STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Time to catch up with a man who supports a football team, the only one that has been beaten by the Tigers this year. He's the Member of Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon. G'day Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Yeah, good on you, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Now earlier in the morning, we spoke to former Prime Minister John Howard. It is the 25th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre today. You would have only – you'd only just been elected to Parliament, when that happened. What are your recollections of it?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, that's right, Stephen. And I remember it quite vividly. It was Sunday night, Monday morning. So we'd gather in Parliament House on the Monday morning ready for another sitting week. And I recall that – you know, remember, John Howard had some difficult times in his early days as Prime Minister and it wasn't easy. He had a big majority, but he was doing some big things quickly and wasn't necessarily particularly popular. And I think Labor was gearing up for a, you know, a week of attack on the relatively new Prime Minister. And then, you know, this terrible event occurred. It completely changed the atmosphere in Parliament House. And, you know, one of the good things that came out of it is that we saw the best in politics that week. The government and the opposition, and I think all parties, coming together as one determined to do something about the event and its consequences, and of course, something about gun laws.
CENATIEMPO: And the results speaks for itself that we haven't had another mass shooting in Australia since then. So, testament to all of our political leaders at the time, not just John Howard, but Kim Beazley obviously has to take some credit for it as well. But particularly the National Party leadership at the time, Tim Fisher and John Anderson, who probably had the hardest time convincing their constituents out in the bush that changing gun laws was a good idea.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, that's true. It is a great credit to them that they stood firm behind John Howard on this matter. I just, not long ago, read john Howard's autobiography. And he, he makes the point there that he learned in the early days after Port Arthur that John Anderson, as a farmer, had a veritable arsenal of guns at home, and had to himself give all those up. So there was a personal cost for him as well. And what people don't often remember is that only in 1988, which was less than a decade earlier, Barry Unsworth had lost an election in New South Wales trying to outlaw certain types of guns. And that was a disaster for Barry Unsworth. So that made it far more challenging. And I suppose politically risky for John Howard at the time.
CENATIEMPO: Absolutely. Now, you've gone on the record saying that Australia can reach our zero net emissions target by 2050 without harming jobs or the economy. I'm still wary about these pie in the sky targets, but you think it's a little bit like weight loss?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, well, I think you do have to have a goal or a target in anything you’re doing in life. And it certainly can't do any harm having one. You might not always meet it but no harm in having one. And I think Scott Morrison's problem is that he won't fully commit to it because he said he wouldn't, or because it was someone else's idea. So it's all about politics. But Stephen, people obsess when they talk about carbon emissions with the electricity sector. And of course, it's only one part of the equation. But here in Australia, our coal-fired power generators will close when they come to the end of their fiscal and economic life. In the case of Liddell in the Hunter Valley, that's two years, the last one is scheduled to close in Queensland in 2050. And when they all close, then that's obviously going to make a big difference. And in the meantime, we have plenty of opportunity to put in place firming power and gas and hydro and with better battery technology. So we'll get there. I think we can get there. And we don't – certainly don't need to get there while impacting on our coal industry, because the overwhelming majority of our coal is exported to other nation states, who by the way, will obviously be consuming our, both our thermal and coking coal for many decades to come.
CENATIEMPO: Absolutely. And I think that's what a lot of the critics of these targets will suggest is that we know we can make all the targets we like but unless China and India and countries like that do well then it means little, but from an economic perspective here, I mean, the government says it's focusing on practical measures like science, farming and industry, where Labor's focusing on this clean energy jobs revolution. Clean energy jobs will happen automatically through industry. I mean, if this revolution so to speak, was going to happen, it would have happened by now because of all the money we've thrown at renewable energy over the years.
FITZGIBBON: Well, you need to leave the market to itself, Stephen. That's the point here. Technology is changing rapidly and both households and industry are already moving and have been moving for some time. There is an opportunity for governments to shape it and guide it to make sure that we maximize the job opportunities, and that is a good thing, and we should do that. But, it’s a funny thing, we go back to these targets, everyone's complaining that Scott Morrison won't completely commit to zero net emissions by 2050, and in doing so, they remind us that all the state and territory governments have done the same. Well, we're all parts of one thing, aren't we?
CENATIEMPO: Well, I think we've learnt that we're not, haven't we?
FITZGIBBON: It's pretty amusing. Change is happening rapidly in Australia. I think I've said before that in the last two years alone, we've installed solar, the equivalent of six Liddell power stations. So I don't know why people are saying, you know, we need to do more, we need to do more. In fact, we are doing a hell of a lot and we're doing a lot more than some other bigger-emitting nations.
CENATIEMPO: Well, and that was one of the criticisms of Scott Morrison, that – and when he was part of this zoom meeting, where, you know, Biden was wearing his mask when he was the only person in the room and all that kind of stuff – but the reality is that the targets that Australia has set, we have met and exceeded. And it still doesn't negate the fact that we are one of the smallest emitters in the world.
FITZGIBBON: We're 1.3 per cent of global emissions, our absolute emissions have come down 21 per cent since 2007, our per capita emissions have fallen 46 per cent since 1990. So they're pretty impressive numbers. And of course, while ever we're talking about climate change, as important as it is, we're not talking about as much the things that really matter to us right now, today and tomorrow. So we have to be proportionate about these things and get these things in order of priority. The climate is changing, humankind is making a contribution, we need to do something about it. But gee, there are lots of other things that are happening every day that we need to think about too, so we need to be sensible about it. It's good that some of the big emitters at this conference with Biden last week have committed to doing more, but let's just see whether how much more they actually do.
CENATIEMPO: I don't think I can say any more than that. Joel, great to talk to you. We'll catch up next week.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor Member for Hunter, back with us next week.