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‘I am in it to win it’

Paediatric surgeon Chris Fearne endorsed Joseph Muscat to become Labour leader. He tells Christian Peregin the time of arrogant politicians is over.

Profile

Age: 49
Profession: Paediatric surgeon
Residence: Tarxien
Districts: 3 and 4
Status: Married with three children

Why did you chose to stand for election?

I think one of the biggest mistakes was not immediately accepting the result of the EU membership referendum

I am unhappy with the way things are going. People are not better off than they were five years ago. I’m also unhappy with the fact that in many cases it is not a question of what you know, but who you know.

If a Labour government is preferential towards its own, rather than making open calls, would you put your foot down?

Absolutely. But another reason for entering politics is that Labour has changed. It has become more inclusive and has a clearer vision of where it wants to take Malta.

Meritocracy is one aspect. We cannot exclude people just because they’re red or blue. We need everybody’s contribution.

What can you contribute?

The time of arrogant politicians is over. Banging on tables and calling people names is no longer valid.

We need technical people, who know what they are talking about and can contribute sensibly. This is the style of politics I can offer.

What are the biggest concerns for the Maltese people?

Politics for most people is personal: what affects them and their family. At the moment, the standard of living is going down.

But there have been some great leaps forward since Malta joined the EU. How do you justify this claim that people are worse off?

The statistics show that Malta is officially in a recession. A recession means the economy is going backwards and people have less money to spend.

This is within a difficult international context though...

So we need even stronger leadership. You cannot blame the PN’s problems on Lehman Brothers. If you cannot trust the PN leader to lead his own party, how can you trust him to lead the country? We need strong leadership and a strong vision...

But Labour has a history of internal conflict as well.

Twenty-five years in opposition has helped the Labour Party to realise that unless it is a united front, it can never go anywhere. I don’t remember the Labour Party being as united as it is today.

What is the best thing about your party?

Dr Muscat has managed to get a team of successful people together with some valid others already in the Labour Party. Together they have a vision for the future. It is not just about winning the election but running the country at a difficult time.

And what do you think is the worst thing about your party?

I think the party, like the PN, has had dark episodes in its past. Labour has recognised this and decided to move on.

Which were the darkest episodes?

I think one of the biggest mistakes was not immediately accepting the result of the EU membership referendum.

Not the policy of being against EU membership, but the response to the referendum?

Once the referendum showed the majority of the Maltese people wanted EU membership, the party should have accepted it straight away rather than accept it after losing the election.

What about EU membership itself? Did you support it?

The question of the way one votes is always something personal. But in my family there were people who voted for membership and others who voted against.

Do you think Labour made a mistake?

Let me just finish my point... what the present Prime Minister has done regarding referendum results is even worse – he voted against divorce in Parliament contrary to the referendum result.

Do you think that was worse than Labour not accepting the result of the EU referendum?

Yes, I think voting against a referendum that the Prime Minister himself called is worse than not recognising the result from somewhere else. There were mistakes from both sides and it is time to move forward.

Doctors are traditionally a bit absent from Parliament. Do you have time for politics?

Politics, like medicine, can definitely be a full-time career, so it is a question of time management and making time for your family as well.

But I would never leave a patient in an emergency case because of political activities.

Will you end up having to justify any absence from Parliament like Labour MP Adrian Vassallo and PN MP Stephen Spiteri did?

Well, with the new Parliament we won’t have any steps to climb. That was Stephen Spiteri’s excuse.

Will you crave a ministerial position or will you be satisfied just being an MP?

I am a team player so I will go with whatever the leader says.

Do you fear you are just being used to catch needed votes for your party rather than to contribute fully?

I volunteered myself. I wasn’t pushed by the party. So I’m in it to win it, rather than just to be there.

This last legislature has seen many social issues being discussed: divorce, cohabitation, IVF, gay rights. How would you have contributed to these discussions?

I’m quite a liberal person. I think you need a framework but the government should not intrude too much in people’s lives. I campaigned in favour of divorce at a local level.

During house visits?

Yes, house visits and talking to people because that is what the situation at the time demanded. And I’m quite happy with the way the divorce campaign turned out.

What about issues like gay rights?

Yes, absolutely.

Are you in favour of gay marriage?

Well, the Labour Party is in favour of civil unions for gay people.

And you agree with that?

Yes, for sure.

What about the IVF Bill being proposed? Does it go far enough?

It is a step in the right direction. We needed IVF regulation.

As a doctor I tend to see IVF from the humane aspect rather than just legalistically. For the past 20 years we’ve had hundreds of children born through IVF in Malta.

The Bill as it stands now will preclude some of these children having been born. I think it is a very sensitive issue.

Would you go up to a mother cuddling up to a three-month-old baby and say this Bill is going to make it illegal for you to have a child like this again?

Is it because embryo freezing will be banned?

No, embryo freezing does not occur in Malta at the moment, even though the equipment was already bought for Mater Dei. The law only allows embryo freezing in certain circumstances and there are gaps.

For instance, it allows freezing if a woman dies, but it does not allow adoption. So will the embryo be frozen forever?

But what would cause some children not to be born? Is it because they’re going for more experimental treatment?

Yes, it is more restrictive. I think IVF legislation should be a guide for parents and professionals with children’s interests in mind. It shouldn’t be a straitjacket.

But should we go for embryo freezing rather than egg freezing?

I think oocyte vitrification is a very interesting new development, but I’m a paediatric surgeon, not a gynaecologist.

We need to listen to the experts and they are saying it is still in its early days. I don’t think a law that restricts other possible modes of IVF should be dogmatic.

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