Canberra Report - It's All About People - Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Canberra Report - It's All About People - Wednesday, 18 November 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

18 November 2020

Saving and creating local jobs. Making sure every child has access to a good education and a shot at their dream job. Ensuring our workplaces are safe and people are properly remunerated. Delivering good and affordable health and aged care. Identifying our infrastructure priorities and arguing for the funding we need. Fighting for tax and welfare systems that incentivise work and retirement savings. Keeping the community safe.

These are the issues that called me to public office, and they remain my top priorities as a local member. They always will be.

During my period as a local member climate change has emerged as both a very real issue and one we must address. But the topic is sucking so much oxygen out of the political discourse that there is barely any room for the other things which matter in people’s lives. “Renewable Energy Superpower” is a slogan, not a policy or a plan. Net zero emissions is an ambition I support, but it’s not a strategy.

Everyone keeps telling me our region is in economic transition. I agree – it always has been. That’s why I’ve spent my political career energetically encouraging greater local economic diversity. But why cost local jobs by accelerating this transition through government policy? The market is already doing it.

I’ve been accused of not having a “transition plan”. But I’ve been working on transition for 25 years. I haven’t been waiting for more wind turbines to be built or for Japan to stop buying our coal. The Hunter Expressway and other road upgrades, enhancing our schools and TAFEs, tourism grants, renewable energy grants, new hospitality schools and support for our manufacturers. I’ve been a part of all these things for our communities in the quest for greater economic diversity. I’ve often been accused of being too “pro-development” – one such example is Weston’s “dross plant”, still employing 80 people and yet to do any harm. For me it’s all about people.

The day will come when other countries stop buying our thermal and steel-making coal. But it’s a long way off yet, decades in fact.

Meanwhile we are attracting renewable energy and gas generation projects to our region. When last in Government, Labor brought the CSIRO Energy Centre to the Hunter to help us leverage the opportunities. It’s happening. Hopefully one day the Hunter Gas Pipeline will be transporting green hydrogen manufactured in our own backyard, and our region will be home to lithium battery manufacturing.

Since AGL announced the closure of Liddell Power Station, I’ve been working with the company on projects to replace it with gas, pumped hydro and battery storage. And of course, the upgrade of Bayswater Power Station.

The transition is on, but we need to be inclusive, not exclusive in our policymaking. We need to take care of one another, to have one another’s back. That’s always been our way, here in the Hunter.