SUBJECTS: Barnaby Joyce; Fitzgibbon PMB; Inspector-General of Animal Welfare; Minister Cash subpoenaed; Registered Organisations Commission.
DAVID SPEERS: Joining me now for our panel is the Opposition’s Joel Fitzgibbon and the Government’s Craig Laundy. A very good afternoon to both of you. So Barnaby Joyce will presumably be back for the next sitting of Parliament, which I think is the 18th June for that two week session. You will be glad to have him back Craig Laundy?
CRAIG LAUNDY: Ah yeah, and the people of New England will be glad to have their rep back fighting for them on the front lines.
SPEERS: You feel for him Joel?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: I do feel personally for him, yes. I have been the Chief Government Whip in a hung Parliament so I know the pressures people come under. So, on a personal basis, I feel for him but I have to say that most of his problems, if not all, are of his own making.
SPEERS: So you don’t have sympathy for him? You feel for him personally but you don’t sympathise with what he has done?
FITZGIBBON: It is interesting, I think all his real troubles began when he stamped his absolute authority over Malcolm Turnbull and started to get everything he wanted. I described it earlier as too many “policy lollies” and in the end, it only caused grief for him. It gave him an overconfidence and a narcissistic approach to his work and I think in the end it all came tumbling down on him.
SPEERS: I don’t think we need to dwell too much on it, given he is taking personal leave, let’s just hope for his sake everything is okay over the next few weeks and we will see what happens after that. Let’s move onto a few other issues. Just on live animal exports, Joel Fitzgibbon, you have now tabled a Bill, a Private Members Bill, this isn’t about banning the industry, this is about having an Inspector. Just explain that to me quickly.
FITZGIBBON: The Inspector-General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports. In September 2013, when I was the Agriculture Minister, I actually appointed, for the first time, an Inspector-General. But it needed to be consolidated in legislation and of course, this mob won a few weeks later and Barnaby Joyce decided to let it go through to the ‘keeper. So for the last five years we have not had what I think is an important and much needed independent oversight of the regulator. I think the Awassi experience tells us that and Senate Estimates last week confirmed that we need independent oversight.
SPEERS: Just explain this to me, didn’t the Minister announce, in this whole latest controversy, there would be independent observers on each ship?
FITZGIBBON: One guy trying to look over 50,000 sheep -
SPEERS: So you are talking about someone and a team of people?
FITZGIBBON: This is an independent statutory officer just like the Inspector-General for Biosecurity, who over-looks the regulator. Making sure that when there is an incident, the regulator takes a proper look at it, comes to the right conclusions and imposes the right sanctions or responses. He or she also looks at, works full-time on a work agenda that checks whether the standards are still appropriate. Recently we had White Spot outbreak in prawns in Queensland, the Inspector-General of Biosecurity looked at the regulator, made sure the regulator took a careful look at the question and then made some recommendations about how we could do things better in the future. Exactly what the Inspector-General would do.
SPEERS: Now, this has just come to light this afternoon as well, have a look at this. Troubling vision of Australia’s live export industry, this time cattle being shipped to Israel. This if from the animal activist group “Israel Against Live Shipments”. It is video of cattle covered head to toe in faeces. The group says the cattle in the footage were loaded in Adelaide and Fremantle earlier this month, before making their way to Israel on the export ship Bader III. The footage comes just a week after Sussan Ley, the Government back-bencher introduced her Private Members Bill to phase out the live sheep export industry. Joel, what to make of this footage?
FITZGIBBON: That is really concerning, and this is why we need an Inspector-General to oversee the regulator and to make sure we don’t get repeat incidents like this. Now there is a big difference between the sheep trade and the cattle trade. The sheep trade has a systemic problem. The whole model is flawed. Cattle can be been done, and has been done, and will continue to be done very successfully, there will be incidents along the way, like any industry, isolated incidents. But we have got to make sure we maintain public confidence by demonstrating we have independent oversight of the regulatory process, this is why Craig and every member of the Government, should be supporting my Bill on this. It’s a no brainer.
SPEERS: Craig, what do you think of those pictures? And also, we should point out, Bader III, the ship we are talking about with these cattle, will be phased out under the changes the Minister has announced. So presumably it won’t be able to keep operating into the future.
LAUNDY: And that is the key David, the Minister has been decisive. And look, quite clearly, there are issues at a departmental level in terms of oversight and he, very promptly, put his hand up and said, this is wrong, conducted a lightning review. I understand he has been working pretty closely with you Joel, you and he were travelling somewhere?
FITZGIBBON: We have done our best, I offered the bipartisan hand.
LAUNDY: Which is great because you don’t want to see that [vision] And that has just come to light so I don’t know whether it is legitimate or what have you. You are right, the industry is only as strong as its weakest link. And you need effective regulation. Mr Littleproud has put a person on these sheep ships moving forward. I don’t know what his plans are on the cattle side of things, it is not my portfolio.
FITZGIBBON: Can I say the Awassi need not have occurred, this need not have occurred, I have put out a list of ten things the Abbott and Turnbull Governments did to retard our progress on animal welfare. Ten things, including the abolition of the Inspector-General. If the Government had not done those things I would like to think we would never have had an Awassi Express and I would like to think we would not be seeing that footage today. So now we are playing catch-up.
SPEERS: You are happy for the live cattle trade to continue?
FITZGIBBON: I am happy for the live cattle trade to continue. It’s voyages are typically shorter and into less harsh climatic conditions, it is in the interests of the trade to have the cattle arrive.
SPEERS: That sort of footage is not OK.
FITZGIBBON: No. That footage is not OK. And again, we should never have been seeing it. And I believe very sincerely we would not be seeing it if the Government hadn’t abolished my Inspector-General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports.
SPEERS: Was there not during the Labor years, an independent review that did recommend having an independent regulator? Why didn’t Labor in government ensure that there was that independence around the regulator rather than an Inspector-General?
FITZGIBBON: There was a review post the Indonesian incident in 2011 and we were still progressing those when we lost government in 2013. We had already commissioned the review of the ASEL standards and of course it took Barnaby Joyce five years, until 2018, to get around to continuing that review. That is one of the ten points I mention. We would never have been in this place.
SPEERS: Let’s shift topic and come back to Michaelia Cash. The Minister and your colleague Craig Laundy who has been subpoenaed to appear in court. Do you think she should appear in court?
LAUNDY: Look, the latest is this is the third time they have tried this a stunt on. What we are talking about here –
SPEERS: The judge has ordered this, the judge has tried on a stunt?
LAUNDY: You can make applications (inaudible)
FITZGIBBON: Civil disobedience
LAUNDY: You can make applications to the judge to do that which has been done twice before today.
SPEERS: But the Judge –
LAUNDY: But David she is not a party to this and she will obviously handle this matter. Let’s not forget the root point here. At the centre of this, if the AWU had provided the Registered Organisations Committee with proof that the $100,000 loan was authorised.
SPEERS: Not a loan, a donation.
LAUNDY: Sorry a donation, was authorised, union members’ money not union delegates money, was authorised to be used in funding GetUp, if they and have furnished that information we wouldn’t be where we are today. This is the latest attempt by the AWU to throw up a smoke screen and it won’t work. It won’t work.
SPEERS: We’ll come back to that because it’s a fair point whether the union should hand over that document to show everything was A-Okay with that donation.
LAUNDY: If it’s got that document.
SPEERS: But, coming back to today’s development because as you say it’s been running a long time. Today though a judge has ordered the Minister appear before court. Now the judge isn’t, let’s hope involved in a political stunt.
LAUNDY: The AWU has sought a subpoena and Michaelia has her own legal options which she has done before to deal with that. Now I’m not going to talk about that. It’s an ongoing matter and I’m not going to talk about it but what I will say is go back to the start, if the AWU, can you find any sensible reason that if you had that documentation when asked for it you wouldn’t furnish it?
SPEERS: I’ll come to that, but why won’t the Minister appear in court and why shouldn’t she appear in court?
LAUNDY: Because she is not a party to these – the actual substance of the matter is did Bill Shorten –
SPEERS: Are you arguing that only parties to a matter before court should ever be subpoenaed to appear?
SPEERS: In any court matter only directly involved -
LAUNDY: If you are involved – if Michaelia was a party no, no, if she was involved in the paperwork of the AWU, if she was involved in the AWU or the unions itself, i.e. she was party to the discussion and she was subpoenaed to go in there because she had knowledge of the actual case that we are talking about. Yes, you would go but this is a stunt to try and muddy the waters and has nothing to do -
SPEERS: So the judge has fallen for it?
LAUNDY: It has nothing to do with the substance of the case and that’s what we are talking about here. If they had the documentation.
SPEERS: So this judge, this Federal Court judge has fallen for a political stunt?
LAUNDY: No he has done what he is required to do under the law when a party to the case wants a subpoena, as has happened twice before this and Michaelia has legal options open to her. And it is up to her whether she avails herself of that.
FITZGIBBON: Including the public immunity defence, is that right?
LAUNDY: Joel it is an ongoing matter and if you’ve got questions for Michaelia feel free to ask her.
FITZGIBBON: Why won’t you answer the questions as to why she won’t front Senate Estimates? That is a different question and a just as good one.
LAUNDY: Why Joel? I will tell you exactly why. It’s my portfolio, not Michaelia’s, it’s my portfolio
FITZGIBBON: Are you serious?
LAUNDY: And Zed Seselja two weeks ago has been briefed on this, my colleague who I have absolute faith in and has gone there and has done so accordingly.
FITZGIBBON: The Minister who last appeared at Senate Estimates and hid behind whiteboard is now not going to go in there –
LAUNDY: She has answered questions on this.
FITZGIBBON: It’s no longer her responsibility.
LAUNDY: When she was the Minister responsible Joel, she has gone through bouts of Estimates on this and has had a lengthy press conference today.
SPEERS: Okay the whiteboard thing, let’s just say it was embarrassing -
LAUNDY: She hasn’t hidden from this at all
FITZGIBBON: It’s just a reminder that she was previously in the chair and suddenly she is not.
SPEERS: Let me ask you, the point that Craig raises there, should the union just produce this document? If the donation was fine and above board, produce the document to show it.
FITZGIBBON: I honestly don’t know anything about it David. I honestly don’t know anything about this.
LAUNDY: So your pleading fifth?
FITZGIBBON: All I know is Craig wants to answer every question about Michaelia Cash by going back to the union. It’s pretty transparent isn’t it?
SPEERS: You don’t know what went on in Michaelia Cash’s office either and you are demanding everything.
FITZIBBON: What year did this alleged donation happen?
FITZGIBBON: And you want me to have a view about these documents. I have no idea. I think it’s alright for politicians to occasionally say I don’t know.
SPEERS: I’m just saying, what do you think? The union should clear this up by producing a document. It says it has.
FITZGIBBON: I don’t have the facts David and I simply just don’t know enough about it.
SPEERS: Do you know if Michaelia Cash has been interviewed by police?
LAUNDY: No, no I don’t.
SPEERS: You don’t know?
FITZGIBBON: Did she tip off the media? Was it her? Did she know?
LAUNDY: Joel nice try.
SPEERS: Is it a distraction for the Government?
LAUNDY: I don’t think so, I think it will be seen for what it is. I think it is an inside the (inaudible) issue and it will be seen for what it is. The Registered Organisations Commission is an attempt to smear that organisation at the same time –
SPEERS: What else has the Registered Organisations Commission achieved. Has it been worthwhile?
LAUNDY: Look I believe any institution that makes sure union members’ money or employee organisations’ money and this is the part that is missed with the role –
SPEERS: You’re the Minister for this now, what has it achieved?
LAUNDY: Well we have this case ongoing and we have three investigations into employer organisations we are currently working on. What will happen of that? I don’t know. It’s an independent from Government.
SPEERS: So a year on it hasn’t landed any prosecutions?
LAUNDY: It’s in the process David? It needs to absolutely find its feet but the concept here of transparency and accountability when it comes to union members and employee groups (inaudible) membership money should be one that we should abolish.
SPEERS: Would you like it to have some runs on the board by the time you go to the next election?
LAUNDY: My view on it is it is independent of me and what it finds, if it does its job so well there are no claims to be made, good luck, it has fulfilled its purpose.
SPEERS: Alright, Craig Laundy, Joel Fitzgibbon, it’s good to talk to both of you. Thank you very much.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks Speersy.