Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Transcript - Radio Interview - 2CC - Wednesday, 26 August 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

26 August 2020

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Our regular guest on a Wednesday is the Shadow Minister of Agricultural and Resources, Joel Fitzgibbon. G’day Joel.  
CENATIEMPO: Farming and agriculture has been hit very, very hard by these border closures. I have been railing against them since the very beginning. You must shake your head when you hear stories like one farmer who was told to send a load of hay from regional Victoria to Melbourne, put it on a plane and send it to Sydney, have it sit in quarantine for two weeks, and then ship it back to about 100 kilometres from where it started.
FITZGIBBON: I haven’t seen that story, Stephen, but I do know we have a very big problem here. I also know that the Prime Minister boasted the effectiveness of the National Cabinet. We do know that we have jurisdictional issues to contend with here. He’s taken on a big load through the National Cabinet. He can't go on claiming all the good things – when, you know ,when things are going okay – but blaming the states when the thing - when things aren’t going so well. I heard David Littleproud on ABC Insiders program on Sunday morning, talking about what he's announced the Friday before, a new code to fix this problem. But when he was asked about the detail, he had not one clue about how it would operate. And here we are Wednesday, a week later, and I still can't see anything meaningful coming from the Federal Government.
CENATIEMPO: I'm with you on this. I usually pull you up when you have a kick at the Government, and – but this isn't politics. And I’ve got to say, I'm 100 per cent with you: the National Cabinet had so much potential, and you know the concept of bipartisanship from the Prime Minister, and I understand that he's trying to give the impression that there is bipartisanship, but it's time as the Prime Minister to pull out the stick and say to the states, ‘this is ridiculous.’
FITZGIBBON: I too Stephen don’t like the he-says, she-says blaming one another, but you’ve got to call a spade a spade now and again, and you know, I believe Scott Morrison is actually trying to do too much. I mean, he collapsed the COAG committees. We had dozens of committees, dealing with Commonwealth-state challenges in a whole range of portfolios. And he's trying to run the country during a pandemic, out of one committee. So he's asked on a Monday, what are you going to do about X or Y? And he says, well, National Cabinet will meet, you know, the following Friday. Well farmers and others struggling with this pandemic can't wait five days for the National Cabinet to meet. There should be a construct, architecture in place, which deals with these issues, not only effectively but more immediately.
CENATIEMPO: I'd say we can address things along party lines, but realistically, the three Liberal premiers probably don’t - well, I mean, apart from Gladys Berejiklian - probably don’t have a hell of a lot of a say in this, so if Scott Morrison was to say to Stephen Marshall and to the Tasmanian premier, ‘guys, pull your heads in.’ Is there a role for Albo to play in this? To go to Annastacia Palaszczuk and McGowan, and say ‘come on guys, this is one country – you’re making our Party look bad?’
FITZGIBBON: Well, that would presuppose that Albo or Joel Fitzgibbon or someone else in Canberra, has the answers. These are not easy challenges. They are complex issues to deal with. And the people best-placed to deal with them are those on the ground, at the borders in the various states, who know what the challenge is and what the solution options are. I don’t know what they are. But I do know one thing: whether they're the Liberal, National Party or Labor state premiers, they want to do a good job, they want these issues fixed and they want them fixed as quickly as possible.
CENATIEMPO: But in the case of WA and Queensland, we know for certain it's purely about the elections that are coming up. Given where the actual hotspots are as opposed to the ones that have been declared
FITZGIBBON: Well I think you’ll find that Annastacia Palaszczuk in particular took a very strong position on borders. I won’t say, you know - it wasn’t a year out from an election, but at a time when the election wasn’t front and centre in people's minds, and she was very heavily criticised for that at the time. So I don't know whether you can say that. You can say of course that any premier will want the best outcome because that's likely to gift them the best direction result, so you know, they're not mutually exclusive.
CENATIEMPO: Okay, well, let's just agree to disagree on that. Now, is Labor going to block a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland?
FITZGIBBON: No, we’re not blocking a new coal-fired power station. We’re blocking the use of taxpayers’ money to fund a feasibility study. Look the Government can’t have it both ways, Stephen. It can’t say a new coal-fired generator in Queensland is desperately needed and then say it needs to spend – I think it is - $3 million worth of its money testing the feasibility. They haven’t even told us what elements of the project they’re testing. But I do know this. Queensland – Northern Queensland in particular – has what I would describe as an excess of energy-generation capacity. They export a hell of a lot of power down to New South Wales. And of course in North Queensland they have an enormous renewable energy base, as well. And in addition to that their coal-fired generation fleet – unlike in New South Wales – is relatively young. So there is no case for this coal-fired generator – you know what this is about Stephen? They could have funded this $3 million off the Budget but they deliberately made this what we call a disallowable instrument, so that we have the opportunity to block it and that’s all they want: they want the Labor Party blocking the feasibility study and so we never know about the feasibility and they can claim that Queensland could have had a new generator if it were not for the Labor Party. That’s what this is all about.
CENATIEMPO: I don’t dispute that but the flipside of that is well then you then block any further taxpayer dollars going towards renewable energy.
FITZGIBBON: Well you’ll remember that the Renewable Energy Target is now full. So that scheme’s basically dead and buried. Obviously state governments have feed-in tariffs for renewable energy projects, so there is some subsidy around. But there’s an end-game there and that is increasing renewable energy in our system, and that’s a good thing. But even if we can get to 50 per cent renewables, axiomatically we’ll need the balance of the 50 per cent from fossil fuels, and that will be the case for a long time, particularly in Queensland where the generation fleet is young. Why would you build – if you’re going to build a new coal-fired generator somewhere, and the market’s perfectly welcome to do that, why would you do it in the state where you have excess generation capacity?
CENATIEMPO: Well I actually have a better idea than that. And this is – I know, at the moment, a New South Wales state issue but you come out very heavily in support of the coal industry and let’s face it you support is not only for coal – it’s for the mining industry and the workers in it. Should New South Wales push ahead with lifting the ban on uranium mining?
FITZGIBBON: This has become a bit farcical, hasn’t it Stephen? I mean the ban on uranium mining in New South Wales makes no sense – it goes back to the Chernobyl disaster days. We’re exporting Uranium out of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory every day, earning good export income. There’s no link here in Australia between mining uranium and uranium - nuclear power generation. Certainly it’s exported for that purpose but no one’s proposing - well, very few are proposing, we do it here. I say if those other states can earn the export income why shouldn’t New South Wales?
CENATIEMPO: Well why not talk about – if we’re serious about clean and reliable baseload energy, and we’re serious about supporting our mining industries, why not mine the uranium and use it for power generation ourselves?
FITZGIBBON: Well a couple of points – three points there, very quickly. It’s very, very expensive and if we’re smart about how we use our renewable and fossil fuels…
CENATIEMPO: When people say it’s very expensive – I mean if you look at these small modular reactors, and I’m going to talk to an expert about that later in the program, I mean it’s not as expensive as people make it out to be.
FITZGIBBON: I was on a Zoom briefing just last week, listening to the information about the latest technology – they will become more competitive over time but it’s still very expensive in a country where we are energy rich in coal, gas and renewable opportunities. The second point is that we don’t have a civil nuclear industry here in Australia. It’d be very hard to build the necessary workforce but three, and most importantly, no matter how persuasive you and anyone else might be, Stephen, there isn’t community support for nuclear generation. I even heard Keith Pitt the Resources Minister spruiking his support for nuclear generation, but asked whether he’d be happy to have it in his electorate in Central Queensland, he said ‘oh no we’ve got some geological vulnerabilities in that part of the world – we couldn’t possibly do it there.’ So there you go – even one of the greatest advocates of nuclear power generation doesn’t want it in their own backyard.
CENATIEMPO: On a similar vein. A bunch of scientists have raised concerns in a letter to Chief Scientist  Alan Finkel about the environmental concerns – or their concerns about natural gas being part of Australia’s energy future. You’ve been a big advocate of this – what’s your response to this?
FITZGIBBON: They are wrong. They’re not talking about – look they want to live in a world, Stephen, where we deal only with zero-risk. And talking about the environmental side, not the economy side. And gas is cleaner than coal, no one contests that. We will need gas as a transitional fuel to renewables. If we can get to 50 per cent renewables, as I said, then we need obviously 50 per cent coming from somewhere else: coal generators will close over the long-run and we’ll rely more heavily on gas. And here’s the really important point: we’re very, very close now to carbon capture and storage in gas – in other words we strip the carbon out of the gas when it’s extruded from the ground, it’s stored away safely and the gas we burn both in industry and in our households obviously is carbon-free and therefore zero-emissions. So these guys are living in fantasy land if they think they think – they think they’ve won the debate on coal and now they’ve moved on gas. But I don’t know what they think is going to keep the lights on when they rid of us both coal and gas because renewables cannot possibly get to 100 per cent, probably in my lifetime.
CENATIEMPO: You’ve been accused of splitting the Labor Party with some of these comments. What are you going to call your new party, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: [laughs] Yeah, thanks for the offer Stephen. I think I’ll just let that one pass.
CENATIEMPO: Thanks mate, we’ll catch up next week.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you mate – cheers.