STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Joining us as he does on a Wednesday, somebody that probably disagrees with everything I just said is the Labor Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. G'day, Joel,
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Oh, about 50 per cent, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Okay, that's not a bad start.
FITZGIBBON: Not bad.
CENATIEMPO: Now, the big thing to come out of this AUKUS partnership will be these nuclear-powered submarines. And let's put the French situation aside for a moment you and I have discussed, this ultimately is a good move and something that we probably should have done years ago.
FITZGIBBON: Well, you don't just need to put the French thing aside, you need to put the 3 or 4 billion dollars wasted aside, the job losses and the businesses who lost business aside, and then think about the benefits of the program and the benefits of the program are very, very significant. I could never have foreseen the United States sharing their submarine technology with us. We're only the second country with which they have done so. The UK, of course, being the other. And this gives us very, very significant capability. And of course, force projection and therefore very significant deterrence capability, which is so important.
CENATIEMPO: You're right about the cost and the cost of jobs, etcetera, but ultimately, I think everybody agrees that the French submarine deal was a bad deal to begin with. And it was probably one of the worst moves the Turnbull Government at the time made and it was all to sure up the seat of a bloke who just decided to cut and run and leave Parliament any way. There was never going to be an easy way to get out of that.
FITZGIBBON: Of course, there wasn't. I thought it was a terrible mistake at the time, many experts agreed. And the outcome, of course, is now history. On the diplomatic side, Stephen, I mean, Scott Morrison sat down with Macron and had dinner, knowing what was about to happen. Now, he says, rightly, that he could hardly share the secret with him. But he could have done more to socialise the idea, I suspect, that there was something on the move, and some question mark about the ongoing contract. That would have been very easy to do, and I think the right thing to.
CENATIEMPO: But surely there was enough noise around about how bad this deal was going for us. And we can't take all responsibility for it because the Naval Group has been complicit in a lot of the difficulties with this contract along the way as well.
FITZGIBBON: Well, the Naval Group certainly hasn't come out of this very well at all. But, and of course, the project was going badly, as they so typically do, Stephen. I mean, one of the great things about the deal with the Americans is that we are not attempting to reinvent the wheel, as we so often do in the area of defence capability. Always trying to take someone else's kit, reshape it into our own form and needs, and rebuild it. That has proven difficult so many times and costly so many times, both in terms of money, and delay. So this is almost an off the shelf, we call it, option, which means not much can go wrong. The big change though, of course, Stephen is that we're looking for a different submarine suddenly than what we were looking for in the past. Our submarines have historically been mainly used for intelligence purposes. But now we're... which required a smaller boat, which did different things. But now, we have transitioned to a submarine which is all about the deterrence and warfighting capability. And that has allowed us to go to a larger submarine. And therefore, you know, the American sub has become an option
CENATIEMPO: I've made comment this week about the intricacies, and the, not to dismiss how difficult it must have been to actually negotiate this deal on the part of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister, as a former Defence Minister, talk us through what would have had to have gone on behind the scenes to get the Americans to agree to share their technology with us.
FITZGIBBON: Well, the way you share that information, Stephen, is to stay silent, of course.
CENATIEMPO: And they did.
FITZGIBBON: No, I'm talking about me now.
CENATIEMPO: Oh, right. Okay.
FITZGIBBON: Look, those discussions can be both very formal and informal. You know, for example, occasionally the officials will be asked to leave the room while the politicians on both sides of the fence have a frank and friendly conversation, but this would have been socialised for a long, long time. The big question, of course, for me is who reached out first? Was it the Americans reaching out seeing that we have a problem and looking for a chance to enhance their own capability by making sure Australia had the kit we needed and they had greater access to Australia, Australian ports, Australian grounds for training etcetera. Or did Australia reach out to the US desperate because our submarine program was in trouble and looking for help? We might never know the answer to that question.
CENATIEMPO: No, I think you might be right. Now, the Nationals are urging the Queensland Government to fund a new coal-fired power generator. I think that's pie in the sky. It's never going to happen. But, Liberal MP David Sharma wants more ambitious emissions reductions targets. What this proves is that there's idiots on both sides of politics when it comes to carbon reduction.
FITZGIBBON: And did, I mean, did Dave Sharma put a number of pieces of paper with numbers on them in a cup and then just throw them out?
CENATIEMPO: I think that's the way it usually works, isn't it?
FITZGIBBON: Well, how do people come up with these numbers, Stephen? I mean, percentages don't mean a lot, really. Megatons of carbon do. And we should be taking proportionate action. But I bet you Dave Sharma can't tell you how many million tonnes of carbon would have to be abated to get to his number, he wouldn't have a clue. These are numbers designed to appeal to certain parts of our community. But what they inevitably do is offend very large parts of our community too, including, of course, the communities I represent.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think, speaking of the communities you represent, the government has announced plans for new hydrogen hubs, there's a suggestion that the Hunter Valley could be home to one of those.
FITZGIBBON: Yes, and we are very excited about that. We've been talking about it for a long time, pushing for it for a long time, we have some great research institutions here in the Hunter Valley, including the CSIRO and the University of Newcastle, we are well placed to be home to a hydrogen hub, and that should have always been forthcoming. But you know, building, getting taxpayers to subsidise new coal-fired generators is just stupid, of course, Stephen – even I don't support that. I mean, our coal-fired generators have served us well, they're coming into the end of their useful lives. You know, we won't need them in the future if we get the other policy settings right. And, you know, I'm trying to start a conversation about getting rid of this prohibition on nuclear as well, because it makes no sense. And, look, we've just being given nuclear reactors in our ports, and navigating up and down our coastline without any community consultation, why not remove the prohibition and have a conversation with the Australian people about whether they accept another reactor in the form of a nuclear generator? It just makes sense.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think, and I think the Prime Minister might have missed an opportunity there to put the nuclear conversation on the map, but I think that's going happen sooner rather than later anyway.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, how quickly he was to do so was somewhat disappointing and just demonstrates how people opposed to nuclear generation have so muddied the waters in the community with their scare campaigns. I mean, you had Adam Bandt last week describing the submarines as floating Chernobyls. How irresponsible is that? Given we've had a nuclear reactor a stone throw from Sydney CBD for decades, and it's operated all of that time very, very safely.
CENATIEMPO: Couldn't agree more. Good on you, Joel. We'll catch up again next week.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you, Stephen.