STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Well, one bloke who does stand up for traditional forms of energy in this country, of course, is the Labor Member for Hunter and regular contributor to this program, Joel Fitzgibbon. G'day Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Great to be with you, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: I don't think I've received as much hatred on social media as I did by liking one of your tweets the other day in support of the coal miners in your electorate. Of course, the Voice for Mining Rugby League day was on. A very, well, I'm going to say tri-partisan representation at that football match.
FITZGIBBON: Well, I think it's important that we do form a united front, Stephen. There are so many people who don't understand the coal mining industry, don't understand its future, don't understand the contribution it makes to our economy who are ganging up against us. So, I think people of like mind do need to stand together and the Upper Hunter by-election playing out up here, or about to play out, an area you know well, is a very good opportunity for us to send the message collectively that we will stand by our coal miners.
CENATIEMPO: And it's going to be a very interesting by-election. I'll talk about that when we get closer to the date, but a new batch of candidates for almost all of the parties up there. A chance for everyone to stamp their authority, I guess. But I guess playing into this as well, Malcolm Turnbull, we talked about this last week, the fact that he was appointed to this, or was going to head up this new Net-zero Emissions and Clean Energy Board. He's now been dumped. Your mate Matt Kean has been left holding the bag for this, but the entire New South Wales Cabinet, bar one member, needs to take responsibility for Malcolm Turnbull's appointment to this board.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, that's absolutely right. It was a cabinet decision, not a decision by one particular Minister. It was an extraordinary one. And I happened to be listening to Malcolm Turnbull last Wednesday - a week today, this morning - live and I almost threw something at my radio. What he was saying wasn't true. It was biased and laced with self-interest. Malcolm sits up here on his cattle ranch in the Upper Hunter watching his renewable energy shares go up or down and wants to deny 14,000 people their jobs so that his property benefits from what he describes as cleaner air. He misrepresented the air quality numbers. He made a submission to the New South Wales Planning Regulator against the extension of a coal mine, which will be critically important both to local jobs, but to the New South Wales energy system and our coal exports. I mean, the guy, it was just a dumb decision and the Government had no choice but to rescind it.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, no two ways about that. It's interesting that the mine that you're talking about, the Mount Pleasant mine is very close to his property that he owns in the Upper Hunter. But, isn't that, that's an underground mine, isn't it from my recollection?
FITZGIBBON: No, it is an open cut, and by coincidence...
CENATIEMPO: ... Hang on, I think we've lost Joel. He must be driving through the Upper Hunter. We'll try and get him back in a moment. That mine is, Malcolm Turnbull does have a property near the town of Aberdeen in the Upper Hunter, which is near that Mount Pleasant mine. I thought it was an underground mine. But as Joel says, it's an open cut mine in the Upper Hunter. But for those that are familiar with the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales, coal mining jobs are the lifeblood of it. But it's very much a, it's a two part, or two speed economy. In the northern parts of the electorate, you have very much horse studs and cattle properties, where in the southern parts it is more coal mining. Joel is back with us now. G'day Joel, we lost you there. So, Mount Pleasant is an open cut mine?
FITZGIBBON: It is an open cut mine, and by coincidence, I'm just heading up the valley and I'm going past Mount Pleasant Winery and Vineyard. An iconic vineyard in our region. And it's a reminder that coal mining and viticulture have been living in harmony here for all of my life and will continue to do so. But the point about Mount Pleasant is this - they are seeking approval for a mine extension, which on memory takes them to about 2030. This is a reminder, I'm just so tired, Stephen, of all these people who say to me, we have to be honest with our coal miners, as if they don't understand their own industry and its future. They know that our Asian customers will be demanding, buying, both our thermal and metallurgical coal for decades to come. They don't need to be told wrongly that their jobs are coming to an end.
CENATIEMPO: But the thing that strikes me about this is this argument that people like Turnbull make is that the coal industry is in structural decline, but then suggests that businesses are going to open up coal mines willy-nilly to mine a product that they can't sell. I mean, are business people really that stupid?
FITZGIBBON: No, they're not. And people write to me when there's a new renewable energy project saying 'see, see' and I say, yeah, I know. People are investing heavily in renewables too. The market is taking care of itself. But that won't impact on our coal mining export industry. The overwhelming majority, Stephen, of our coal goes to export markets. You could close down all of our coal generators here in Australia, and it wouldn't have a huge impact on the coal mining industry. It's our Asian customers that are consuming our coal in large part.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, no two ways about that. Now, a lot of the criticism being thrown to the Federal Government, by State Governments over the vaccine rollout, I think has been unfounded. That's not to say that they don't deserve some criticism. But, Labor has flagged the idea of using stadiums for the vaccine rollout. Talk us through how that will work.
FITZGIBBON: Oh, I don't know Stephen. This is not my area of expertise. What I do know is that most of these attacks have been blue on blue. This has been the New South Wales Coalition Government attacking the Federal Coalition Government. I think that's the best guide for your listeners as to what's going on here. I think Morrison made the terrible mistake of either promising and under delivering. They have made a number of mistakes, the rollout has been poor. They promised 4 million vaccinations by the end of March, and they haven't hit 1 million yet. I think there's plenty of blame to go around. But at the same time, I believe this is a complex and difficult process, and they're always going to be difficulties and that's why Scott Morrison should never have over-promised in the way he did.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think that's probably right. Now we're hearing that a two-way travel bubble with New Zealand is on track to begin this month. But the reality is, even with the vaccine rollout, if it was up to scratch, outside of the Pacific, it's going to be very difficult to open our international borders anyway, isn't it?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, it is. And I know some of your listeners from time to time will take the view that we've been too cautious with our borders. But, you know, then you look towards Europe and like places, South America and see the difficulties they are having there. We are fortunate to be an island state and we've used that to our own advantage and we needed to be cautious. We cannot have this thing breaking out again. I welcome the bubble and I hope it works out.
CENATIEMPO: So, you're not booking your flights yet though?
FITZGIBBON: No, not quite yet.
CENATIEMPO: Good on you, Joel. We'll talk next week.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you mate. Cheers.
CENATIEMPO: Joel Fitzgibbon, Labor Member for Hunter, back with us next week on the program.