STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Time to catch up with our regular Wednesday contributor, he is the Labor member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. G'day Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good morning, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Now you're Hunter Valley based. Newcastle lost the State of Origin based on the paranoia around this. I... look, I understand that we need to get on top of this thing, but we're just taking it that step too far every time.
FITZGIBBON: I thought so, Stephen. We were very excited about securing the State of Origin, it would have been an amazing thing for the region, an area full of football tragics, as you know. But it was an interesting exercise because the community backlash was quite substantial and surprised me. And I suppose it was the ultimate opinion poll, in many senses. Although, no doubt, potentially a vocal minority, but still a very loud one. And I was a bit taken back by it. And it just goes to show how fearful people in our region are of COVID-19 and the possibility of it creeping into our boundaries. So an interesting outcome I thought.
CENATIEMPO: And it's going to keep costing us money on top of money, the federal government has now announced a new support package for those in Sydney. So far – well, until Friday, there'd be no cases outside of Greater Sydney, we now have one case from Goulburn on a construction site there. The point I made before I came to you that Brad Hazzard is refusing to put a definition on what an essential worker is. They're also reluctant to give us true facts on, you know, how many people are actually getting sick from this, the people that are in hospital, do they have co-morbidities? It's almost like there's a deliberate attempt, and this is why all governments of all flavours right across the country, to restrict the amount of information we have to try and keep us in fear.
FITZGIBBON: Yes, New South Wales was hailed as the golden state there for a while, your listeners will remember, mainly I suspect because we had the best tracers in the country in Sydney. But the wheels have well and truly fallen off and confusion reigns supreme. I think the biggest problem in Sydney is that it's half pregnant. Gladys Berejiklian doesn't really want to say or impose a total lockdown because she wants to hang on to that popularity she built not locking Sydney down. But I think most Sydneysiders would now say: gee, please give us a short real lockdown so we can get through this thing rather than this drawn-out-half-lockdown, which is not really working and doing just as much economic harm. And, of course, when you have half a lockdown, you do start getting questions about, or have to face definitional issues, and no one really knows what they're doing, quite frankly. And of course, as you know, the cabinet itself is divided over the extent of a lockdown, how long it should run, etcetera. So, they are all over the place.
CENATIEMPO: I'm going to say, I don't know that it is that divided. I just think some of them are speaking up and the others are seething quietly. My information is that most of them are fed up now. You know...
FITZGIBBON: ... My information is none of them are happy about the way things have proceeded.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, absolutely. Now your mate Albo – well, we know that he's listed his investment property for $2.1 million. So good luck to him there. But apparently, he's gone to a mine site, but doesn't want anyone to know about it.
FITZGIBBON: Well, I'm very pleased he went to a mine site. If we're going to win back our blue-collar base, we've got to be constantly out there amongst them. And look, no one should be surprised to read that a Labor leader has visited a coal mine. I mean, it's in our DNA, Stephen. It's part of the reason we were born as a political party. So, I welcome his visit, I suspect there'll be more coal mine visits by Anthony Albanese between now and the next election. Of course, he's always welcome in the Hunter region. He's always warmly received here.
CENATIEMPO: Now, you've hit the nail on the head there. Nobody should be surprised, but a lot of people are.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, and that's disappointing. And it goes right back – doesn't it – to the 2019 election campaign and the equivocation by Labor over the Adani coal mine in that state. It killed us at the electorate. It didn't just hurt us in Queensland, the infection ran right throughout the country, including in the Hunter Valley. And for that reason, we need to try particularly hard to demonstrate that we do support the coal mining industry, one of our biggest export income earners, and Albo will have to go to a few more coal mines between now and the election to demonstrate our support.
CENATIEMPO: Indeed, now, whereas you know, I'm not overly enamoured with Anthony Albanese tenure as Opposition Leader, but Scomo seems to be making his job a lot easier for him. Gas prices going through the roof now. This gas fired recovery seems to have fallen off the rails before it began.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, this is a really serious issue. Scott Morrison said we're going to have a gas-led recovery and all those committees in place. He talked the talk, but he hasn't walked the walk. So, when you reflect back on the things he was going to do, Stephen, and he's done very little. And now we have gas prices going through the roof. It's hurting our manufacturing sector very, very badly. It's not yet hitting household consumers because most of the retailers – well, all of the retailers are on long term contracts, so they've got great prices locked in. But they also rely on the spot market, including manufacturers hurting and they're hurting badly. And Scott Morrison hasn't got a clue, he hasn't got a plan to address this. And ultimately, the solution is more gas out of the ground, which Scott Morrison said that he would do, and more pipeline capacity. You might have heard people talking about stopping LNG exports, so redirecting the gas back into the domestic market. But guess what, Stephen, the pipeline was full, there was no physical potential to redirect exports back into the domestic market. So we not only need to get more gas out of the ground, we need to build more pipeline capacity.
CENATIEMPO: You know, the interesting thing about this conversation, Joel, is that I've been – whilst on no defender of Scott Morrison by any stretch of the imagination, most of the criticism that has directed at him recently is unfounded and it's based on the Coronavirus response, when the reality is there's plenty of other things that we need to be focusing on. And the Prime Minister's got more than two jobs and he's not getting most of them right.
FITZGIBBON: No, the Teflon has definitely peeled off Scott Morrison. He's made a few missteps and he's made most of those missteps on the biggest issue facing the country. There are other issues but nothing as big as the COVID-19 pandemic and it's going to take pretty a pretty deft touch for him to climb back from here. I think his image has been, has been badly damaged and it's going to be a long way back for him.
CENATIEMPO: Certainly going to be an interesting election campaign. Joel, good to talk to you. We'll catch up again next week.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you, Stephen.