SKY NEWS KENNY REPORT - NSW Bushfires; Dairy Code of Conduct
CHRIS SMITH, HOST: Tensions really hit boiling point yesterday with Pauline Hanson calling on Agriculture Minister, Bridget McKenzie, to resign over her failure to deliver a Dairy Code of Conduct before the end of the year – that was the Coalition’s timing, not Pauline Hanson’s. One person also furious with the trajectory this dairy bill has taken is Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon who comes to us from Greta in New South Wales right now.
Joel, thank you very much for your time. Before I get to the dairy bill I want to ask you about the conditions where you are, I notice you’ve got fire burning right behind you, and yesterday some very precarious moments in the Hunter.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good to be with you, Chris. In fact, the local pronunciation is “Greta” a relatively small township just north of Cessnock, and only moments ago there were a whole lot of fire trucks behind me. They’ve just scurried off to go to the other side of the fire I suspect they’re expecting a change in the wind condition, or the wind direction. But all of this area was evacuated yesterday; thankfully a shed was lost but no homes on that occasion. But fortunately the fire, which is now behind me, sparked up again this morning so they’re working again very hard to contain it and as I look in the other direction here a lot of people in the street worried about their homes.
SMITH: Yes, I can just imagine. Which way is the wind going? Because it’s getting awfully close behind you there, is the wind coming towards you?
FITZGIBBON: No, it’s at my back Chris. It feels like it’s a bit of a westerly wind at the moment. We were blessed with some cooler southerly winds earlier, but it seems to be turning around. Of course I want to take this opportunity, Chris, to thank all of our firies and emergency services personnel – paid and voluntary – they are doing an amazing job here, as they are right across the state and, of course, into Queensland.
SMITH: Okay. Bridget McKenzie didn’t fair very well yesterday. As a matter of fact it’s probably her worst day in federal politics where we had this three year consideration for a Dairy Code of Conduct. The Coalition’s own deadline was January next year and she could give no guarantee on this. The Coalition doesn’t look so good on that score.
FITZGIBBON: No Chris, not a happy day for Bridget McKenzie yesterday, or indeed the day before. She was asked four times on ABC Radio yesterday who urged her to water-down this draft Mandatory Code of Conduct for the dairy industry and four times she declined to answer. We gave it another run in the Senate yesterday and again she gave mixed and confusing signals.
Now, Labor’s been backing this Code of Conduct now for six years. Twenty months ago the ACCC recommended the Government develop one and implement one. Twenty months is a long time and if you recall, Chris, that not that long ago as Treasurer, Scott Morrison introduced a sugar code literally overnight to buy Pauline Hanson’s vote on the corporate tax-cuts in the Senate.
So it’s inexplicable why it’s taking so long and it’s even more inexplicable as to why she would be seeking to water it down. Of course there are other interests in this market and I’ll let people come to their own conclusions, but the industry is telling me that this watered-down version of the Code would be a worse outcome for them than actually not having a Code at all. So, it’s pretty ordinary stuff.
SMITH: And they’re screaming out for something concrete. If it is watered-down after three years of promising it would be a great disappointment for dairy farmers.
FITZGIBBON: A great disappointment. But the Code alone is not enough, Chris – it’s not the panacea for all the problems for the dairy industry which has been caught in this cost-price squeeze for too many years now. A situation being made worse by the drought.
So, the other thing that happened this week is this week Pauline Hanson introduced this bill to set a minimum farm-gate milk price so that farmers get a fair price for their milk. That bill reflected a policy the Labor Party took to the last election to do the same, so we were happy to support her. Unfortunately we lost the vote by just two votes in the Senate, and of course, the National Party – which purports to be defending our farmers sat over on the wrong side of the Senate Chamber with their Liberal colleagues to vote down that bill, and I think that’s a great tragedy and a great shame.
The other thing that concerns me is that we lost the support of the South Australian senators. Now there’s a guy by the name of John Hunt who heads the dairy farmer organisation in South Australia, I suspect – who has been opposed to this mandatory farm-gate milk price – and I suspect they were acting on his advice. If we secured those South Australian senators we could have gotten this bill through the Senate and, of course, we would’ve then brought it to the House where we would have again tested the will of those National Party MPs.
SMITH: Yes, it’s a tragically missed opportunity I would have though. I’ve got to let you go there, you’ve got a fire truck right next to you making a loud noise. I’ll let you go, thank you very much for your time Joel Fitzgibbon.