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

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

By Joel Fitzgibbon

02 September 2020

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Time to catch up with our regular Wednesday political guest. Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Agriculture and Resources Minister and joins us now. Good morning, Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Glad to be with you, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: What do you reckon, should we standardise Aussie slang? Make it part of the curriculum?
FITZGIBBON: I'm just going to leave that one entirely for you, mate.
CENATIEMPO: Thanks. Now, you know that I don't agree with your position that we shouldn't take a leadership stance against China, but they've now suspended barley imports from Australian giant CBH because they're saying that pests have been found in it. Is there any way back? How do we come back from this without... well, I mean, they talk about saving face, we've got to do the same, I suppose?
FITZGIBBON: And I never said, Stephen, we shouldn't take a strong role, and we shouldn't always robustly defend our national interest. But there are smart and dumb ways of doing things. And this government has taken the relationship with our largest trading partner to a low not seen since Whitlam went to China, or since before then, and it's hurting us. It's hurting our farmers very badly, it's hurting our meat processors, it's about to hit, I fear, our vignerons – our wine makers – and the biggest concern here, Stephen, is that usually when these issues emerge, you pick up the phone to your counterpart in the other country – in this case, China – you ask what's going on, and you try to negotiate a way through. The problem is that our ministers here in Australia no longer have any relationship whatsoever with their counterparts in China. So there is no dialogue. There is no discussion. There is no negotiation. And of course our farmers and others are just sitting back thinking: wow, where is all this heading? Where is our government? Surely someone can do something for us?
CENATIEMPO: Then what is the answer then? Do we play even harder-ball with our iron ore exports perhaps?
FITZGIBBON: Well, what I do know, Stephen, or strongly suspect, is that this thing will get worse before it gets better. And one of my big fears is for my thermal coal industry in the Hunter Valley if the Chinese turned it off. It would be a real economic problem for us in my region, but there are a whole range of industries across the country wondering whether they might be next and it's for the government now, having put us in this very deep hole, to demonstrate a pathway to the big climb back out. Now, they put us in this position and it's hard to know what they need to do now, given that they've left that relationship fall so low.
CENATIEMPO: On other matters economic today, the release of the national accounts for the June quarter is going to dominate the news. Almost certainly it will confirm Australia's first recession in nearly 30 years. Realistically there was no way to prevent this. I know that there'll be arguments about how far into recession we should or could have gone. But bipartisanship is going to be the only way out of this, do you see that that happening?
FITZGIBBON: Well, look, I think we've already had a very, very high level of bipartisanship. It's been difficult for the Opposition trying to demonstrate a consistency on bipartisanship while also holding the government to account where it's made mistakes, and mistakes have been undoubtedly made. But you're right, national accounts today will confirm we are not just in a recession, but deep in recession with a very large contraction in the last quarter. And I think what people are looking for more than anything is one: ensuring governments are getting the balance right between lockdown and keeping the economy going. And of course, they're looking for a government – all governments – to demonstrate there's a plan for a quick economic recovery when we get over the health side of the pandemic. And again, without being too partisan about it, I don't see such a plan. There seems to be a bit of work going on behind the scenes. The government talks a lot about plan, but we're yet to see a plan. A good example this week was this Agricultural Workers' Code so that farmers can cross state boundaries. Now, that was announced two weeks ago, and there still is no code. We need governments to start putting these things in place.
CENATIEMPO: I'm a bit more cynical than most. I think miraculously on the first of November, we'll see Queensland and WA say: geez, maybe we can open the borders again now, because their respective elections will be over. But maybe that's just the cynic in me. The Cooma Bush Summit took place last week; you went head to head with a billionaire.
FITZGIBBON: A multi-billionaire, Mike Cannon-Brookes. I have to say, I had a short but good conversation with him after. You know, I respect the guy. He's obviously been a big achiever in his own life and in the business world. But I described him in the debate as a bit of a dreamer on the climate change front. Stephen, we all want a cleaner economy and we are moving in that direction, in fact, faster than any other country in the world. But guys like Mike Cannon-Brookes, you know, they want to race to, you know, a 100 per cent renewables economy when that's just simply not possible in the short and medium future. It will take a long time to achieve those things, and along the way, we need to ensure that we're protecting jobs, and that we're delivering affordable, secure energy to both households and, of course, industry.
CENATIEMPO: See and there is the problem I've always said, and I agree 100 per cent of what you've just said then, is that the language around the whole climate change debate has always been the problem. You've got people on the left of your party that are renewables or nothing, and then people on the on the right of the government saying, well you know, it's coal or nothing. The language should have always been, we all agree that we want agree we want to breathe cleaner air. Let's start at that common ground, but we never, ever seem to get there.
FITZGIBBON: And if we are currently at about 24 per cent renewables, if we can get to 50 per cent in the next 10 years that would be a remarkable achievement. But axiomatically, we'd still need the other 50 per cent coming from fossil fuels, typically coal and gas. The other thing people don't seem to understand is that gas is not just used for electricity generation. In fact, only about a quarter of it does that. It's used as a feedstock in so many of our manufacturing sectors, people use it in their homes to keep themselves warm and to run their hot plates, industry uses it for warming purposes, and they need to understand that the grid – that is the network of wires that take the electricity around the country – becomes unstable at this point if there's too much renewables in them. So, we need to spend a whole lot of money – billions of money – over many years upgrading the grid so it can take more, and that takes time, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, absolutely. And as you know, I think the answer is nuclear. I know you disagree with that. But in principle, I think you're on the money. It's just a matter of convincing everybody else.
FITZGIBBON: And I don't have a philosophical view about nuclear. But what I do now know is it's expensive but more importantly, you'll never sell it to the Australian community and we can't be thrusting upon the community something that they obviously will reject.
CENATIEMPO: That might be right, Joel, Good to talk to you, catch up next week.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure, mate.