STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Joining us as he does on a Wednesday, the maverick Labor MP for Hunter, former Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. G'day, Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: G'day Stephen, good to be with you.
CENATIEMPO: Net zero emissions is something that we seem to be talking about ad nauseum. It's now basically going to happen, everybody seems to agree that we've got to sign up to this net zero emissions concept. Now I'm not in favour of it because you and I have both discussed that these figures, these plans that we pull out of our backside, you know, this rate by that year, and that rate by this year, really mean nothing, but we're kind of at the mercy of the international community.
FITZGIBBON: Well, of course we are, Stephen, and this was inevitable. I mean, 2050 is 30 years away. And if you don't have an ambition – that is something to guide you and to impose some form of discipline, then you won't achieve. I've been happy to support net zero emissions by 2050. I think it's a sound proposition. So too does it seem every government around the world. You were talking about Federation, every state and territory leader in the country supports the commitment to zero net emissions by 2050. All we need to do now after finding it so difficult just to agree on a target is to establish a roadmap to that goal. And given the rate at which technology is progressing and changing, I frankly, don't think it will be all that difficult.
CENATIEMPO: I tend to agree with you to a certain extent, but it's easy for politicians to say yeah, yeah, we all agree we should have net zero emissions by 2050. Because none of us are going to be around then. And none of us will have to take any flack for not achieving it if we don't. But the concern here, and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has been very vocal on this – there's got to be a better deal for regional Australia when we're approaching those targets. And you've been quite clear in saying that it shouldn't have an impact on coal mining, for instance, but it is going to have a real impact on livestock farming.
FITZGIBBON: Well, the only way the impacts on the coal mining industry, really, is if our overseas customers stop buying our coal. And I don't believe that will happen for many decades to come. I mean, Japan has committed net zero emissions by 2050, but it's still building coal-fired generators as we speak. And it's one of the more modern economies in Asia. So that for me is not an issue. Now, I'm very pleased that no one ever talks about carbon taxes anymore. I've often said they were a 20th century solution to what is now a 21st century challenge. When Labor introduced, first introduced one form of carbon constraint, but has promised many others, agriculture was always exempt. Agriculture doesn't have to be within the framework. But agriculture can be addressed through technology as well. And organisations like meat and livestock Australia are well down the path of research and development on how we reduce the emissions, methane emissions from cattle and sheep. So, it doesn't have to be a penalty in some form. And the regions can do well out of this process. There's no doubt in my mind about that.
CENATIEMPO: One of the things that you and I both agree on is that we need to have a serious discussion about nuclear energy. And I spoke to Anthony Albanese yesterday, who basically ruled it out, out of hand. Which means it's not going to happen anytime soon, because the government has refused to take leadership on this and has left it in the Labor Party's hands, saying until we get bipartisan support, it's not going to happen. Albo says well, nowhere else in the world is increasing their nuclear output. The UK are in discussions to build six new power plants and we're ignoring the obvious benefits that we have here in Australia.
FITZGIBBON: Well, the government recently put a proposition to have eight nuclear reactors in Australia - on our submarines, sitting in our ports, navigating up and down our coasts. And that barely caused any protests amongst the broader community or indeed, from politicians. There was a bipartisan approach to that submarine acquisition. So, I'm not too sure what the difference is. But we are just silly as a society to just rule out nuclear when so many people around, so many countries around the world are so reliant on nuclear. About 34 countries, including our major allies, the UK, the United States, and of course, France and Germany, plenty of countries in Asia, including China. They're safe, Stephen. The only question for me is whether they can compete and that's a matter for investors and the market. The problem in Australia is that this silly prohibition on nuclear denies any investor coming forward with a proposition and testing it with government, testing it with the community.
CENATIEMPO: And that's the point, because the opponents of nuclear say: well, industry is not coming forward with any plans to build them. Well, of course they're not because it's illegal, why would they bother?
FITZGIBBON: Exactly. And you cannot test a proposition while ever there's a legislative barrier, like that. It should be removed, and investors and the market should be allowed to determine that. Nuclear is baseload, it is reliable, it is safe, and of course, it's emissions-free. And we continue to export our uranium to other countries so that they can build nuclear generators. There's some sort of quirky, ironic immorality in the idea that we can't build them here because we claim they're not safe, yet we're happy to send our uranium to other countries so they can build them.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, the ocean cleanses everything, doesn't it? As it would appear, as the uranium boats float across it. The AWU has been pretty vocal in their support of nuclear power. Is that likely to have any influence on Federal Labor policy?
FITZGIBBON: Well, the AWU is one of the most powerful unions within the Labor Party, it's one of the most powerful unions in the country. It's got an eye to its workforce, rightly so, but it's also got an eye to electricity affordability and reliability. And it can obviously see that you can fix all these issues, all of these issues, remembering our coal-fired generators, Stephen, are going to run out of puff. You know, sooner or later. The youngest is in Queensland, it might run to 2050 if government policy doesn't do it in earlier. So, what's going to replace all this generation? We can't just rely on renewable because it's variable power. So nuclear is an obvious answer and the AWU is talking a lot of common sense.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I agree with you there. It's certainly a discussion that we need to have, and we need to put it on the agenda. And I guess, you know, people like you and me talking about it might lead to that. Anthony Albanese has been very vocal again, in his calls for a federal anti-corruption commission. I'm dead against this because of the absolute farcical nature of the state-based operations. I've always said that if you want to be fair dinkum about this, set up a federal police task force to investigate corruption. But I'll tell you what, they used to poke fun at the New South Wales division of the Labor Party for corruption back in the day, but doesn't even hold a candle to what's going on in Victoria.
FITZGIBBON: No, what's happening in Victoria is shocking and very disappointing. And of course, in New South Wales, the same thing is happening on the Liberal side of politics. In New South Wales, we've lost three Premiers to ICAC, and all of them have been Liberal Premiers. So, this is on all of our houses – two points here: we should have no tolerance for any form of corruption or wrongdoing within our political parties. I have no problem with a federal corruption watchdog of some sort. I think we should have one, every state has one. But we need to be careful it doesn't become the sort of body we have in New South Wales where people are hauled through public hearings, on a referral from someone on something, and more often than not, never found to have done anything illegal, yet, careers and livelihoods are destroyed by that process.
CENATIEMPO: So, having said that, though, why do we need an added level of bureaucracy in a corruption commission like an IBAC or an ICAC federally, when we have professional investigative bodies that we would – I reckon if we use the current formulas, whether it be Senate Committees or the police, or the National Crime Commission, or something like that, they already exist, surely it'd be cheaper to have them investigate corruption.
FITZGIBBON: Well, Senate Committees, Estimates Hearings, etcetera, can be very effective and powerful, but they are easy to run interference on because of the parliamentary rules. I think the principle here is that corruption in public office, including amongst politicians, is such a serious thing and a serious threat to the country, you need a body that has sort of Royal Commission, standing Royal Commission powers so that it's not restricted in its capacity to investigate people. My complaint, or my concern is the way they hold public hearings in a way which destroys lives, regardless of the outcome at the other end. I think that's the key point to be made here.
CENATIEMPO: But having said that, though, I mean, the definition of corruption seems to be different for everybody. It's almost like well, if I didn't vote for them, everything they do is corrupt, which is ridiculous. But what's going on in Victoria at the moment with regards to branch stalking, I mean, ultimately, is that something that has an impact on the greater Australian population or is it only a problem internally for the Labor Party?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I suppose it depends on the outcome. I mean, if you're getting parliamentary representatives of a standard not matching, not designed to match their ability and interest in their community, but because they're from a particular ethnic community, then that sounds problematic to me. And an interesting question about corruption I mean, let's use pork-barrelling, for example. Pork-barrelling is a shocking thing. Shouldn't happen, but it's not corrupt conduct, the idea that you're going to favour the seats you hold in the parliament, that's hardly corrupt. It's shocking, but it's not corrupt. Branch stacking obviously is not corrupt, not in the eyes of the law, people garnering support within their electorate by putting their mates into the branch is hardly a corrupt process, but it's not an acceptable one. So, yeah, people have various views about what is corrupt conduct. For me, what is corrupt conduct is that which is contrary to the law. And too many people have fallen victim to these integrity commissions, corruption commissions, who have had their careers destroyed, yet never found to be guilty of anything under the law.
CENATIEMPO: Absolutely. Joel, good to talk to you, mate. We'll catch up again next week.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor Member for Hunter.