Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 24 November 2021 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

24 November 2021

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Joining us as he does on a Wednesday is the Labor Member for Hunter, he's a former Defence and Agriculture Minister as well, Joel Fitzgibbon. G'day Joel.




CENATIEMPO: A lot of talk around at the moment about this Religious Freedom Bill. I know there's been some amendments to it. There are some concerns from the left wing of the Liberal Party, but conservatives seem to think that it's hit the right balance. It's been a long time coming though, hasn't it?


FITZGIBBON: It's been too long coming. Scott Morrison promised this prior to the last election and here we are five minutes to another election, and we still haven't even seen a draft bill. And it's pretty hard to comment on a draft bill, but the most important point is that this is a difficult area, we do need some reform. But we need to get the balance right. And we should not be having this debate in the shadow of an election campaign. This is something that should have been done in the calm period, not long after the election, maybe two years ago, when politics isn't so front and centre, and when people can have a more respectful and reasonable debate, rather than risk people making politics of what is really a very important issue.


CENATIEMPO: You know, it seems to be the way politics goes at the moment. I mean, the scenes in the Senate in the last two days have been absolutely extraordinary. And whilst I agree in principle with the One Nation bill that vaccine mandates shouldn't exist outside of some very specific scenarios like aged care and frontline health workers, it just seems that the tail is wagging the dog at the moment.


FITZGIBBON: Yeah, you often hear people say the world's gone mad. Certainly, the Senate has. And the thing we don't really know is whether these rebel senators are speaking with their conscience, and really concerned about the issue or whether these people who really are on pretty much the extreme right fringe have seen an opportunity to curry favour with a small part of the electorate, given our vaccination rates. But still a very significant part of the electorate, in electoral or voting terms. You saw Clive Palmer and former Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, do a preference deal yesterday. Now, they aren't chalk and cheese those guys, but they together have decided I'll chase, you know, might be 8 per cent of the vote together. And 8 per cent in a Senate contest is a very big vote.


CENATIEMPO: Yeah, it is concerning. And I watched that debate and I thought, you know, I have got to say, some of your colleagues didn't sort of bath themselves in glory either, particularly Kristina Keneally, who was very, very vocal about the bill and then didn't vote on it.


FITZGIBBON: Well, I didn't see the debate, I saw the grabs of the various people. You know, Matt Canavan, Senator Rennick, and the like, waxing lyrical. But look, you have to say regardless of what they might argue about people's rights, about their own bodies and all the rest of it, I spoke about the 8 per cent, well, I'll continue to speak on behalf of the 92 per cent of people who believe in vaccination, want to be protected and don't want people running around risking infection either to them or, of course, their children.


CENATIEMPO: Now we've all been concerned that now that you've decided to pull the pin that the Otis group might sort of start to fall apart, but it was good to see your fellow Otis group member, Raff Ciccone in the Senate yesterday, speaking out on behalf of rural industries and making sure, or actually warning your own Labor colleagues not to cut off their noses to spite their face with climate policy. So, safe hands.


FITZGIBBON: Senator Ciccone was on fire yesterday. He'll get an award at the Otis Christmas dinner. There's no doubt about that. But he wasn't just talking, speaking up for working people and those on the land, Stephen. He was making a pretty basic point about climate change, which doesn't have to be about taxes on people, but it can be about sensible measures, like expanding our forestry estate and thinking more about the absorption of carbon rather than just about carbon output. And he's talking, of course, about dependency in areas like construction timber. We are about 20 per cent dependent on importation of construction timber now for our housing, and that's only going to get worse if we don't do something about it. And you know, it's a slightly different subject, but yesterday in Queensland we saw a fertiliser plant close. Again, our farmers are becoming increasingly dependent on overseas markets for both their fertilisers and their crop sprays, you know, their weed control and guess where that dependence lies – well, with China. Nufarm in Australia is the only company now still manufacturing locally the key ingredient which goes into the product most people know as glyphosate, or Roundup if you like. And if it stops, and there's a risk it will stop without some government planning, then we'll be entirely dependent on China for our crop sprays. And that's a real problem for us.


CENATIEMPO: Absolutely. Now, this will upset some on the other side of the Labor Party to you. But Woodside is going to go ahead with their $16.5 billion dollar gas project in Western Australia. Well, apart from the fact it's in West... I don't know how they're going to get the gas across the border, though.


FITZGIBBON: This is export gas.


CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I know. I'm joking.


FITZGIBBON: Yeah look, this is good news. It's been a long time coming, a $16 billion project, there's a lot to do to get something like that off the ground, including enforce the regulatory and environment approvals. But, liquefied natural gas is our second biggest export after iron ore. It earns us a lot of foreign exchange, the money we use to pay for our imports. And of course, it is a transition fuel for so many countries who will be decades off transitioning out of fossil fuels, and it's a more efficient fuel than is coal. And, you know, Asian markets will be using it for decades to come. So, this is good news for them, it's good news for us, and it's good news for climate change.


CENATIEMPO: Absolutely. Now speaking of coal, now, this is fantastic news that one of those idiot protesters has been sentenced to 12 months.


FITZGIBBON: Yeah, well, they are idiot protestors and as you know, I've been highly critical of them including on your program. I'm not going to rejoice that some young bloke is going to jail, because as an older parent, if my kid did something really dumb, I'm not sure I'd be very happy about that. But I am very pleased that the courts are taking this very seriously. Those idiots cost us millions of dollars, put their lives at risk, our lives at risk. And of course, were disrespectful to our coal miners. So, I'm happy they're going hard on them.


CENATIEMPO: Absolutely. Now, I was at Parliament House yesterday. The place is like a ghost town. I mean, have we gone mad, 97 per cent vaccination rate here in the in the ACT. The members of parliament who aren't vaccinated haven't turned up, there are no tables out at Aussie's cafe, the staff dining room, you can't sit down in, everyone's still wandering around wearing masks. I mean, who are we protecting ourselves from?


FITZGIBBON: I have no idea, but it's driving me mad. You know, I can't bring a staffer to Canberra. Not that I particularly need one at the moment as a humble backbencher. But you know, what's going on in there? And you look around Canberra and they're out in the pubs and the cafes and the restaurants. I probably shouldn't say that because someone might change their mind. But we have a stricter situation in Parliament House than we do in the broader community. And I just don't get it.


CENATIEMPO: No, I'm with you. I've wandered around that place yesterday and it didn't look like a sitting day. Joel, good to talk to you, mate. We'll catch up next week.


FITZGIBBON: Good on you, mate.


CENATIEMPO: Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor member for Hunter.