SUBJECTS: National account figures; Medevac repeal, Murray Darling Basin Plan
CHRIS KENNY, HOST: Let’s catch up with the Labor Party’s agriculture spokesperson, Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel Fitzgibbon thanks for waiting there while we listened in on Josh Frydenberg. First up, can I get your thoughts on those National Account figures – economic growth at 1.7 per cent? Obviously everybody would like to see it stronger than that.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Well, Chris I enjoyed your reflection on Josh’s performance there. I was thinking something very, very similar – he was trying to sound like rain man. But, you made the important point that the numbers are disappointing, and you recall that when we received the June quarter figures, Scott Morrison said – which were fairly poor and disappointing themselves – Scott Morrison said oh well you’d expect the September quarter figures to be better. Well, they haven’t been and that is very, very disappointing. And I noticed Josh likes to invoke the drought when things are going bad for the Government, and earlier in Question Time this week, the Prime Minister was quick to claim that the latest figures, the latest accounting showed that our carbon emissions had fallen just a tincy wincy bit, but what he didn’t tell the parliament is that occurred because so many cattle have been turned off, and of course a big reduction in methane. So, they invoke the drought when it suits them, but they don’t invoke the drought when it doesn’t suit there narrative.
KENNY: Sure, but there can be no argument that the drought is hurting the economy, right? It’s really dampening our output.
FITZGIBBON: There is no argument but it’s not an excuse not to have a stronger economy and it’s not an excuse not to do more in the economy, whether by infrastructure – they claim to be doing a lot. Well, I think more could be done. We talked a lot about what could be done with tax cuts and they are obsessed with this budget surplus which many, many esteemed economists, and people like Paul Keating, have said getting the economy moving again is more important at this stage than a budget surplus.
KENNY: Paul Keating also said we’re going to have a recession we had to have. Surely we don’t need another one of those?
FITZGIBBON: Chris, can I just say this too? I’m not offended that you said I was the spokesperson for Agriculture, true…
KENNY: Sorry, you are resources as well.
FITZGIBBON: I’m also spokesperson for resources. I want to acknowledge the role the resources sector is playing in helping to ensure that these figures are not worse.
KENNY: Indeed, demand is still strong in the resources sector and very important for us. Let’s just go to this Medevac repeal which is of course is the big development in Canberra today. A big win for the Coalition in winning back support or control of that area. You’ll be very keen though, of course, to find out what happened with Jacqui Lambie. She’s made reference to some sort of secret concession. Do you think we will – obviously I guess you think we should know – do you think we will find out what’s going on here?
FITZGIBBON: As you know, Chris, I’ve been here a very long time and I’ve never dealt with a Government more secretive than this one. And the question here is whether the Australian community is the winner and we simply don’t know because the Government refuses to tell us what deal has been done. Now, Jacqui Lambie says there is a deal; the Government seems to be saying there isn’t a deal. They both can’t be right and my money is on Jacqui Lambie and I think the Australian people are absolutely entitled to know what the deal is, but more particularly, absolutely entitled to be assured that it’s a good deal for Australia.
KENNY: Yeah I think, I mean if she says there are national security implications for revealing the details that’s one thing, but if that is the case we would expect the Government to acknowledge in broad terms that something has be promised or conceded to.
FITZGIBBON: Well, national security terms is a very broad statement and we have no idea what that means, but we do know this is a secretive government – god knows what they told Jacqui Lambie. The next question is can Jacqui Lambie trust them? Obviously she’s made a judgement on that front but, gee, if I were her I’d be very, very cautious.
KENNY: You’ be pretty relieved though wouldn’t you in the Labor Party that border security is now back in the Government’s hands, therefore, any failures, any problems belong to the government because as it’s been unfolding, this, I think, rather rash decision late in the last term of Government to back Kerryn Phelps and the Greens meant Labor was rightly being blamed for the way the Medevac laws were being gamed?
FITZGIBBON: And the decision was always in the Government’s hand, Chris. Peter Dutton had total control over who comes to this country on national security terms under the Medevac bill.
KENNY: They are opposed to these laws, these are laws that the Government didn’t want, laws that were forced upon the Government.
FITZGIBBON: But they were not laws that took away from Peter Dutton total control over who comes here and who doesn’t in national security terms. On that basis, the Government was spinning the Medevac laws and they’ve tried to take political capital from that. But we stand by values here, Chris. We want to make sure we don’t restart the boats, we want third country settlements, something that the Government hasn’t been able to achieve – that’s why we are having this debate by the way – and we want to make sure that when people are in real need medical assistance they are able to secure it. These are people…
KENNY: So Labor would take Medevac laws like this to the next election, they will be part of your board protection policy at the next election?
FITZGIBBON: I don’t know what I said to enable you to say that, Chris. I said Labor will stick to the key values and that is that refugees be treated humanely, they be found third country settlement, and when they are sick they get the medical attention they need.
KENNY: Well sure, so the laws were right, they shouldn’t have been repealed, then, ipso facto, Labor would take these laws as part of its policy suite to the next the next election on border security.
FITZGIBBON: No, that’s not what I said either. I said that on national security grounds under the Medevac laws Peter Dutton retained total control over who comes here on national security grounds. But rather then Peter Dutton deciding whether someone is sick or not, an independent medical panel was making that decision. As I understand, more people come here on medical grounds under the old system then under the Medevac system. So in that sense…
KENNY: Sorry, we are almost out of time. I just wanted to give you a quick chance to give us your thoughts on the water debate. Given the drought, given the argy-bargy over the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the allocations between the states, is it right to revisit all of these agreements now? Or should they be left alone and we just deal with the facts as they land at the moment?
FITZGIBBON: Over the last few days, Chris, we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of very, very angry farmers on the front lawns of Parliament House and that’s because this Government has been unable to properly implement the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and what have we seen by way of an announcement now from the Government? Another review, a review by a highly regarded person, Mick Keelty, but a guy who still doesn’t have the powers he needs to undertake the review because the Government still hasn’t legislated having announced this in August, and having said in August that the states had already given the legislation a green light. So the question becomes: what in the hell are we waiting for?
KENNY: Alright, thanks so much for joining us, Joel Fitzgibbon – appreciate it.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure Chris.