STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Joining us for the last time this year is the Labor Member for Hunter, former Defence Minister, former Agriculture Minister, and all-round good bloke, Joel Fitzgibbon. G'day, Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: G'day, Stephen. Merry Christmas to you and your listeners.
CENATIEMPO: Thank you very much. What have you got planned for Australia Day? Are you thinking that far ahead yet?
FITZGIBBON: Actually, I'm not. I'm a semi-retired gentlemen you'll recall, Stephen. I'll still be rolling up to Australia Day events in my official capacity, as always, and in particular, acknowledging all those great Australians who have done good things throughout the year.
CENATIEMPO: One of the things that I'm sure as a former Agriculture Minister, you're acutely aware of this, this shortage of this AdBlue diesel additive. Now, I know that it's an important issue, but are we overplaying this a little bit? I spoke to Angus Taylor yesterday, who tells me that we've got about a seven-week supply of it and we can actually produce it in Australia. But I'm also of the understanding that you can actually change the vehicle so that they can run without the stuff.
FITZGIBBON: We may be over playing the AdBlue issue, but it reminds us of a range of other challenges we face, Stephen. In timber supplies, and at the moment there's a big issue of pallets and our capacity to deliver our favourite biscuits and beer to our bottle shops and supermarkets. In Defence, we have a fuel security problem, we're buying all sorts of military kit, but we should be asking ourselves whether we're going to have safe supplies of fuel to operate them. We have, of course, a huge dependence now on China for the key active ingredient which goes into the manufacture of our crop sprays, which grows our food. And this is not COVID, Stephen. These are underlying issues that have been with us for a long time, and they go direct to a failure in government policy. Take timber, for example, we can't get pallets to supermarkets. We are now 20 and growing to 25 per cent dependent on imports for the timber we require to build our homes. Now, Australia has a rich heritage in forestry and timber mills, timber manufacturing, we have an abundance of land. But we don't have government policy settings which allow us to get decent supplies, we have governments locking up native forests which are sustainable, certified by international bodies which say, you know, we're putting trees in the ground as quickly as we're taking them out, maintaining those native forests. And we don't have policy settings which allow sufficient investment to come forward in the plantation estate, pine estates, for example. We're pretty good at assisting other industries in a whole range of areas, including on the climate change front. We're not doing it for forestry and yet, forests are our biggest carbon sinks, if you're serious about doing something about climate change, get more trees in the ground.
CENATIEMPO: And this is, I think we've got to be fair here and say that this is a disease affecting both sides of politics that we've become so, I guess, hamstrung by these woke ideas that I mean, this has been going on for years, and particularly the fuel security thing. I mean, I remember as a kid, we used to refine fuel in Australia, we've now got our capacity down, I think, correct me if I'm wrong, there's only two refineries left in the entire country. Where did we go wrong here and when did we decide that we didn't need this sovereign capability?
FITZGIBBON: Well, we became part of a global economy by necessity, that wasn't the wrong move. And in doing so, we came to learn that we don't really have economies of scale and the low-cost infrastructure to compete with the big players in Asia, particularly in fuel refinery. But you know, Stephen, there are just some things that are essential to our economy and our national security which will require or should require government subsidies to keep them alive and well. I mean, if we have our sea lanes of communication, as the policy wonks say, cut off because of military build-up, military strategic issues, then we would run out of fuel for our military, you know, in a matter of weeks - well, let's give them the benefit of the doubt, you know, a month or more. What do we do then, Stephen? I mean, thank goodness we're buying nuclear submarines, because we'd be out of diesel pretty bloody quickly.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah. And the problem with all of these problems, I mean, I guess the forestry problem could be addressed, you know, within a decade, but none of these problems are easy fixes or quick fixes.
FITZGIBBON: And no one's pretending they are, but you know, we pay a premium for military capability, so that we can build and maintain and repair, for example, naval capability here in Australia. Why do we do that? Because it creates jobs and in a wartime situation, we're independent in our ability to maintain and repair our key military kit. But we won't, for some reason, think about paying a premium for other essential things. I mean, being 100 per cent dependent on China for our crop sprays, Stephen. I mean, that is crazy. And in the forestry sector, it's pretty easy. You just need to allow the carbon market to extend completely to the plantation estate. And investors will come, they'll plant more trees, and we'll have less import dependency on timber in this country, and we'll be delivering all of our goodies to the supermarkets this Christmas
CENATIEMPO: And you imagine a better-quality product too.
FITZGIBBON: Of course, always better to be Australian made. And we've got magnificent hardwoods out of the native timber industry, we've got lots of experience over many decades in the plantation estate sector, we're ready and raring to go as a country on that front, but governments just lack the will. You know one of the problems Stephen? One of the problems is that trees drink water. And the National Party in particular are against planting trees, because guess what, they drink water, and that's less water into the catchment for some of their crops. That is a false argument in the first instance. But in the second instance, the market should dictate where the water goes, it should go to where it creates the greatest return for the country. I mean, we grow three times as much food as we need here in Australia to export it. Surely, we can allocate some water to grow some trees to absorb some more carbon, and of course, to create jobs here in Australia, and to reduce that import dependency.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I can't argue with any of that, Joel. I think you make a lot of sense there, mate. What have you got planned for Christmas?
FITZGIBBON: Well, all of our kids are grown up, Stephen. So, we stay home and wait for the kids to come home. Always very nice.
CENATIEMPO: And hopefully you get some nice weather in the Hunter Valley.
FITZGIBBON: That makes me sound very old, doesn't it?
CENATIEMPO: You're only as old as you feel, Joel. Anyway, thanks for your contributions throughout the course of the year, we'll talk next year. See you, mate.
FITZGIBBON: Merry Christmas. Cheers, bye.
CENATIEMPO: Joel Fitzgibbon, the Member for Hunter, or soon to be retired Member for Hunter, but he will still be with us in the early parts of the new year until the federal election.