Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 13 January 2021 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

13 January 2021

CENATIEMPO: Now, it's time to talk to an effective politician who has been really, really good, particularly in the last few weeks, the Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, good morning.




CENATIEMPO: You've come around on a couple of issues that I'll – which we'll talk about in a moment. But I want to discuss with you, because you and I've had some fairly, I won't say robust disagreements, but we haven't been on the same page with regards to foreign investment, and particularly our relationship with China. Now, you're suggesting that we need to have in camera parliamentary committees scrutinising decisions of the Foreign Investment Review Board and the Treasurer. I don't necessarily think that's a bad idea. But I think, given China's behavior of late, Josh Frydenberg's decision to knock back this $300 million takeover of the South African construction company is probably the right thing?


FITZGIBBON: Well, Stephen, I don't think you'll hear Josh Frydenberg argue that he knocked back that company because of China's recent behavior, he wouldn't be that foolish surely. We have a real problem here. The Foreign Investment Review Board is changing in nature. It was set up, I think, by Gough Whitlam to give public confidence that decisions about foreign investment were made, in part at least, or being guided, by an independent body. But it's more from this sort of economic clearing house to a national security clearing house and it's shrouded in secrecy. You know, we can't talk about the basis under which decisions are made because, you know, they go to national security and they are secret. But surely a parliamentary committee in camera behind closed doors under privilege could hear from the Foreign Investment Review Board and the Treasurer about, you know, the basis on which they are making these decisions. Because I fear that they are becoming political decisions, in other words, decisions made to harvest votes here in Australia. And if that continues, or that is happening, then that's going to cost us economically. It's going to cost us very, very badly.


CENATIEMPO: Yeah, and that's a fair call. I don't have a problem with a parliamentary committee scrutinising those decisions. I think that's a pretty good idea. Whether or not it'll happen? Well, I guess we'll wait and see. Now something that you and I have had many discussions on, and we have disagreed in the past, and that is the role of nuclear power. You've changed your tune in the last week or so?


FITZGIBBON: Well, it's true, Stephen, we've had a few minor dust ups. But I don't think we've ever argued about this, per se. I've never been opposed to nuclear generation, I just didn't want the debate being distracted by something that I didn't ever believe could happen, because it would never garner enough public support, and it could never compete here in Australia. But there's been a bit of a game changer in terms of innovation. Now, these small modular reactors, for example, haven't been commercialised yet. But if they, if they are commercialised, and I think that will be in the not too distant future, it really is a game changer. They're smaller, they are safer, they are cheaper, they can be built more quickly, and very importantly, they can be built in more remote locations. Traditionally, the old – the old generation of generators required a lot of water to cool them and they were – they had to be built on the coast. And, of course, we Australians live on the coast in the majority parts. So, there's an opportunity here to have them built remotely well away from populations and even buried under the ground. So, we should watch the technology and move with it. And I'm not – I'm not even arguing that we should have nuclear generation. I argue that it's ridiculous that we just have a total prohibition on one particular technology, when at some point in the future, and it would take a long time to develop this industry, it might be exactly what we need.


CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I agree, because I mean it is effectively emissions free. And as you say, they don't have to be water cooled anymore, they can be sand cooled and I think there's some other cooling methods...


FITZGIBBON: Gas cooled.


CENATIEMPO: ... they can use too and, yeah, they effectively put them into a container and ship them out and put them together. They're obviously low generation. So you'd need, I think, and don't quote me on the figures, but if you wanted to replace say, the Liddell Power Station in your electorate, it would take somewhere around 15 of these small reactors in series to make that work. But, you know, that's, that can actually happen to, as far as I understand the technology.


FITZGIBBON: Well, Liddell is about 2000 megawatt hours at full capacity, and it rarely operates at full capacity, in fact, hasn't for a long time. But these SMRS could be I think as big as four megawatt hours, so it's not that many, but small can be a good thing. I mean, you could, you could use it to feed into the grid from a remote location to both stabilise the grid and provide the energy we need. But it could be just plugged into an aluminium smelter, for example...




FITZGIBBON: ... entirely running that operation independently. So there are plenty of options. We shouldn't – just should not. I mean this prohibition was born out of political compromise of course. It was John Howard did a deal with the Democrats and the Greens in large part to get his GST through the Senate. I don't Howard thought there was too much of a problem with it at the time, because back then, we were highly unlikely to ever move down that path in any case. So, he did the deal, got his GST through – got a few other things through at the time as well. But now in the 21st century, it's looking a little bit different and we are silly to deny ourselves one option,


CENATIEMPO: No two ways about that. Now, as a former Defence Minister – because I've been critical of these submarines that the government is apparently going to buy and we may see, probably not in your or my lifetime. But I don't know that we need the submarines. Jim molan, who I obviously defer to on matters military says we do. As a former Defence Minister, how do you feel about nuclear powered submarines?


FITZGIBBON: Well, we certainly need submarines, Stephen, more important now than ever. You know, any conflict in the future will be most likely played out underwater and in space. But I – in fact, when I was Defence Minister back in, well it was about 2008, when the decision was made to do a new white paper, looking to rebuild and expand our submarine fleet, ruled out nuclear. Why did I do that? In part, because it was going to be very difficult to do because we don't have a nuclear civil industry here and the skills here in Australia. But here's a confession; it was also part in part our politics. The same mistake was made 22 years ago on the prohibition of nuclear power. We knew that it would be a very unpopular decision, and we ruled it out, and we should never have done so.


CENATIEMPO: Now, I want to talk to you about social media for a moment. Obviously, the talk about social media at the moment is the fact that Twitter and Facebook have banned Donald Trump, but you were the first person to come out and actually criticise a Tweet that the Labor Party put out, and that was suggesting that – it was almost a suggestion that Scott Morrison as Prime Minister should never have had anything to do with Donald Trump. Regardless what you think of Donald Trump, he was the president of the United States.


FITZGIBBON: Exactly, and as Australians we must continue to respect the Office of the President of the United States. I mean, this is our closest ally, partner and friend. And it is a ridiculous suggestion that any Australian Prime Minister at any point in the future or should have done so in the past, not have their photograph taken with the current US President. The real point I was making, what really offended me about that Tweet, was the way in which we were trying to conflate international relations with domestic politics. That's a breach of politics 101. It was silly and should never happen, and it was a mistake to perpetuate.


CENATIEMPO: Hear, hear. Always good to talk to you. We'll catch up again next week.


FITZGIBBON: A pleasure Stephen.