CANBERRA REPORT: Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon says Turnbull must start listening to the people

The events of the past week highlight again that whatever governments do, it must be both in the national interest and reflect the will of the people.

The real test for a politician pushing real and meaningful reform is to both persuade the electorate and take people with them. If they can’t do that then they either lack the necessary powers of persuasion or their case is too weak.

It is more than apparent to me that the Turnbull Government has made no ground in its attempts to persuade the electorate that an $80 billion tax cut for large corporations is the right priority for Australia at his point in time. Rather, people are looking for relief for the family budget pressures and a greater investment in health, education, training, aged care and child care.

Surely Malcolm Turnbull can only flog this dead horse for so long?  The time must surely come when he realises the electorate has spoken.


Assessing the will of the people is not always so easy.  Take two recent events.

Last week the media reported on the most recent survey of the contribution of coal mining to the Hunter’s economy.  At $4.5 billion and 11,000 direct jobs, it remains very substantial. Like me, I believe the majority of people in the region remain supportive of the sector. However, we know that to ensure sufficient support is maintained, the community must remain convinced safety and environmental outcomes are being properly managed. That takes constant work. 

Over many decades, a number of economic pursuits or methods have lost community support over time. It’s the natural order of things. That time has come for the live sheep trade, the other recent event. By majority, the community has decided the economic benefits of the live sheep trade are outweighed by the cost to animal welfare.

There is a lesson in this for all sectors in our economy.  Sometimes if a government is too supportive of a sector it does the sector more harm than good over time. Unconditional and unqualified support breeds a culture of complacency, risk and even greed. 

Now we need to phase out the live sheep industry in a way which has a net positive impact on our farmers, jobs and the economy. That means providing the government guidance required to secure more meat processing opportunities here in Australia.

Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal MP for Hunter