Transcript - Radio Interview - 2GB - Friday, 13 November 2020

Transcript - Radio Interview - 2GB - Friday, 13 November 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

13 November 2020

DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And it has been a huge week in politics. Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor joins us now, along with former Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources, Joel Fitzgibbon, who's now a humble backbencher. Fellas, thanks for joining us.






KNIGHT: Now, Joel, what week for you, hey. You're now buying into this special investigator and independent oversight panel that was set up by the PM in response to the Brereton Report announced that yesterday into alleged war crimes. You were once Defense Minister, Joel, is there a cultural problem in the Defence Force?


FITZGIBBON: Why do I get to go first?


KNIGHT: Why do you think, my friend?


FITZGIBBON: Look, to the extent there could be a cultural problem, and obviously, there is a challenge. We all have to take responsibility. Not just our troopers on the grounds, but of course, all those up the chain of command, and right into the Office of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet, because culture comes from the top. And certainly, if anyone has broken the law, or worked outside the rules of engagement and the international law then they have to be made to be held accountable to that, no question about that. That's an important message for the international community as well. But you do have to understand that we put these - that we mold these guys down and build them back up as warriors. We teach them to be able to kill without too much conscience. We send them into very, very dangerous situations with poor strategic planning, often. And sometimes under-resourced. They know the prospects of winning are slight. And you can expect, you can expect them to, you know, find themselves in challenging situations. So, let's go through the whole process and see where it takes us. But I just make an appeal to people not to generalise and to understand that if people have done the wrong thing, they'll need to be held responsible for it. But there are very, very serious mitigating circumstances here. These people go into the most dangerous parts of the world to keep us safe.


KNIGHT: Were the deployments too long?


FITZGIBBON: They were too long. The rotations were too many. I made many complaints at NATO meetings about the dysfunction of the overall strategy. Our boys aren't stupid. They know the prospects of success are poor, they risk their lives capturing prisoners, or did risk their lives capturing prisoners, only to see them wandering free sometime later. The same people who almost shot them before, you know, before they captured them. And of course, you know, a lack of resourcing, and you know, playing to rules both the rules of engagement and international law, against an enemy which plays to no rules whatsoever.


KNIGHT: Now, Angus, The Prime Minister did warn yesterday that this report will be disturbing. It will be confronting for all Australians, basically getting us prepared for what will be unveiled and what action could be taken saying that there was no door that will be left opened, that action could go, well all the way to the top in terms of prosecutions. But has this process, has it been too long and too drawn out, because there are obviously big concerned about the impact this is going to have on veterans and soldiers?


TAYLOR: Yeah, and understandably so. I mean, look, obviously, Deb, the matters raised in the inquiry need to be, they need to be assessed properly. Obviously, there's been very serious allegations. But where they're substantiated, they do need to be prosecuted. At whatever level in the hierarchy, as Joel rightly points out. But look, the other point I'd make here is that the ADF has served our nation in Afghanistan and elsewhere over prolonged periods with great sacrifice and distinction. And we are rightly proud of the ADF and that pride is well deserved. And I know Joel agrees with that. And in fact, I think that was the essence of his point that we do need to respect the enormously important role that ADF personnel play in keeping our country safe and keeping all of us safe.


KNIGHT: Absolutely, but even our own SAS, retired and serving, concede that if there are rogue operators to ensure that that integrity is sustained and maintained that you can't have a few tarnish the lot.


TAYLOR: Well, that's right. Well, I mean, it's important that we have continued confidence in the ADF and that's why where allegations are substantiated they will lead to be prosecuted. That's the nature of this. But, as I say, it's important that the respect for our ADF remains for good reason because of the important role they play.


KNIGHT: Now, Joel...


FITZGIBBON: ...Can I just very quickly say on that, it's also important that when they deploy, they know they have the support of their local communities. And that is why Angus says that we need to restore any loss of respect in the service.


KNIGHT: Yeah, an important point to make and well made too. Now Joel, you've never been backwards in coming forwards with your views. But you say you've quit the front bench because you've been restrained, unhappy with the way that the Labor Leadership is going, particularly on the issue of climate and energy policy. So, what's the truth here? You said it was your decision to stand down from the frontbench, others say Albo forced your hand. Which one is it?


FITZGIBBON: Oh, it was absolutely my decision, Deb. No one asked me to go or put any pressure on me to go. I told Albo...


KNIGHT: ...Nothing to do the standup row that you had with Albo?


FITZGIBBON: It might have brought the timing forward, just a little bit to be honest with you. It seemed like the right time to go, rather than in December, which had been my intention, anyway. But look, Albo said he'd like to talk me into staying, there was no pressure whatsoever. I've spent the last eighteen months helping to rebuild the party. Put it on what I would call a better path, both in policy and political terms, making its prospects of winning an election much better, which is the most important thing of all, because the millions of Australians out there hoping to get a Labor Government from time-to-time and we haven't delivered very well or very often. So...


KNIGHT: ...But if you don't agree with the Labor leadership, why don't you just stand as an independent?


FITZGIBBON: It's a representative democracy, Deb. The Labor Party is the biggest party in the country. It represents a very diverse group of people, a very, very diverse group of people, and I think a contest of ideas within the party makes for a vibrant party.


KNIGHT: And in terms of the division in your party, do you really think that you're going to come together here? The division runs very deep on climate policy. Some agree with you wholeheartedly. Others, completely against it. I'm thinking of a couple of Marks here - Mark Butler, Mark Dreyfus - but Albo has come out today saying Mark Butler is not going anywhere.


FITZGIBBON: Well, I'm less concerned with division or otherwise, than I am with policy.


KNIGHT: Should he go as the climate change spokesperson?


FITZGIBBON: Well, yeah, I believe so. But, I said that’s a matter for Albo and I said it without any disrespect, but he's been our Charles Preston in that area for last seven years, it hasn't turned out very well for us and I think we need a fresh face.


KNIGHT: Angus, was this the right move, do you reckon, for Joel to make if he wants to try and make a difference to the party, to do it from the backbench?


TAYLOR: Well, good on Joel for standing up for blue-collar workers. And, you know, I think what he said this week has been extremely important. But the fact of the matter is right now we are seeing...


FITZGIBBON: [inaudible]


KNIGHT: There’s always a however.


TAYLOR: The however is actually backing in what's really going on here, which is that we're seeing a battle for the heart and soul of the Labor Party. Whether its future is focused on blue-collar workers, or a degree of ideological zealotry, and Joel's taken a position on that, which I happen to agree with for Australia. Labor has to decide where Labor wants to go but, you know, this is a very, very important debate. And Joel I think is enjoying his newfound freedom by the sound of things. But beneath that is this very serious debate. And we do believe that these industries across regional Australia, outer suburbs in manufacturing, agriculture, as well, of course. Those industries do need the support of all Australians and we shouldn't be putting in place policies that are going to hurt them. And I know Joel agrees with that.


KNIGHT: And hand on heart, Joel. Is this a ploy for you to A. either make a bid for the leadership, or to try and get someone else in there instead of Albo?


FITZGIBBON: No, Deb. I just want to put labour back into the Labor Party.


KNIGHT: Alright, the blue-collar worker? Alright. Well, we'll see what unfolds over the coming days, weeks and months ahead. Angus, I what to ask you too, obviously the 4 corners report into the culture within the Liberal Party this week, looking very closely at the treatment of women and in particular affairs that two of your colleagues reportedly had with staffers. I mean, affairs between consenting adults, that's not my concern. But there's an inherent power imbalance, isn't there when staff members are in relationships with their boss? And there's real concern to about security, with ministers perhaps being compromised?


TAYLOR: Well look, to your first point, it is important that everyone should feel safe in their workplace and that everyone should have proper channels where they can deal with an issue. When, you know, they're uncomfortable...


KNIGHT: ...Do they have that, though, under the existing employment rules in federal Parliament?


TAYLOR: Of course, the rules have changed. And that change was made a couple of years ago and the Prime Minister's has backed that in strongly and I know that Albo after running around for a couple of days on this not knowing what Labor's policy is has now backed it in for the Labor Party, that's a good thing...


KNIGHT: ...But there's no real HR department though, is there?


TAYLOR: Can I just say though, on the two Ministers, and I do want to make this point. They have issued statements. They've actually rejected some of those allegations made and I refer you to those. But there is no...


KNIGHT: ...Alan Tudge has acknowledged the affair and he's apologised.


TAYLOR: Sure, sure. But there is no allegation that they've breached the code of conduct in this, and the rules have changed. And it's important now everyone adhere to those. And it is important that everyone should feel safe in their workplace.


KNIGHT: But the fact that there's no real HR department for government staffers, it's very internal. It's overlooked by the Department of Finance. It's not like what happens in the corporate world, surely that needs to be looked at?


TAYLOR: Well, look, I think the reality is there are channels now open for people to go and deal with these issues. And it's been, we've been acutely conscious of it in the last couple of years, since that rule change was made. And I think it's probably true of the Labor Party as well. So, and that's why I say it is important that everyone should feel safe in the workplace, and should feel safe to go to higher authorities and say there's a problem.


KNIGHT: And do you think, Joel, that Labor has changed its rules enough that you are creating a safe workplace?


FITZGIBBON: No, I think you are right, Deb. there has got to be an independent process. You know, you can't, if a young woman being offended or worse, it's not much good going to the party leader, they need to be able to go somewhere independent. Deb, you made the point on HR. There is an agency or department, they're called MOPS that pays us and signs our staff contracts, et cetera. And you know, a young woman who has been inappropriately dealt with should be able to go to them and lodge her report and seek guidance and counsel or any necessary advice. I mean, the leader of each political party obviously has, you know, some interest or could potentially have an interest in you know, making it go away. His or her junior Minister senior Minister going to become the media story, so there's has got to be an independent process.


KNIGHT: Yeah, well, fellas, it's World Kindness day today. So I'm sending you a smile and a kind gesture. And next time I see you in person, I might even shout you a coffee. You never know your luck.


FITZGIBBON: What about a beer, or a glass of red wine, Deb? That’s pretty modest. Gee Whizz.


KNIGHT: Oh I know right, exactly. Okay, I'll splurge.


FITZGIBBON: As long as it's in the afternoon.


TAYLOR: You have probably earned a beer this week, Joel.


KNIGHT: Yeah, exactly. It's always mid-day somewhere, alright.


FITZGIBBON: You have just revealed my deep secret, Angus.


KNIGHT: Have a good weekend.


FITZGIBBON: [inaudible]


KNIGHT: Thank you, fellas. We'll talk to you next week