SUBJECTS: Live sheep exports, Sussan Ley’s PMB, Tax cuts; Ged Kearney maiden speech.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Yesterday we saw momentum building on the push to phase out live sheep exports with the Liberal MP Sussan Ley introducing her Private Members Bill to the Parliament. Joining us live from Canberra is the Shadow Agriculture Minister. I appreciate your time. How are the numbers looking in the Parliament? Obviously we’re not expecting a vote until after the upcoming byelections when you presumably have more Labor MPs in the House. Are you gaining confidence that Sussan Ley’s Bill will get up?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: The Bill is certainly building or gaining momentum on the Government backbench Ash. There is no doubt about that. As you pointed out we are currently five votes down that is four Labor seats going to byelections and of course the Xenophon representative Rebekha Sharkie is also going to a byelection and she is a strong supporter of the Private Members Bill so we will wait and see how it goes. I suspect in any case the Bill wouldn’t be going to the House any time before the byelections so we will see what the byelections bring. Hopefully we can restore our numbers and strengthen the House and secure enough Government MPs necessary to pass that Bill.
GILLON: I’m just going to bring up the front page of the West Australian newspaper today. It says Farm Harm – sheep importer confirms meat, grain trade at risk, essentially reports that overseas importers are looking elsewhere when it comes to other produce as a result of this sheep export trade being under threat. Are you expecting wider ramifications from the Bill?
FITZGIBBON: Well any response in the market currently would be a response to the Government’s policy wouldn’t it? The Government is crowing about reducing stocking densities by 30 per cent and they haven’t at any point said what they are prepared to do for sheepmeat producers who might be impacted by that change. By contrast we have put the industry on notice and have promised we would have running parallel with our policy on phase out a Meat Industry Plan which would help those farmers transition and to something better so we have a full and proper and properly developed plan and the Government only has I suppose a strategy for kicking the issue beyond the next election which will be hurting farmers as we speak.
GILLON: Still though the West in that story quotes from Al Mawashi which is Australia’s biggest live sheep export customer and really highlights the economic impact we could be looking at on states like WA and also South Australia. Do you acknowledge farmers are going to lose out and what is the plan for compensation for those farmers? Do you have one?
FITZGIBBON: Well with respect to him, he doesn’t know too much about the market in Australia, he is an importer of our product. I have said consistently with the phase out, I have argued for a phase out no shorter than 5 years. I have argued that very strongly because I don’t believe we can transition farmers any quicker than that. But I am very, very confident we can put a plan in place that will put farmers on more sustainable, profitable trajectory while at the same time creating more jobs here in Australia making a contribution to our economy and of course, all importantly, meeting community expectations on animal welfare.
GILLON: But again, would farmers get a significant compensation package from Labor?
FITZGIBBON: Well let’s proceed with the progress on the development of the Strategy, it has many limbs. I mean we have to of course deal with workforce issues in our abattoirs, we have to deal with some of the costs in our meat processing sector, we need to further expand and develop markets, but if we do all these things right, do it well, then there is no reason why sheep farmers can’t be the beneficiaries of this strategy.
GILLON: Just on another matter, a lot of debate this week about tax cuts, on the income tax front, we have seen the details in the Budget. Why is it taking Labor so long to declare if it will actually support the second tranche of tax cuts for low income earners?
FITZGIBBON: As you pointed out, we are supporting the first tranche, we have made that very, very clear. We are still looking at the second tranche. It is worth noting we still don’t have all of the detail, including how much it will cost which is a pretty important part of any consideration on tax policy. So we will continue to have that internal discussion and make our announcements in good time.
GILLON: Ged Kearney, the new Labor MP, delivered her maiden speech in the Parliament yesterday and really gave a passionate address when it comes to the fate of asylum seekers. She has taken to social media calling on Labor to “humanise” your policies when it comes to asylum seekers and refugees. She is saying she is going to be fighting for changes at the upcoming Labor National Conference. Is Bill Shorten now under serious pressure from the Left to change your policy?
FITZGIBBON: Ged delivered an excellent speech. Heartfelt. We are all passionate about refugee policy, there is no doubt about that. And we have all been distressed by the treatment by this Government of refugees in the last five years, that long term unacceptable detention on Manus and Nauru. So I believe we are all as one, we want a humanitarian program of an appropriate size, an orderly program, and of course we want a fair country settlement. If the now government had voted for our Malaysian solution all those years ago, we would now have had that for 5 years. That is our policy, and will remain our policy. I don’t really expect there to be too much disagreement at the National Conference on those principles.
GILLON: But again, just to pick up on your point that you are all on the same page, it doesn’t seem like that. Ged Kearney seems to be talking about changing Labor’s policy on that front. Are you comfortable with the boat turnback policy? Are you comfortable with essentially keeping people on Manus and Nauru when there aren’t any other options of places to send them?
FITZGIBBON: I was in the Chamber for Ged’s speech and I listened very carefully to every word and I didn’t hear anything that is inconsistent with what Bill Shorten has been saying, what Shayne Neumann has been saying. We want an orderly program and we want those who have relied on people smugglers to take an orderly transition to a third country. Ged is certainly passionate about it and I can understand and appreciate that. We all are. But I didn’t see or hear anything that is inconsistent with what Bill Shorten has been saying.
GILLON: Joel Fitzgibbon joining us live in Canberra, thank you.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure.