SUBJECTS: Angus Taylor; Chinese Investment; Drought Policy
CHRIS KENNY, HOST: Thanks for joining us, Joel. I want to get to some of your portfolio issues in just a moment, but just first up can you tell us what the allegation is here about Angus Taylor? Are we seriously suggesting that he’s changed $1,700 into $1.7 million and $4,000 into $14 million in a letter and expected to get away with it?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Well Chris, as an old institutional man in this place for me one of his greatest crimes is to mislead the parliament and he has so obviously done that by assuring the parliament that he, nor his staff, were involved in the reproduction, if you like, of that document. So there’s an offence straight away and in parliamentary terms, it’s a very, very serious offence.
KENNY: How is that an offence? We know that he’s download the document, or printed off a document and somehow in translation the numbers are incorrect. How do we know – what’s the suggestion of how that happened or who did it or where it happened?
FITZGIBBON: In translation, is that what they are calling it now, Chris?
KENNY: Well, I don’t know; I’m wondering whether you might know. Somehow, I mean it’s not the first time someone has got the numbers wrong.
FITZGIBBON: Well he originally claimed that he downloaded it from the City of Sydney website and that’s how it appeared straight off their website, but the City of Sydney tells us that their metadata says that’s just simply not true. So then the question becomes who did doctor the document so that he could have his political go at the Lord Mayor of Sydney? Now, I don’t think that they were elves, it might be nearly Christmas, Chris, but I don’t think it was the elves. It either had to be the Minister or someone on his staff. Who else would reproduce and doctor that document in that way? There is no logic in claiming it could have been anyone else. Now, if he has some other rational explanation, well I will let him deliver it in the parliament but after weeks of enquiry he certainly has made no attempt to do so.
KENNY: Well I don’t want to waste too much time on it because it just numbers that are wrong. The numbers are in a letter going back to the person who produced the numbers supposedly, and the numbers weren’t even central to his claim. So, the whole thing to me seems a bit of a side show.
FITZGIBBON: Yes they were, Chris.
KENNY: Well, no they weren’t.
FITZGIBBON: They were absolutely central…
KENNY: He was saying why are you going on about a climate emergency while you are flying people around the country and around the world.
FITZGIBBON: And then the document doctored hugely embellished the numbers to make it sound more exciting. So who had an interest? I mean, if I were the Minister, Chris, and someone said you should write to the Lord Mayor in those terms and I saw those numbers, I would have immediately said well hang on a minute, that can’t right, a council couldn’t be undertaking that level of travel. Now, that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt because that’s suggesting it wasn’t him himself who doctored the document to make it look better. We just don’t know…
KENNY: Yep, I agree with you on that. As I said on the outset – yeah, that’s why I didn’t repeat those numbers at the time, they seem implausibly high so there’s no doubt there’s been some sort of a stuff up, it’s a silly error. But anyway, police are involved now; let them go for it.
I want to get onto some of these issues here that are crucial when it comes to agriculture. Firstly, Chinese investment; do you have any concerns about the level of Chinese investment we are seeing in the dairy industry now with Bellamy’s being purchased, and that same company looking to take over some other Australian brand.
FITZGIBBON: A few points there, Chris. Certainly we need a lot of investment in the agriculture sector if we are to build the scale and build the productivity we’ll need to sustain the industry here and to make us more competitive in the global markets. And ironically, it was Angus Taylor who was the lead author in a report known as Greener Pastures – it’s a bit old now I think it dates back to 2015 – but Angus concluded that to get to where we would like to be in the agriculture sector by 2050, we need about $600 billion worth of investment. Now, as a population of 25 million, by definition, much of that investment – a large share of that investment – in fact, will need to come from foreign sources. Traditionally it’s come from the UK and the US and Canada and New Zealand, but as Asia continues to grow, it will increasingly come from Asia and that’s a good thing that they see value in our agriculture sector. Now, we need a framework, an architecture which ensures that when these investments flow in, they are absolutely in the national interest and that’s why we have a Foreign Investment Review Board. Now, after six years in government, that’s an architecture owned very much by this current government, and they appointed David Irvine – the former top spy here in Australian – to chair the board, to reassure people that we got someone who understands the security issues chairing those important meetings, and the Foreign Investment Review Board has waved through these investments. So, I think all of us need to express confidence in the process because if we don’t express confidence in the process we will undermine it, we will get more community concern and investors will start looking elsewhere.
KENNY: Yeah, spot on. Yesterday when I asked Pauline Hanson about Chinese investment, she said she believes China is investing heavily in Australia because they want to bring some of their population here; they’re running out of room. Does that sort of rhetoric alarm you?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I don’t see the link, Chris, and I often say to people who express to me concern about Chinese buying farms, well they can’t take it with them, and if Chinese investment in our farms gives us better access to China’s big market. I mean, we talk all the time, Chris, about the importance of free trade agreements. Why do we do that? Because it gives us better access into those Asian markets. Well, if investment gives us access too, well sure that’s a good thing.
KENNY: Now, you of course are a NSW MP, your area of the Hunter has been hit very badly by the drought, you would understand the frustration of drought affected regions in NSW seeing water entitlements flow through to South Australia – environmental water entitlements – what are your thoughts of John Barilaro, the Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier of NSW, suggesting that his state could rip up the Murray Darling Basin Agreement because it just, in the heart of a drought, doesn’t want to send these environmental flows through?
FITZGIBBON: Well, there are plenty of things John Barilaro and I agree on, one of them is the extraction of more gas in NSW, particularly the Narabri Project, but I think he has got this one wrong. Look, it took more than 100 years to arrive at a settlement on the Murray Darling Basin Plan. We all know it’s not perfect; we know it could be substantially improved and we all know that not having it would be worse. So, we’ve got to maintain a level of bipartisanship here and I think David Littleproud, the current Minister, would tell you that the Labor Party has been as cooperative as we can on changes because we don’t the thing falling apart because again, while it’s not perfect, the alternative which is not having an arrangement between the Commonwealth and the states, would be a lot worse.
KENNY: Just very briefly then because we are almost out of time, what’s the one thing you would see the Federal Government do now on the drought that it’s not doing?
FITZGIBBON: I think it needs to give the community the reassurance that there’s a plan, Chris. These ad hoc, piecemeal announcements every month or so kicking the challenge down the road isn’t – they’re not giving anyone reassurance that the government first understands the scope and scale of the problem, the likely further longevity of the problem, and therefore doesn’t have in place contingencies for each of those various scenarios. I think if the government had a plan then people would feel more reassured. But farmers out there keep hearing Scott Morrison throw dollar figures around like it’s confetti, but none of them ever see any of it and ever witness any changes as a result. So some high level thinking and some annunciation of that thinking would help I think to build confidence, and I could talk for an hour, Chris…
KENNY: I know you could, but we are out of time, thanks so much for joining us Joel Fitzgibbon.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure Chris.