some time before the election and we need someone running the country and they are simply not doing so.
GILLON: They are making your job a bit too easy at the moment, there is so much division and focus on the Coalition’s internal workings. Just back on Dave Littleproud, the man who took over the job from Barnaby Joyce, you seem to give a bit of a rap on him here, is he doing a good job so far?
FITZGIBBON: Well he is coming off a very low base here. I spent four years dealing with Barnaby Joyce. I extended a bipartisan hand to him after the 2013 election. I think agriculture is a really important sector. I believe there were things we could do together, because there are great reform opportunities in agriculture but Barnaby being Barnaby rejected my offer and we spent too long as combatants arguing about frivolous things as his boondoggle and his porkbarrelling exercises. David is coming off a low base, he has a great opportunity here. He has met the test so far. I extended a bipartisan hand, we are talking almost on a daily basis on live exports and other matters and will continue to do that. I think his legacy will be a much greater one than Barnaby Joyce’s.
GILLON: Just finally, this focus on his Department, is that warranted, would you also have serious concerns about the way the Department has been handling these issues?
FITZGIBBON: I am always cautious about criticising our public servants, they do a wonderful job, but their culture is influenced by the leadership coming from their Minister. Barnaby Joyce created the wrong culture in the Department, on the one occasion his Secretary seriously stood up to him when he doctored his Hansard drawing the Department into his mire, he sacked his Departmental Secretary. You have got to look to the top and Barnaby showed poor leadership and the wrong culture, a lot of good people left the Department because they couldn’t work under Barnaby Joyce. So again David Littleproud has a big challenge ahead of him there. I want him to achieve as if I am fortunate, I may inherit that job, and I want a strong Department capable of doing its job and I want the right culture.
GILLON: Well it sounds like changes are afoot. Joel Fitzgibbon, good to have you in here.
FITZGIBBON: Kum ba yah