PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my panel, National Senator, Matt Canavan, and Labor MP, Joel Fitzgibbon. And, well, I think we'll start with you, Joel Fitzgibbon, hopefully you can stay with me as long as we can. Are you happy with this three-month extension? Does it seem reasonable?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Yes, I am. I haven't studied it to be honest with you. I've been busy focused on other matters, but it seems reasonable to me and I think you'll get a bipartisan view about these things.
KARVELAS: While we wait for Matt Canavan, Joel Fitzgibbon, let's just talk about a couple of other things. You've formed a new Parliamentary Friends of Defence Honours and Citations with LNP MP, Phil Thompson. What's the point of this? Is this in the wake of that inquiry that's recently been published?
FITZGIBBON: Obviously prompted by the Brereton report, PK, and Brereton certainly has put a spotlight on the honours and awards system. And it struck me throughout this conversation that – and it's not a criticism of any of my colleagues, not all of them have been as deeply involved in defence as others, including me – but it struck me that very little really is known and understood about the honours and awards system. So, I thought it was a good opportunity to raise that awareness in the parliament. I think we can help people better understand the Brereton report, and what it means by for our international reputation and, of course, the reputation of our own soldiers. And a good opportunity, I think, it struck me also that while these people, you know, go to Government House to be awarded, and to, you know, receive praise from the GG and others, there's never really, that I'm aware of, being any parliamentary recognition, not formally anyway. So, I thought it would be a good opportunity to bring some, some veterans, even serving soldiers and members of the Defence Force, up to Parliament House, read their citations, better understand what they did to receive the award, and maybe allow them to share their experiences with MPs and Senators.
KARVELAS: What's your view more broadly on this, though? Do you think that the Brereton inquiry was too, too harsh or went too hard in recommending the group citation be removed?
FITZGIBBON: I'm very concerned with that recommendation. You know, if soldiers have been guilty of unlawful conduct, then they are obviously going to pay a heavy price. But the collective medals, and those award – those awarded to the unit, the unit citation – taking medals away from people who did no wrong, or even knew about any wrong, some of whom, of course, given their life for their country, that's pretty harsh, and I think we need to have a longer and deeper think about all that PK. And the question becomes, what is the rush?
KARVELAS: Alright. On China, they've suspended the importation of a sixth Australian beef supplier. Patrick Hutchinson, from the Australian Meat Industry Council, was on the show a little earlier, he's expressed frustration that often, you know, the answer is to diversify, but he says it's actually about value, and there is no better value than China. How do you think these issues should be handled? I mean, you know, obviously, Australia has a list of things its done that it really seemed to have annoyed China. How could this issue be handled differently to deal with all of these trade ramifications we're experiencing?
FITZGIBBON: I was fortunate to hear Patrick Hutchison, who I know well, and he's absolutely right. Two things to be said about diversification. One, as he pointed out, it's alright if it's about volume but not necessarily value, and value is where the action is for our beef producers in China. But also, diversification is the government's day job. They should be doing that, working towards that every day regardless of trade relations, or deteriorating trade relations with China. And so it's not the answer, the answer is fixing the relationship first. We would never have allowed this relationship to fall to such low levels. And now, the government has to use all the diplomacy and skill available to it to fix this relationship. But we have this situation still, PK, as Patrick Hutchison pointed out, where our ministers, indeed our Prime Minister, is unable to get their counterparts in Beijing to pick up the phone. This is unheard of, unprecedented, and it's now costing a lot of people their jobs, and a lot of companies their value.
KARVELAS: So, what would Labor do differently? What would you recommend Labor do differently?
FITZGIBBON: Well, you're asking me to recommend how we fix a problem of Scott Morrison's own making…
KARVELAS: Hang on a minute, I have to pick you up on that. Do you really blame Scott Morrison for this entire problem? Is that really proportionate or accurate?
FITZGIBBON: I think he shares the blame with Malcolm Turnbull, PK. Our relationship with China has been in freefall since around 2017 when the Foreign Affairs White Paper under Malcolm Turnbull shifted our posture towards China from one of deep engagement under the China Free Trade Agreement, begun by a Labor Government, completed by a Liberal National Government. But a position from deep engagement to one of collective containment and strategic competition. And the Chinese read these things, of course, PK. And then, of course, Malcolm Turnbull, followed by Scott Morrison back that up with some pretty gratuitous language towards China, and fiddling with, you know, thresholds for the Foreign Investment Review Board, discriminating against certain countries, including China. Now, we can do better than this, PK. Governments of all political persuasions for decades have dealt with the challenges of China, and there are many, without destroying our relationship, including our trading relationship. But this has not been the form of this government. And this government must now fix this problem.
KARVELAS: Ok. And you think that they can fix it without changing any of those long list of grievances that the Chinese Embassy have detailed?
FITZGIBBON: They must, you know, we can't ever...
KARVELAS: Ok, so they shouldn't – should they address that list?
FITZGIBBON: Forget about the list, PK. This is...
KARVELAS: Well list is the one that's been raised by the Chinese embassy. So how can they deal with it without addressing that?
FITZGIBBON: Well there was also a tweet, which Scott Morrison overreacted to. There he was – he was, he wasn't seen the day the Brereton report was handed down. But he was pretty quick to the cameras when the tweet that, when that offensive tweet came out. This is a Prime Minister who is driven by polling, PK, and this is what got us into trouble. This has been a dog whistle, harvesting domestic votes here at home at the expense of our trading relationship. That's the first step. Stop doing that, PK. Because it's now costing a lot of Australians jobs, not just meat producers, many others, including coal mines in my own electorate – the coal miners in my own electorate and those in the Illawarra.
KARVELAS: Ok, so you've just accused the Prime Minister of dog whistling. You're saying that he was he was motivated by domestic, political, nationalistic imperative in making that response to that tweet?
FITZGIBBON: This is poll driven, Scotty from marketing PK. Of course, he was. That has been very obvious to me and many others since he became Prime Minister. I mean, the stunt of going out ahead of the rest of the world and calling for an independent inquiry into COVID. An independent inquiry, which was always going to be held, was just that; an attempt to take that opportunity to have his political votes here at home at the expense of our most important trading relationship.
KARVELAS: Ok, so you say that it's based on really activating – for people who don't understand what dog whistling is – activating sort of a racist voting base? That's what you think he's trying to do?
FITZGIBBON: It's playing on increasingly – increasing concern in the Australian community about China's rise as a – as a global power. And he's tapped into that. Seriously PK, this bloke doesn't do anything without waiting for the polling first.
KARVELAS: Joel it was meant to be a panel, but as the wild week is happening, it ended up being a solo interview, which you've been very polite and allowed me to do. Thank you so much for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: I'm the reliable one, PK.
KARVELAS: You were today, that's for sure. We were hoping, of course, to bring in National Senator Matt Canavan. Thanks, Joel, for joining us – he's in the chamber.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure.