STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: It's time to catch up with our regular Wednesday contributor, he is the Labor Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good morning Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Energy policy has come to the fore again this week. A major speech from Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, he has spoken about a clean energy revolution. But has acknowledged that Australia will continue to export resources like coal, based on global demand. Is Labor still trying to have two bob each way on this?
FITZGIBBON: No, Stephen. I believe that what Anthony Albanese said was completely right, that we can get to zero net emissions, without forsaking existing traditional jobs. Our fleet of coal-fired generators will retire when they come to the end of their physical lives. In the case of Liddell in my electorate in two years’ time, in the case of the youngest generator, which happens to be in Queensland, 2050. So obviously, in 2050, we won't be generating energy from coal, we will have moved on to a combination of more renewables, and more storage, whether they'll be battery, hydro, or gas peaking station. So we can hit zero emission - net zero emissions by 2050 and still, of course, be exporting as much coal then as we are now because the Paris accord doesn't require us to take into account scope-three emissions, that is the emissions emitted by other countries. And as you know, countries are building coal-fired generators right throughout Asia as we speak and demand for both our thermal and metallurgical coal will be strong right to 2050 and beyond.
CENATIEMPO: How do you think the electorate is responding and probably to both major parties on this, because there seems to be mixed messages from both sides. And I mean, we hear stupid things like Malcolm Turnbull saying, we shouldn't build any more coal-fired power stations - any, you know, approve any more coal mines because demand for coal is declining, which we know is not true. But then the flip side of that is, well, why would people want to open a coal mine if they can't sell the coal, but there seems to be no definitive, I guess, direction from either of the major parties on this.
FITZGIBBON: Well, both the political leaders are understandably tiptoeing a bit, Stephen, because the climate wars over the last almost two decades now has made it a difficult question. Now, I think both leaders – well, I know both leaders understand the science, they know action has to be taken and they're trying to take action without upsetting one side of what has been a pretty vicious debate. So that's understandable. I thought Scott Morrison was a bit surreal in his speech on Tuesday - Monday night, trying too hard to manage the politics, trying to capitalise on one side, whatever - while also talking to the other side. I think Anthony Albanese got the balance right in his speech, when he underlined the opportunities that are in the renewable sector for jobs in the economy, while also acknowledging that coal exports will be with us for a long, long time to come.
CENATIEMPO: As a former Defence Minister, a new Defence Minister obviously in the last 20 days, Peter Dutton seems to have hit the ground running and one of his first decisions was to, I guess, reverse a decision by the top brass to remove meritorious unit citation medals from all members of a particular unit from SAS soldiers who served in Afghanistan. As somebody that's actually served in this portfolio, has he got this right? Because there are people within the military that say, well, the citation is actually awarded to the unit as a whole, and if the unit as a whole, or parts of the unit have done something wrong, then that citation shouldn't stand. Am I reading that right?
FITZGIBBON: You are reading that right, and this is not a simple question. Indeed, I've spoken to people who were in the special forces who agree that citation merit medals for groups of people must be revoked because you can't say that the unit was meritorious when something went wrong within the unit. But, look, I lean Peter Dutton's side. I think it's tragic to be taking medals off people who have served and there needed to be better process - that says so much about Linda Reynolds does it? She neither fronted the day the Brereton Report was released, nor did the Prime Minister, nor did she make any attempt to deal with this question. So, I give credit to Peter Dutton. People will argue he dealt with it incorrectly, but at least the dealt with it decisively. And I think in the end, it was the right decision.
CENATIEMPO: But I think what people miss here too, is whilst, you know, a unit that exists in various formations over the course of - you know, we're talking 20 years we were in Afghanistan – the personnel that move through that unit change, so to remove the meritorious unit citation from the entire unit throughout perpetuity, which is what they were talking about, is a bit unfair to, you know, say it was maybe the third or fourth generation of the unit that might have cleaned up their act, so to speak.
FITZGIBBON: That's right. And, of course, we're talking here about some people who had given their life for their country. So, you know, it should never have come to this. There should never have been an announcement about Brereton's Report, generally speaking, without an immediate response from government, giving people a clear idea about where they plan to take the Brereton Report, and making it clear that there's a lot of collective responsibility to go around with respect to some of the things Brereton Report reported on. So, in the end, it's been very badly handled by the government. But also, I think Peter Dutton's arrival in the position has done the right thing.
CENATIEMPO: I want to talk about the Royal Commission in defence and veteran suicides, which is now going ahead or is likely to start in July, we're led to believe. The government stalled on this for quite some time with the view, as I understand it, that a standing national commissioner was a better option. Why is the Royal Commission different to a national or why is it better - a better option than a standing national commissioner who as I understand it has all the powers of a Royal Commission?
FITZGIBBON: The better question, Stephen, is why not both? You know, one is looking back, and one is looking forward. A Royal Commission looks at what's happened in the past and what went wrong; a standing Commissioner looks at making sure it doesn't happen in the future. I very genuinely believe we need both. But people are always calling for Royal Commissions and of course we can't have a Royal Commission into every issue. They should be saved for the most grave and serious issues and I don't think there's a more serious issue then suicide amongst - the suicide rate amongst our veterans. There should always have been a Royal Commission and I hope it serves its purpose, and that is to ensure that we turn back this terrible rate of veteran suicide.
CENATIEMPO: Obviously getting the terms of reference right is the most important thing. And whilst a lot of people are suggesting that July is a, is a long way away, I think that period of preparation is important though, isn't it?
FITZGIBBON: I don't mind the period taken to get the terms of reference right, remembering that this is a very complex issue. It's not just about what happened in theatre. It's about what happened before and after, including right back to the recruitment process. And when I say after, I'm talking largely about the extent to which we took care of our trips on return, and the interaction, of course, with between the soldier and other servicemen and women, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
CENATIEMPO: Joel, good to talk to you, we'll catch up again next week.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure Stephen.