Triple J, HACK Program
THURSDAY, 23 JULY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Boat Turn-Backs, Renewable Energy, ALP National Conference, Drug Use
TOM TILLEY: Joel Fitzgibbon thank you for joining us.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: It’s a pleasure Tom.
TILLEY: It’s great to have you on the show and if you do want to ask Joel Fitzgibbon a question call now the number is 1300 055 536. Joel Fitzgibbon is it painful to tell Tony Abbott that he was right all along?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s a bit more complex than that as you know Tom. In the time between when we put in place the now regional solution and the time we lost government, the boat flows had already reduced by about 90 per cent. But we’ve accepted that turn-backs has become part of a successful tool kit and what we are basically saying now is that we don’t want to do anything that could possibly turn that flow of people back on and have people losing their lives at sea once again.
TILLEY: Yeah, well this was the big difference between your policy and the Coalition’s because as you say when Kevin Rudd was the leader briefly before the last election he brought back some of the key elements of off-shore processing. So this is the last element that really defines you and the Government and can you answer my first question. Is it hard for you to say to Tony Abbott that you were right on this because he made such a big point of it in the 2013 Election?
FITZGIBBON: I’m very happy to concede that his turn-back policy has been one part of a successful tool kit, no doubt about that. And I don’t want to - in a year's time or 3 year's time - have someone look me in the eye and say; "if you hadn’t touched that kit people wouldn’t have lost their lives at sea".
TILLEY: Hmm, alright, well it’s rare to hear someone say that in politics that they have come round to the other sides point of view, so I think a lot of people might congratulate you on that but I think -
FITZGIBBON: Sometimes it gets me into trouble too Tom -
TILLEY: [Laughs] I bet it does. Now it does go against what Bill Shorten was saying in just October last year. He said there is no evidence that turn-backs works so what’s changed ? Have you seen evidence or have just the politics changed?
FITZGIBBON: Well we’ve just got to come to the conclusion Tom that we’ve had this package in place and boats haven’t come and on the occasions when the Government has turned back boats we’ve learned that it has been done safely. Now I remember being on a - if you like a ‘ginger group’ in the Parliament - really concerned about this and hearing from Defence Chiefs etc trying to learn more about how it would work and trying to reassure myself that this could be done safety. I left those meetings still unconvinced and feeling uncertain about the whole thing but now we have the facts. In the time since we lost Government they have been turning them back, no one has died as a consequence and there is no greater reassurance than that. The facts are now with us.
TILLEY: Hmm, Louise is calling from Sydney. Louise you’ve got a point to make to Joel Fitzgibbon?
CALLER: Yeah, I think that Joel and Bill should just go and join the Liberal Party because there is no difference when they’ve got policies like this out there. And does Joel know something that we don’t know because everything on water is operational and secret so what does he know that we don’t know, the public, the voters ?
TILLEY: Joel Fitzgibbon.
FITZGIBBON: Well Louise as a former Defence Minister I know a little bit about it and -
CALLER: No, what do you know about -
FITZGIBBON: Operational matters? Well Louise I think we would be pretty confident that we would know that if people had died as a consequence of turn-backs. I think we can be pretty confident that we would know about that. Now what we want to do is start focusing on some of the broader issues. We are going to have a conversation over the course of this weekend at conference about substantially increasing our humanitarian intake, we think that’s a sound thing to do. And of course the Labor Party is always keen to see us engaging more with the international community in dealing with the source of these problems, the problems which are causing people to flee other countries. Now Tony Abbott has been cutting the aid budget, we’d like to see more spent on that effort.
TILLEY: On the text line - thanks for the call Louise - bullshit this is about saving lives at sea, it’s all about pandering to the popularist opinion of the scare mongering public. And you talked about the problems that can happen in this area Joel Fitzgibbon. What about our relationship with Indonesia because Joko Widodo the President didn’t seem at all impressed that Australian naval vessels ventured into their waters as part of this policy of turning back asylum seeker boats at sea. He said that he gave us a warning that this is not acceptable. Are you prepared to damage our relationship with Indonesia over this policy?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s a very important relationship Tom, there is no doubt about that but think about this; this package of policies has stopped the boats from coming so there is nothing to fight about. The boats aren’t being turned back now because they’re simply not coming and when you think about it, we are helping the Indonesian Government because they do have some challenges in dealing with a black market in their own country, people smugglers, corrupt officials in customs etc and by sending or holding the signal that you know, don’t come and you won’t get here then we are effectively helping Indonesia deal with a black trade and I think that would be welcomed by them.
TILLEY: Ok a lot of people are texting in talking about transparency, transparency about the way Manus Island is managed also transparency about when boats are intercepted at sea. What will Labor’s stance or what do you want Labor’s stance to be on transparency because there is a lot of frustration about a perceived lack of transparency from the Government.
FITZGIBBON: I’m happy to add to that Tom but can I just say in response to Louise again, people see these things differently when they hear us talking about turn-backs. Some see desperate people on a leaking boat. When I talk about turn-backs I see the equivalent of a mafia Don in Jakarta reading the Jakarta Post with tears in his eyes knowing that if there is a change of government there is not going to be an opportunity for him to -
TILLEY: But it’s both there -
FITZGIBBON: There’s evil trade -
TILLEY: There are the people smugglers that as you say are pursuing a trade, trying to profiteer out of peoples desperation but there are desperate people on those boats as well.
FITZGIBBON: Well we don’t want them on the boats Tom, that’s the point. We have, if you like, Abbott has in conjunction with our regional solution -
TILLEY: Which was originally John Howard’s.
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s a different solution but -
FITZGIBBON: I’m happy to accept that but together we’ve ensured that those boats are not coming so people are not risking their lives anymore and the people smugglers aren’t pocketing tens of thousands of dollars per person for the right to put them on those boats. On transparency - on the Regional Processing Centres - we’ve been very clear about this we’ve been highly critical of the way the Abbott Government has managed those centres. We have called for greater transparency –
TILLEY: But you’ve also -
FITZGIBBON: Confidence -
TILLEY: But you were also critical of the turn-back policy so are you going to flip on the transparency as well?
FITZGIBBON: Well we were critical on the turn-back policy when we held on-going concerns about one, whether it would be effective and two, whether it could be done safely. That is, without further harming or risking the lives of refugees. And in the last period of time I think inconclusively it’s been demonstrated that it does work or does contribute to the success of stopping the flows and it can be done safely.
TILLEY: Ok you’re listening to the Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. We are talking about his and Bill Shortens call for the Labor Party to adopt a turn-back policy, that’s turning back asylum seeker vessels at sea, something that Tony Abbott has championed. Joel Fitzgibbon has acknowledged that it has worked so they want to adopt it too. A lot of people are also texting in Joel Fitzgibbon about paying people smugglers bribes and there were serious allegations that that has happened that people smugglers have been paid wads of cash. Can you rule out that happening under a Labor Government if you adopted this policy?
FITZGIBBON: Well Tom I know listeners hate these answers when politicians say these are operational intelligence matters and we can’t talk about them. But you knowTom, it's true. And there are just certain things that go to the heart of Australia’s national security, some things that our agencies do or don’t do that we just don’t talk about.
TILLEY: But this is not about national security, this is about controlling our borders. They’re not the same thing. Are you saying there are terrorists on those boats?
FITZGIBBON: Everything our security agencies do in a sense overlap. So talking about what you can’t talk about in isolation without indicating what goes on in other areas and the fact is, there are some areas that politicians simply can’t talk about Tom, that is just a fact of life.
TILLEY: Alright, well it will be interesting to see if the broader Labor Party support this move at the Conference over the weekend. Another big issue for Labor is reintroducing an emissions trading scheme and you promised to do that if re-elected. Tony Abbott calls it a carbon tax. How are you going to convince voters that it’s any different to a carbon tax if essentially big emitters do have to pay money for permits to emit carbon?
FITZGIBBON: Look I think people are starting to work Tony Abbott out. He is always looking backwards never forward and he is always prepared to do anything or say anything to improve his political position. But the world is moving Tom, the Australian community is moving. They expect us to show leadership. They expect us to work with the international community to address climate change. I think that is increasingly the community view and I think Tony Abbott now really runs the risk of being left behind.
TILLEY: Alright, two weeks ago there was a leak from your Party and internal discussion paper on the ETS that you plan to introduce and part of that discussion paper was an idea of essentially a $1500 tax on new cars and that was one part of what Tony Abbott call the triple whammy carbon tax. Do you think a $1500 vehicle emissions standards fee is a good idea?
FITZGIBBON: You know Tom I haven’t even seen that paper. I’m a senior member of the Shadow Cabinet. It was a discussion paper that went to a sub-committee of the Shadow Cabinet. You can’t properly formulate and discuss policy without bringing in all of the ideas. That’s what that discussion paper was all about, it wasn’t a policy proposal. It didn’t come to Shadow Cabinet it probably won’t come to Shadow Cabinet. I know very little about it to be frank.
TILLEY: On the text line, Jay from the Gold Coast says I wish they could agree on more things we might put forward a bit more in this country. Someone else says, finally a politician that cares about the policy not what just bagging the opposition and saying whatever will get them votes Brad from Cronulla. A lot of people disagree with that, some people saying that it totally is politics. Someone else says the Greens will be loving this, they are going to get so many votes now.
FITZGIBBON: Well Tom I think most of us come to politics with a deep interest in policy. I certainly did and I maintain that interest. On climate change we had a deal with Brendan Nelson they executed him. We had a deal with Malcolm Turnbull they executed him. And of course we’ve had Tony Abbott since and he is the Neanderthal of the Federal Parliament on this and a whole range of issues.
TILLEY: Just lastly Joel Fitzgibbon before we let you go and head off to the Labor Conference there in Melbourne, over the next week on Hack we’re talking about the drug debate in the lead up to the national television conversation on ABC 2 next week and yesterday on the show we spoke to Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale, he was in Portugal where they have essentially decriminalised personal drug use. Do you support the idea of a rethink on drug policy in Australia?
FITZGIBBON: I don’t support decriminalisation. Ice is a real and potentially worse problem than what we’ve all seen in the past. It’s a real problem in my electorate. I think partly because it is so easy to access and it’s relatively cheap. For me it always comes back to the real source of the problem being the social wellbeing of those people who are most likely to be addicted and for me it’s always about engaging with younger people in particular. Making sure they have equal access to education and opportunity and ultimately a job to go to. I think that’s the best thing you can ever do to keep people away from addictions generally speaking.
TILLEY: Do you think young people should get a criminal record for buying a relatively small amount of drugs for their friends?
FITZGIBBON: Tom it’s not my area of expertise I’m not getting into that. Suffice for me to say that the big stick won’t fix this problem. We need to deal with this problem from the bottom up and look at what is marginalising people and pushing people towards substance abuse in the first place.
TILLEY: Joel great to have you on the show, thanks for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a great pleasure Tom.