SUBJECTS: Tax, Live Sheep Exports, Government policy vacuum on drought; Clive Palmer.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: In the studio is Shadow Agriculture Minister you were obviously in Caucus this morning. We have been reporting here on Sky News Labor will only support stage one of the tax cut package. Can you confirm that for us and why is that a good move?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: I can’t confirm anything until Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen hold their press conference, and you don’t have to wait much longer, but I’m sure they’ll be reinforming the point that Labor will adhere to its key principles on taxation – equality, affordability and of course a tax system that provides incentive and encourages productivity.
GILLON: You’re right, we’ll be hearing a lot more about this shortly. So let’s get into your portfolio issues then. Live exports, now the Prime Minister is accusing you of playing games essentially. The Government wants its Bill which wants to introduce these new penalties for up to ten years jail. It could also see huge multi-million dollar fines for individuals and also companies who do the wrong thing on this front. The Government is saying it needs to be passed in its current form. You’re looking to amend it. Shouldn’t we just get on with this though so these sort of strict new measures can actually kick in and get under way?
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister’s story is a weak one. He is introducing these increased penalties as a response to the terrible footage we saw on our television screen. We say we will support increased penalties but what is the point of increasing penalties when penalties are never applied? This is the whole problem and this is why we need an Inspector-General and independent statutory officer looking at the regulators so people can have confidence that when things go wrong they are properly investigated and properly responded to. Now the Prime Minister has this Bill, he had the Bill in the House. I have already made my contribution in the debate. I did the right thing and instead of springing a surprise on the Government, I foreshadowed in my second reading speech that when we get to the committee stage of the Bill I would move some amendments. Now the Government is supposed to be in control of the Lower House. He can bring the Bill on today and we can continue the debate, have the vote and when my amendments lose, Labor will support the Bill unamended. There is no problem and we could do this today. The problem for the Prime Minister is that he is not sure my amendments will lose. Now he should allow the House to establish its will. If the majority of the House supports my amendment, and my amendment is to phase out the trade, then he should allow the Parliament to impose its will. I’m sure when we get to the Senate that will be the outcome. This is an urgent -
GILLON: Are you sure that they have numbers in the Lower House?
FITZGIBBON: No, no I’m not sure. But the point is it is difficult thing for people to cross the floor to vote against their own Prime Minister. So I can’t be sure how many in the end will do that but it obvious that the Prime Minister is concerned that possibly too many will.
GILLON: Can’t you just get this section done and then you can come back with the Private Members Bill we know is also in play at the moment; just get these penalties underway to send that strong message to the sector.
FITZGIBBON: We want to put a stop to that terrible Northern Hemisphere summer trade. We want to phase out the live sheep trade over five years and we will take every opportunity to do so. The Private Members Bill as you, Bills plural there are a number of them, now require an absolute majority of the House of Reps votes with 76 votes. The amendment only requires a simple majority which means we probably need, on any given day 72 or 73 votes. The Prime Minister obviously is fearful we will obviously secure them otherwise he would allow the Bill to come back to the Parliament. He pulled the Bill fearful that so many of his people would cross the floor and my amendments would get up. But if he is so confident, just bring it in, when my amendments lose, and we will pass the Bill today.
GILLON: With drought relief this morning the Government announced an extension of the Farm Household Allowance it’s costing about $30 million over the next four years. You’re shaking your head but this is good news for farmers isn’t it?
FITZGIBBON: The Prime Minister went on a drought tour five years after they took office and it was reasonable for us to expect that when he arrived home he might announce something, but all he has announced is an extension of an income support payment which already exists. That is no announcement at all. I acknowledged he also announced some additional money for mental health and that is a good thing, we welcome it. But Ash, when you are allocating more mental health support payments, it means you have failed. Now this is a Government that five years ago stopped the drought reform process. A process backed by the states and backed by the NFF and other farm organisations. Five years on, we have this huge vacuum, we have a drought now extending into its eighth year and the Prime Minister wants to extend the welfare payment. By the way thousands of families have already lost that welfare payment because this Government put a three year limit on it. Now the Minister didn’t explain today whether they have to go through that dreaded application process again and there is plenty of stories there on the record about difficulty with securing the welfare payment. This is the one Barnaby Joyce once infamously said ‘you just apply and get it straight away’ and then doctored his Hansard. He hasn’t explained any of this. But farmers are hurting and they are hurting now. Extending the welfare payment isn’t a new policy.
GILLON: It is, from what I understand, and from chatting from sources within the Minister’s office this is only the first step and there are going to be more announcements coming up within the next couple of weeks. What would you do if you become agriculture Minister tomorrow, what is the one thing you would do to make life easier for farmers?
FITZGIBBON: I’m happy to answer that in a couple of ways, but first of all, after five years he doesn’t need more consultation. We know what the drought looks like and we know those farmers are desperately in need of help. Why does he have to have another round of consultation? The first things I would do is stop the pork barrelling exercises, $70 million to establish a Regional Investment Corporation in Orange, just a pork barrelling exercise which would only do what the State authorities are already doing. There is money, there is $28 million they could use to help farmers. Another $40 million probably $50 million moving the Pesticides Authority to Armidale in Barnaby Joyce’s electorate which is damaging farmers and making it harder for farmers in drought. There is $40-50 million they could redirect to Australian farmers
GILLON: That’s what you would do as Minister? You would redirect that money?
FITZGIBBON: Well we are in Opposition and I hope that we might get a drought response before we have the opportunity to serve in office. But there are two examples where the Government’s priorities are absolutely wrong. Finally, it has to be done in cooperation with the States, to rebuild the CoAG process. Barnaby Joyce’s first act as Minister for Agriculture was to abolish the CoAG process. When the States and the Commonwealth reached agreement on drought in 2013, the idea was to further progress that over the course of the next five years. That Agreement is now coming to an end, July 1 this year, and in the five year period the work hasn’t been done. That is why we have got this vacuum. It might be that we have to deliver some policy we agreed to give up in 2013 because this huge vacuum has been created. I listened to David Littleproud today, he reverted to a banker, he was saying to people today we can’t help you forever, here’s a few more crumbs for twelve more months.
GILLON: You have been a pretty big fan of David Littleproud. You have been talking him up.
FITZGIBBON: I have been delighted he has been acknowledging that climate is a problem. He is acknowledging that drought is not an abnormal event, it is here with us to stay pretty much. We have got to build resilience, we have got to look at mitigation, we have got to look at adaptation, we have got to look at best land use practices, we have got to look at water efficiencies, we have got to look to the future. So hallelujah he is saying it. Now he has to walk the walk.
GILLON: Just finally, Clive Palmer, do you think he will make a return to Canberra next year?
FITZGIBBON: I just don’t know what to say about Clive Palmer, I mean really. It has been a circus from go to whoa. He’s back. I don’t think he will gain any traction this time around. He has done his credibility well and truly. We will wait and see, we are living in a pretty crazy world Ash where anything can happen.
GILLON: Joel Fitzgibbon, good to see you, thanks for joining us this morning.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure.