STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: But at the federal level, we have blokes like Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor Member for Hunter, who are doing a fantastic job and he joins us now. Joel, good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Thanks Stephen. Good to be with you.
CENATIEMPO: Did you take, how did you find the National Conference that's going on at the moment doing it via skype or however it's working those days?
FITZGIBBON: Great Stephen. Speeches are restricted to two and three minutes. Doesn't get any better than that. But I think it's been a successful conference so far because it's focused on jobs and job security, and that's my pet project and may that be the case again today and if we get to the other end talking about jobs and people's financial security, it will have been a good conference.
CENATIEMPO: One of the things that I have applauded Anthony Albanese on was the unveiling of this $15 billion manufacturing plan, which I think the failure of this whole National Cabinet concept and the failure of the Federal Government for mine during this pandemic is that there hasn't been enough forward planning to look at building more resilience into Australia and rebuilding our manufacturing base, given that we're effectively going to have to be shut off from the rest of the world for the foreseeable future. Although, I do question this idea of trying to reinstitute the motor vehicle manufacturing industry which has been unsustainable for years, even before it did shut down.
FITZGIBBON: Look, on your first point first, you and I have discussed this before, there are things government can do to build resilience, to retain the areas of manufacturing which are critical to us with respect to our sovereignty, and there are some areas in manufacturing, maybe in our auto in the way it used to be, in which we can never hope to compete. But there are areas where a little bit of government incentive, leverage and assistance can get projects over the line and that's where we'll focus. I think when he was talking about car manufacturing, well I suspect he was talking mainly about new areas where electrics and hydrogen will be the focus. So I think that is possible.
CENATIEMPO: And you're 100% right about that. I mean and I point to, you know, our military capabilities, trains and ferries and things like that. Things that we know we can build, we seem to have let fall by the wayside which is I think a huge mistake. But of course, the biggest problem with our manufacturing industry is our one competitive advantage that we had was cheap energy and governments of all flavors, and I know that you're 100% on board with this, seem to be trying to destroy our ability, or our access to cheap energy these days.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah that's right. We have to have competitive energy. Look, we can't compete where scale is really important. We're a small country, small population, and you can compete with companies in densely populated, sorry, countries with huge populations and therefore big markets. Our costs generally are high here, including our labour costs, but may that always be the case, we want high living standards here. But there are areas where we can compete and this is a good model, I think, giving people that leverage they need from government to get a project over the line, to jump those investment hurdles, and I think it's a great initiative and I hope we get a chance to be implement it one day.
CENATIEMPO: Now, last night you were in Woden to launch a new book by a Canberra resident Hugh Poate called The Failures of Command - The Death of Private Robert Poate. A very timely release of a book that kind of plays into a lot of the issues we've been talking about in defence recently.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah that's right. Hugh and Janny Poate tragically lost their son Private Robbie Poate in Afghanistan, along with two other Australian heroes - Lance Corporal Rick Milosevic and Sapper James Martin. They were killed on base by a character named Hekmatullah, who was a Taliban infiltrator in the Afghan National Army, and he turned his NATO-issued M16 on our boys. And this book is a heart-rending account of the experiences of three families devastated first by what I think was avoidable tragedy, then by inexplicable interference in their search for answers, accountability, justice and closure - that is interference from the Defence itself. So, it's a sad and confronting book, but a very good book and I think it's going to ruffle a few feathers.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, and as it should. I mean, look, at the end of the day our military does, you know, well they operate under trying circumstances by their very nature but anything that can improve the plight of soldiers and, I mean, sadly tragedies like this will always bring our attention to it. Now the discussion over culture of Australian politics continues on, Joel. I wonder if the culture is really as bad as we're making it out to be.
FITZGIBBON: Well first on culture, that was the theme of my speech last night at the book launch. Defence has, obviously, a unique culture and that is necessary because in defence, we train people to use lethal force and authorize them from time-to-time to legally use it. So, you'd expect unique culture, but we've got to make sure that culture is working always in a positive way. And that needs to be the case on Capital Hill, too. I've said that in my 25 years in the parliament, actually, the culture has improved markedly from what it was when I arrived, although some of these recent events have demonstrated that things are happening there that have actually shocked me. So, I'm not so confident about that anymore. But whatever the history, there's still a lot of improvement to be made and we all need to work together to ensure that we achieve it.
CENATIEMPO: And it's interesting that some revelations out of the New South Wales Parliament recently that are, you know, sort of close to home geographically for you that highlight there's a problem in culture right across politics in Australia. But there's been a talk about the consumption of alcohol in Parliament. In the New South Wales Parliament, I know it's rife, but it isn't really that bad in Federal Parliament?
FITZGIBBON: No, I don't think it is. But I suppose if alcohol was the source or cause of one sexual assault, then it's a serious matter. So, we have to have a discussion about alcohol as part of the broader conversation. It needs to be part of the mix. But I think you know, prohibition hasn't proven to be successful in any endeavour, including alcohol, in the history of the universe and we might be a little bit too ambitious thinking we can stop people drinking alcohol in Parliament House.
CENATIEMPO: I've always thought that the easy way to fix the culture is for you guys to spend far less time in Canberra. You're far more productive when you're in your electorates anyway. So, maybe with technology, and you know, the Labor Party has proved that over the last 24 hours that...
FITZGIBBON: ... Yeah look, very quickly, I agree with that. There is no reason - Paul Keating right back in the day, cut the sitting hours back to no later than eight o'clock at night. John Howard came along and reversed that. I think he wanted to demonstrate to people that we're hard working. But it's silly, we can get the things we need to get done in less time if we work on it. I mean, there's a lot of rubbish that goes on, as you know, Stephen. Just cut those Dorothy Dixers out of Question Time. There's a bit of time saving.
FITZGIBBON: I think we can do it and I think getting people out of the building earlier, obviously, would help enormously.
CENATIEMPO: Yep, indeed. Joel, good to talk to you. We'll catch up next week.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you, mate.
CENATIEMPO: Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor Member for Hunter.