STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Now, as we do on a Wednesday, it's time to catch up with the Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good to be with you, Stephen,
CENATIEMPO: Gee, you've caused some trouble, haven’t you?
FITZGIBBON: We had this conversation last week.
CENATIEMPO: But it seems to keep going, and I want to particularly talk about the YouGov survey that has yourself and the Nationals locked at 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis in the seat of Hunter. Now, I know this far out from an election, it really doesn't matter, but what does that say? Have the constituents not responded well to what you've said?
FITZGIBBON: I don't believe that, Stephen. It just reflects an ongoing view, in a very large part of my electorate, about what they see as an obsession with climate change policy. People talking about climate change policy, for them, in a threatening way, all the time, but never talking about their job, their job security, their aspirations for their family, and indeed the ability to put food on the table.
CENATIEMPO: Joel, in the in the wake of your resignation from the frontbench, obviously, and when you and I spoke last week I asked you about Albo's leadership, and you said it was - effectively said – it wasn't under threat. But there's been a lot of noise since then, obviously issues within his own office which are probably apart from this. But have you had any support from your colleagues, not only within Cabinet, but from the backbench? Because it doesn't look like the Labor Party is going to budge?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I think 100 per cent of the Caucus, or at least I hope 100 per cent of the Caucus, wants to win an election. And the only way that you can deliver on your key ideals and objectives for the country, is to be in government, is to be on the government benches. And Labor has become pretty good at losing, in fact it seems a little too relaxed about losing. And I'm not. I mean, I joined the Labor Party 36 years ago to make a difference, to do all I can to help make it an even better country than it is now. And climate change is a really important issue, no doubt. But you know, the key role for government is to keep our people safe, make sure that people have an opportunity to work, ensuring that all people - as best we can - are participating in the workforce and, you know, not bludging on the system. So, we need to give those people every opportunity. Of course, we need to have good trading relationships with other countries, because we're an island continent. And we need to sell our goods into other markets. We need to make sure we have a good health and education system, and an aged care system - an accessible and affordable one. So, they’re the key - that's the core business of government. And I believe that the Labor Party needs to be talking more about those things, and less about this obsession with climate change.
CENATIEMPO: So, how do you do that with a leader that is from a seat that is probably more beholden to those climate change alarmists than anywhere else outside of the seat of Melbourne? There wouldn't be too many seats other than maybe Tanya Plibersek’s seat of Sydney, and Anthony Albanese’s seat of Grayndler, that are less in touch with seats like the Hunter or anywhere else in Australia - than any other seat. I mean, how does Anthony Albanese connect?
FITZGIBBON: Well, he too can read opinion polls, Stephen. And you know, he'd be reflecting on opinion polls over the last 18 months, and that one you mentioned in my electorate. And he was in Tomago, in the electorate of the Member for Paterson, Meryl Swanson, yesterday, at an aluminium plant. And you can see there the scale of their energy consumption and how the only way they keep operating is to ensure they can continue in the medium-term to access baseload power. So, he understands these things and he has moderated our language since the last election. He’s dispensed with that silly 45 per cent reduction target, he's recommitted us to the coal mining sector, he’s expressed his understanding that we'll need plenty of gas power to firm-up the grid. So, there's not a lot between us but I just think that people are still hearing too much of us on that issue when particularly post-COVID their minds, their thoughts, are almost entirely on their job security, paying the mortgage and providing for the kids.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, no two ways about that. I want to talk to you briefly about the War Crimes Report, the Brereton Report that is going to become public. You served as Defence Minister from 2007 to 2009, and I know you've made comments suggesting that the responsibility for this goes right to the top. But has this been handled well? And I don’t mean particularly from a government level, but do we in the public know too much about this, at too early a stage?
FITZGIBBON: That's very difficult to say because if there are serious allegations about war crimes, then, you know, in a democracy like Australia we, we need to know about them. I'd simply make two points: one, I’m fearful of a generalisation or stereotyping of our Special Forces soldiers. You know, because a few have done the wrong thing doesn't mean the hundreds that are involved in our Special Forces have done similar. Two, I think even for those who have done wrong, there are serious mitigating circumstances. We, you know, we melt these guys down and rebuild them into warriors. We shape them so they are able to take lives without too much pressure on their conscious and mental wellbeing. And in Afghanistan we put them into very regular rotations - too many. Longer rotations than is normal. They're not fools, they know there wasn't a real strategic plan from NATO. They know the chances of success were thin, they often lacked the resources they required - medevac support, for example, when someone is wounded. They’re fighting an enemy who plays to no rules at all, yet they play to both international, domestic rules and of course, their rules of operation. And, of course, they were regularly seeing the same guys they captured - risked their lives to capture - roaming the plains of Afghanistan. So, these people were under enormous pressure and I’m not surprised minds wandered and stupid things were done. But we have to understand that we put them in this situation, and if they have to take responsibility, we have to take some responsibility too.
CENATIEMPO: I feel a little bit sorry for Defence Ministers, yourself included, in that, I mean, effectively the top brass of the military should know better about this stuff than you guys do. Are you getting the right advice?
FITZGIBBON: Well, while it's the chain of command, along with the politicians, that has to take a large slice of this responsibility. Look, I was there in the earlier - not early - but earlier days of operations in Afghanistan. They were very willing then, be of no doubt. And, you know, I presided at a time when we lost a lot of soldiers. But I suspect that these events happened a little later when the rotations became longer and greater, and people started to question the merits of the intervention and the likelihood of success. But certainly the chain of command has a big role to play in ensuring that the mission is clear, there is a likelihood of success, that they have the resources they need, and if they have doubts about that they certainly need to relate that back to the Minister and the government.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I'm sure we'll talk about this more in the future. Joel good to catch up. We'll talk next week.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure Stephen.