Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 14 October 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

14 October 2020

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Let's catch up with our regular political correspondent who joins us every Wednesday here on the program, the Shadow Agricultural Resources Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. Morning Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Stephen, great to be with you.
CENATIEMPO: You've written an opinion piece in the Newcastle Herald this morning titled: Every Job is a Victory in the Transition of Power. Tell us what you mean by that.
FITZGIBBON: Well, it was a response, Stephen, to an academic who had written in the paper – same paper – on Monday, accusing me of walking away from coal jobs, would you believe? This is a guy who has been criticising me for years for defending our coal mines and our coal miners. Now he says that by supporting gas, I'm walking away from coal mining and our coal mine workers. Now, nothing could be further from the truth; the fact is that our coal-fired generators are aging and as they age, they eventually come to the end of their economic and physical lives, and they are decommissioned and withdrawn from the system. Now because of the nature of the market, now investors are showing no interested in building new coal-fired generators, so we'll need new sources of firming power into the grid as renewables continue to grow. And I've been fighting to ensure that those new gas-fired generators are established in the Hunter so we can earn the rewards of the jobs they create in the Hunter. That's a pretty simple equation for me. It's always been about jobs, and to secure more jobs I will continue to fight for gas-fired generation in the Hunter Valley and for the retention of those coal-fired generators for as long as they can physically run.
CENATIEMPO: And I guess go one step further than that, the transmission infrastructure is in your electorate so it wouldn't matter what sort of generation we have, you'd want to keep it close by anyway.
FITZGIBBON: Exactly, because we have four very large coal-fired generators in the Hunter, all the transmission infrastructure is in place. We have the land; we have the workforce with the sort of skills required to take up those positions in gas-fired generators and, indeed, pumped hydro and battery storage. There's been an announcement, too, here in the Hunter that we're going to have established a big lithium battery factory in the area. So, I want us to be doing all these things, both on the renewables front, and on the traditional front, to create jobs in my region. I'll continue to fight for those.
CENATIEMPO: Speaking of walking away from coal, the Chinese Government has reportedly told some of its state-owned power plants and steel makers to stop importing Australian coal. Now you've in the past pointed the finger at Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison for the fracturing of a relationship with China. Now, regardless whether that's true or not, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. What do we do about this now?
FITZGIBBON: Well I think you can put the toothpaste back in the tube and, you know, China has, I think, extended a hand of conciliation on these issues. There's a very good article by Geoffrey Raby in the Australian Financial Review last week – he's our former Ambassador to Beijing – he made the point that the former China Ambassador here to Australia had extended that hand of friendship, but sadly Scott Morrison bizarrely rejected it. And we missed a big opportunity there. This is our major trading partner, and we've got $14 billion every year to be concerned about – that's the value our coal exports to China. And in my own region in the Hunter of course, you know, we put 150 million tons of coal out through the port each year. A large slice of that goes to China, both thermal coal – mainly thermal coal, but also metallurgical coal, and if China turns off the tap, then it's going to do us great economic damage in the Hunter region.
CENATIEMPO: Well I guess the only hope is that these Quadrilateral discussions between the US, Japan and India bear some fruit sooner rather than later, that will take up some of the slack. I want to talk to you – get your opinion on what happened at ICAC this week. Now, I mean the personal revelations about the Premier having a relationship with a former MP, I guess, neither here nor there. But, Anthony Albanese the Labor leader is called for a Federal Integrity Commission or, for lack of a better term, a Federal ICAC. I point to this week – I point to it as a failure of the ICAC system because they effectively become a Star Chamber that can ruin careers, without laying any charges against anybody.
FITZGIBBON: Well it is true that the ICAC in New South Wales doesn't follow any of the rules we've established over a long period of time in the court – there are no rules of evidence, for example, and ICAC doesn't charge anyone or find anyone innocent or guilty under the New South Wales law. It only makes recommendations to the next process under the DPP. So, it is a rather curious and strange process. Having said that, I'm sure most of Australians support the idea of having corruption commissions. I certainly don't have any fear of them. And I think if the people want something construct, they probably should have such a construct. But it is true that ICAC has damaged many people's lives, you know, unnecessarily and I think without justification. I mean the first victim of the New South Wales ICAC was Nick Greiner – the person who established the ICAC as New South Wales Premier – he became the first victim and of course, he was later cleared in the courts, and he's only one example of people who have had that experience. So, I think if we're going to design a federal-style commission, we need to be very careful to avoid the mistakes so obviously seen in New South Wales.
CENATIEMPO: I'm always reluctant to add a level of bureaucracy to anything. Why can't we let existing law enforcement agencies set up a task force that specifically looks at looks at corruption rather than have an additional body?
FITZGIBBON: Well that may be one of the options but I do think we need to respond to broad community concern that some additional layer of scrutiny is appropriate.
CENATIEMPO: I just... I don't know. I mean, you've been in the Federal Parliament a long time now. Do you really believe there's any evidence of wholesale corrupt activity going on at a federal level that we need to have a whole body looking at it?
FITZGIBBON: No, I've never seen any evidence of it, I can say that very, very honestly. But that doesn't mean that even within departments, there aren't some things going on. I mean, it's not just about politicians, of course, it's about bureaucrats as well. So, you know, the federal bureaucracy is a large organisation, the Federal Parliament is a large organisation, I can't possibly know all. But I repeat, I've never ever seen a hint, or suggestion of corruption within the Federal Parliament. Having said that, I should say you recall that there was a case where an MP was taking cash for visas or for work on immigration matters. So, reflecting now, it has happened. And if it's happen once, you know, it's very possible that's happened two or three additional times on matters that I'm not aware.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah. Anything's possible I guess, Joel. Always good to talk to you. We'll catch up again next week.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure Stephen, thank you.