STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Time to talk to one of the few voices of common sense in Parliament these days, Joel Fitzgibbon is the Labor member for Hunter Joel. Good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER HOR HUNTER: Good morning, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Did you stop for coffee on the way to work this morning?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I'm still at home.
CENATIEMPO: Oh ok.
FITZGIBBON: I’m being very lazy today. Usually I'm there at five o'clock, of course.
CENATIEMPO: So, what's the situation with you? Are you allowed to come back to Canberra in a couple of weeks, because you're in the Hunter, so you're outside the hotspot area? What is your situation?
FITZGIBBON: That's right, Stephen, at this stage at least. I'll be in Canberra for the first parliamentary sitting days and fingers crossed that remains the case. But it's going to be an interesting time. I mean, we have had a reduced parliament in the past we, in fact, we did without, I think, all of the Victorians at one stage, they came in by Zoom or some other platform. But this time, we'll be out without Sydney and Melbourne by the look of it. And it's going to be a funny sort of parliament without the delegations from the biggest cities in the country. So, it's really having an impact.
CENATIEMPO: I just find it extraordinary that we still, you know, 18 months down the track, we don't seem to have learned the lessons out of this.
FITZGIBBON: The good news is I think I'll now have the numbers, mate. The regional members are going to be running the show,
CENATIEMPO: Hang on, hasn't Albo – Albo stayed out of city though, so he's still around, isn't he?
FITZGIBBON:I just need to clarify; I'm not talking about leadership numbers. I'm talking about the bush, the people from the bush, we will be in control.
CENATIEMPO: So, my push for you to become Opposition Leader is off the rails again, geez. Let's talk about something a bit more serious, though. We both discussed this at the time that when the government announced this gas-fired recovery, but it just seems to have gone nowhere.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, this just – this is just so typical of the Morrison Government. They're always announcing things but never delivering. I was reminded yesterday that I was in a debate with Richard Colbeck in Launceston in the days leading up to the last election. Richard pulled a rabbit out of his hat, he said the government was going to spend $500 million on concessional loans for the forestry sector to get more planting, in particular, going. They've never spent a cent; it's just never happened. And this is the same with this gas-led recovery. I supported it, Stephen. The Green's screamed blue murder. I supported as did many in the industry; others were skeptical. And sadly, for me, the skeptics were right. I mean, the principle is correct. Gas is an important part of our economy and can do more, including to get more renewables into the sector. But he said he would get more gas out of the ground. He hasn't built pipelines much needed, he hasn't. He said he'd build a gas hub in Southeast Queensland – hasn't happened. I mean, it's just amazing what they are prepared, you know, the audaciousness of it to make these announcements all the time, but never deliver.
CENATIEMPO: It's interesting that I saw Peta Credlin make a comment on her program either last night or the night before, and as a former Chief of Staff to a Prime Minister, it sort of pricked my ears up that she said when there's a crisis, governments are obviously somewhat hamstrung by that crisis. But you'd hope that governments, whether it be state or federal, can walk and chew gum at the same time. But we don't seem to be able to do that anymore.
FITZGIBBON: Well, look, I think we, we are frozen by the political nature of the show these days. I mean, politics has always been robust, and we will always play the political games but it's all we seem to do these days. We are driven by opinion polls. Populism has never been such a mark character of the processes. We need to buckle down, particularly post COVID – if I can call it, well I can't call it post COVID anymore, can I? We are right back in COVID, again, because people said they would do things they never did and start concentrating on the national interest. There needs to be more bipartisanship in the show, rather than both sides taking every opportunity to have a crack at the other side, rather than concentrating on the national interest.
CENATIEMPO: But you and I have discussed this a number of times. How do we get back to that time? Because I don't see any, any possibility that that's going to happen, at least in the next decade, particularly with the personalities we've got at the moment. I mean, and you know, the criticisms got to go to both sides. And I've said it time and time again, Anthony Albanese by constantly saying the Prime Minister only had two jobs this year, has proved that he's not up to the job. If that's what he honestly believes. Now – and I know it's a throwaway line – but we've got to stop that kind of rhetoric too, don't we?
FITZGIBBON: Well the system is one in which everyone must work and, I mean, we're all players in the system that this generation of MPs has inherited from the last. I mean, I think the start of the beginning of rebuilding this thing is to make Parliament a more attractive place to be, and there are a range of facets to that equation. But we need to be attracting more people with real life experience, whether it be in business or elsewhere, who wants to give back a second time round in representative democracy. They are the people we need to attract, more serious people with a more serious determination to pursue the national interest only. I'm not saying the current crop of MPs don't pursue the national interest, of course they do. We need more of a mix of people in the parliament.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. Now the Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants program will be taking applications from tomorrow. Again, this has been a long time coming.
FITZGIBBON: Well, this is just another example, Stephen, of all promise, no delivery. What is it, 18 months since the bushfires and the people of the region were made all sorts of promises and Kristy McBain, the local member there, has been making the point, the money still hasn't flowed. Yeah, there's been a skateboard park here and there, but the people directly impacted by the fires, people still living in caravans, are asking themselves, where is the assistance we were promised 18 months ago? I mean, delivery on concessional loans for forestry, or fail to deliver, is one thing, but not delivering for people so adversely affected by these bushfires is nothing short of a disgrace.
CENATIEMPO: Particularly given the impacts that the pandemic has had on the region, you know, the tourism in the regions where we're talking, you know, it's been that double whammy, or triple whammy when you consider floods and droughts and the like as well. Well as I always say, the solution is abolish the states so there's no buck passing any more, Joel. I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon.
FITZGIBBON: Well, funny you say that. I just posted a bit of nostalgia, my 2008 Edmund Barton lecture at the University of Newcastle where when I advocated just that. I haven't changed my mind, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: We're on a unity ticket there, Joel. Good to talk to you. We'll catch up next week.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you mate.