Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 16 September 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

15 September 2020

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: He joins us every Wednesday on the program. He is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources, Joel Fitzgibbon. Good morning Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Great to be with you, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: A couple of things – geez, lots to talk about this morning. Of course, your own electorate has come into focus with this announcement by the federal government, this gas-fired recovery as part of its JobMaker plan. The government is saying that they will come in if the industry doesn't, you reckon they should bite the bullet and do it without industry making a decision one way or the other?
FITZGIBBON: Of course they should. It's clear we will need more firming power. It's clear that gas will play a major role in delivering that power and it makes sense to retain the Hunter Valley as the powerhouse of New South Wales. I mean the transmission lines are there, the gas infrastructure is coming, the skilled workforce is available. Why not build gas-fired power stations in the Hunter Valley? The thing about the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday is that, as usual, it was full of lights and production, but not too much in terms of commitment. I mean, threatening the industry if it doesn't do something in seven months, he will. You know, if he knows what needs to be done off the advice of the experts. Why doesn't he just commit to doing it?
CENATIEMPO: But doesn't that fly in the face of Labor's policy that says, well, we won't build new coal-fired power stations because industry won't? Wasn't it the same argument?
FITZGIBBON: No, it doesn't for a couple of reasons. One, Snowy Hydro, which is the body which would build the power station, is a government enterprise, wholly-owned by the government. And they build this gas-fired power station, they will make money.
CENATIEMPO: Ok, but what I'm saying is if they had have said Snowy Hydro will build a coal-fired power station if industry doesn't, would you still support it?
FITZGIBBON: Well, what we've been talking about in the past is direct government subsidies for projects that aren't economically viable without the subsidy. This is a much different thing. The government business enterprise will invest its money in a profit making concern.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I don't necessarily disagree with that. I just I think there's some inconsistency on both sides. Now with this regardless
FITZGIBBON: You're just stirring me up.
CENATIEMPO: Well, I always stir you up. We do that every Wednesday.
FITZGIBBON: I wouldn't miss it for the world.
CENATIEMPO: Now John Barilaro, he remains the Leader of the New South Wales Nationals. You heard what I had to say about him. You're calling on him to release the Coalition Agreement between the Nationals and the Liberals; what difference is that going to make?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I think it will highlight to the broader electorate what goes on here, Stephen. This little arrangement the Nats and the Libs have. They go to each election saying different things, and yet when they get to Sydney or Canberra, or indeed Melbourne, or Brisbane, they all join together, use the numbers to take the big cars and the ministerial salaries and say the same thing. You know, I often refer to National Party members as lions in their electorate, but mice when they get to Canberra. In other words, they talk the big talk back home to win an election, but when they get to Canberra, they do exactly what the Liberal Party tells them. And all of this is contained within this secret Coalition Agreement. Now around the world, parties join together to muster the numbers they need to get the most seats in their House of Representatives, or its equivalent, to form a government but they make those Coalition Agreements public. The public are entitled to know what deals the National Party did, what arrangements they agreed to, to earn the right, or to grab the right, to be a member of the government. I think that's a pretty basic tenet of our democracy.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think the difference here is though, this is a permanent, more general arrangement rather than a policy issue-by-policy issue coalition. Which, you know, if you look at Italy, for instance, which always has a coalition government, where it'll be different parties each time, so obviously they have an agreement. But this is a more permanent situation.
FITZGIBBON: No it's not actually Stephen. It’s a Coalition Government agreement that's reviewed or renewed, revisited upon, every time there's an election. Now I remember, not the last election, the one before, the Nats were talking-up what they had secured, as part of the arrangement, part of the deal to be the government. Now, if they're committing to not doing certain things, or supporting certain things in the Parliament, I think that's something the community is entitled to know about.
CENATIEMPO: Fair enough. On this particular issue, do you think the Nationals have come down on the right side of it?
FITZGIBBON: look, I'm backing John Barilaro. He's been a lion both in his electorate, and in Sydney. He hasn't been a mouse in Sydney, he's talked the talk, and if the Nats did more – a bit more of that, more generally, then they might be more respected. Whether he's right or not on the SEPP? You know, it’s a draft SEPP – I’ve had a bit of a look at it. I'm sure it is flawed and needs fixing but that's not the primary issue we're talking about here. It's whether or not the Nats are really going to Sydney and Canberra, and standing up for the constituencies. As I said, John Barilaro is, and I say good on him, for the majority do not.
CENATIEMPO:  You know I think that's… There's something in that, I have to say. Now, something that you and I talked about over a number of years, a number of years on different radio programs, is how we encourage or fix that cultural problem we seem to have with Australians picking fruit. Now I heard another commentator say that it's only been in the last decade that this has been an issue. For me, there's been a lot longer than that. But there's been a number of ideas presented in the last couple of days. Some are suggesting discounts off HECS debts to get students to go and do it. Pauline Hanson is suggesting that pensioners should be able to calculate their additional income over an annual basis rather than a week to week basis, so that they're not being penalised if they wanted to – if say Grey Nomads wanted to pick fruit. Some are saying let unemployed people keep the JobSeeker payment as well as what that get paid to pick fruit. I say, let's increase the tax threshold for those who go out and do it. Any or all of those ideas?
FITZGIBBON: Just quickly on the Coalition agreement, Stephen. I tried to FOI twice the Coalition agreement in Canberra, and they dragged me through the courts. Wouldn't release it. So I'll ask your listeners to have a think about that, what is in this document? Yeah, but you're right. The parliamentary committee has done a good job identifying some ideas, because that's a good thing because the government hasn't provided any ideas whatsoever. We have a huge structural problem here. It's not just COVID-19. We've had a workforce shortage in agriculture, horticulture in particular, for many, many years. We rely on about 50,000 foreigners each year to get the job done. So there’s a structural issue there as well. So, ideas like the HECS thing? Well worth considering. But the Government really needs an overarching plan for the industry. It should be asking itself: what's wrong with an industry which is so dependent on foreign labour? And what's wrong with the society for can't generate the workforce it needs to fill those spots?
CENATIEMPO: It wasn't all that long ago when you were in government, Joel. Why didn't you ask the same questions then?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s interesting you ask that because we were doing some work in this area, and the National Food Plan, for example, identified the structural workforce shortages. Stephen, we need to think about, less about volume and more about value. Putting our capital, financial and natural resources into the products that produce higher returns. So, you know, you get a bigger profit for less volume. If there’s less volume you need less workers. But if you had a more highly-valued production process then you might have more interesting jobs and get more people involved, as well. So as a whole it's not just the immediate workforce - it's thinking about the structure of the industry, and how we can change that to make it more profitable, and to fill that workforce.
CENATIEMPO:  Joel, just got a quick question I want you to answer. Rod from Torrens says, did Labor release the details of its agreement with the Greens when they helped Julia Gillard form government?
FITZGIBBON: I think it did.
CENATIEMPO: Okay, because I know you were on the other side of that. It's good to talk to you. We'll catch up again next week.
FITZGIBBON: Get on you mate. Cheers.