Our Interview With The New PL Deputy Leader, Chris Fearne
Anything from the future of civil liberties to corruption
The Labour Party has elected a new deputy leader for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and it's Chris Fearne. Yesterday evening, Europe and Equality Minister Helena Dalli was eliminated when Friday's voting saw her obtain 199 votes, as opposed to Health Minister Chris Fearne's 296 and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna's 240 votes.
Earlier last week, Lovin Malta reached out to the three candidates to find out why they think they're the best for the job. This is how PL's new deputy leader had replied.
1. What was the government’s best achievement since 2013?
Maltese people have always been hardworking. However during the last years of the Gonzi administration a feeling of lethargy had gripped the country. In a short space of time we managed to change that. The feeling in Malta today is of a dynamic, on the move society. Problems which had been festering for years and were accepted as almost inevitable - eg the out-of-stock situation - we managed to address and solve. We opened up our society to new, inclusive ideas and brought a widespread feel-good feeling to the country. What is more, today most of us feel that even better times are in store for ourselves and for our children.
2. What do you think was the government's biggest mistake since 2013 and why?
As the first Labour Government in almost a generation I believe that whilst we were focused on building the right conditions for creating wealth in our country - which we did very successfully - we lagged behind in distributing it widely enough. Whilst we introduced new social measures such as free childcare, student stipends for repeaters and increased pensions for the first time this century, as well as reducing people in poverty by half, we need to do more in eliminating precarious work conditions, proving social housing and providing decent living wages for all. I am confident that we can and will tackle these issues in this legislature.
3. What does the role of deputy leadership mean to you and why are you an ideal candidate?
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is an inspiration to all of us. It is an honour for me to be in his cabinet of ministers. It will be a greater honour if I could work side by side with him as his deputy. Besides being a protagonist in the running of the country as DPM, the deputy leader will also have political responsibility for seeing that the electoral manifesto pledges are being implemented on track and in time. Also as Leader of the House the new deputy Leader will need to look at a possible revision of Parliament's standing orders to give new life to our parliament. I have been involved in the Labour Party since I was 16 years old when I joined the youth section and was International secretary. I served in the Għaxaq sectional committee and on the party's executive committee. So I know the party structures inside out. I am results driven and I have shown this in both my professional and in my political carriers. Finally I am full of energy and drive and can offer continuity since I am willing to give my full commitment to this role for at least the next 10 years.
4. What will your priorities be as deputy leader parliamentary affairs?
We are just out of a divisive election campaign. I believe the party leadership - under Joseph Muscat's lead - has an important role in creating a national sense of unity. Both in and out of parliament. There is also a need to keep our feet firmly on the ground. I hate arrogance and will ensure that we remain open and transparent as well as accessible and accountable. As a party and as a government we will benefit from improved customer care structures. The party grass roots , sectional committees and delegates have an important role to play in this context.
5. Are you also interested in the top position of Labour leader once Joseph Muscat decides to vacate?
In 2008 Joseph Muscat asked me to endorse him in his campaign for party leader. I did and am proud of it. Joseph changed the Labour Party from a serial loser into a serial winner. I want to be part of Joseph Muscat's team. I believe the Labour Party can continue to win. I will do my almost to persuade Joseph to remain at the helm of the party for many more years.
6. What do you think were the PN's biggest mistakes in this election campaign?
No doubt the PN will commission another Rapport tat-Telfa. They can save the effort. Unless the Nationalist party realises that society has changed, that people want politicians from whatever side of the political divide to contribute to the country's well being, that negativity and name calling is a thing of the past, the PN will continue to lose.
7. Who do you think should be the next leader of the Nationalist Party in the interests of having a strong Opposition?
Żaren tal-Ajkla. No, joking apart, whoever steps up to the task has his work cut out for him. With the experience gained in the first 4 years, the Labour government will continue to go from strength to strength. Whoever it is, I wish him luck.
8. After marriage equality, what do you think is the next big priority in terms of civil liberties? And where do you draw the line, if at all?
Last week in Parliament I explained how the current law on Assisted Reproduction - passed through parliament in 2012 under the Gonzi administration - is discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. I intend to present amendments to parliament to correct this. During this administration we will also be addressing issues of gender equality, domestic violence and sex workers. We will start a discussion on the introduction of cremation. We will look at lowering the age for voting in General Elections to 16 years.
9. Given that all pre-election surveys showed corruption was a main concern for voters, do you think the government still needs to challenge the perception of corruption? And if so, how?
The last Labour administration was actually the most proactive ever in introducing good governance, anti-corruption legislation. Despite this, you are right in saying that the perception of corruption was a main concern for voters. We will address this vigorously. Amongst other initiatives we will ensure that the appointment of chairpersons of regulatory authorities are subjected to parliamentary scrutiny.
10. By what sort of majority do you think Labour can win the upcoming MEP election with you as deputy leader?
MEP and General Elections are different a kettle of fish. Much depends on who the actual candidates are and the state that the PN will be in in 20 months time. I predicted as long as 6 months ago that the PL would win the General Elections by a margin of 40,000 votes. I was right. I will go on record to say that we will win the coming MEP elections, but I will not put a figure on it just yet.
11. If you could be given another portfolio apart from the one you have been given in this Cabinet, what would it be?
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for reconfirming me as Health Minister. I believe that, working with a very competent team of healthcare professionals, we have managed to make a success of a sector which until a few short years ago was floundering. Of course whether the PM will continue to keep me in this role or not is entirely his prerogative.
12. How would you describe the relationship between the Labour Party and the Maltese press? And how will you seek to improve this relationship if at all?
The Labour Party under Joseph Muscat is very media conscious. Relations with the Press in general I believe are good. This of course is in everyone's interest. Transparency and accountability reinforce the fact that not only are we governing correctly but also are seen to be doing it. Conversely a strong and independent press can serve to keep politicians on their toes and is a given in any strong democracy. On the other hand excessive scrutiny and encroachment on the private lives of albeit public figures can have a detrimental effect. I believe that the less interference from political parties into how journalists and how the press works, the better. That said, self-regulated ethical parameters on how the press operates are beneficial to all.