Transcript - Radio Interview - 2cc - Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Transcript - Radio Interview - 2cc - Wednesday, 7 October 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

07 October 2020

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: To rain on the Government’s parade, we are joined by the Shadow Agriculture and Resources Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Stephen, as you know I will give you an objective and fair assessment of the budget.
CENATIEMPO: Okay, tell me what's wrong with it?
FITZGIBBON: You don't know whether to consider Josh the luckiest or unluckiest Treasurer in history. I mean unlucky, because he's had to deal with a pandemic and all its economic impacts But lucky, because he's been able to spend everything he wants on everything he likes without any real criticism. We have eye-watering debt and deficit but I think the community will be pretty tolerant of that because they understand that money has to be spent to get the economy going again and to help people who are in trouble. Whether it's well-targeted spending, I think only time will tell. It has to be maximum in its economic stimulus, it has to create lots of jobs. If it does so, well, it would have been a good budget, but I think only time will tell.
CENATIEMPO: Well, there's a couple of big problems that I see with it. Well, first let me address - the debt is… I guess he's lucky in the sense of the interest rates are as low as they're ever going to be. so the interest payments on that debt are no more than they were pre-COVID. But at some point you've got to pay the principal back, obviously. But the two big issues I see are this reliance on a vaccine being readily available by the end of next year. And secondly, you're relying on business to actually go out there and, and do what you want it to do. Based on the stimulus you’re providing.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, that's right Stephen. There's some really heroic assumptions in the budget. I mean, it's like a household budget, you’re guessing what you're going to have to spend in the coming year, and the vaccine is obviously the big one. And even on their own assumptions, they're still talking about, I think, there's a $60 billion budget deficit in 10 years’ time. So it's my grandkids that are going to end up paying back much of this debt and that's a concern, and that's why we hope that they've spent the money well to stimulate the economy as much as is possible. A lot of people are missing out too of course. I'm disappointed that anyone over 35 won't get any of that job-training assistance. I don't know why they have written them off. I mean, these are people who probably had a job for life and now don't but the government has turned their back on them. I don't really understand that. Social housing could have been better. I think job, I think everyone believes Jobseeker, the old unemployment rate is too low. It's not sustainable, particularly in this environment. So a lot of things missed out last night.
CENATIEMPO: I'm still not convinced the JobKeeper - or whatever it happens to be called next year because each government likes to change the name of it every couple of years - I'm still not convinced it's going to go back to the pre-COVID rate. I think we'll see an announcement on that later on but I understand what you're saying about older workers. I understand the focus on youth unemployment because that has been a generational problem, but it's almost like you're replacing one problem potentially with another.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, if you start talking about apprenticeships and young people in traineeships, I start dancing Stephen. That's one of my pet projects. But we don't know of course, whether, you know, giving an employer some money for the first year of the apprenticeship, whether that really will make a difference. I hope so, only time will tell. And I’m pleased to see pensioners getting a bit of a top-up – it’s not much, but yeah these people who are left in the middle-aged group, I just, you know, fail to see - if you're 36, you still have a lot to contribute to the workforce for many years, but you are in trouble at the moment, because what, there's something like 13 people looking for every job available. So it just makes no sense to ignore all of those people.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think you're right. The other issue, one of the good things I saw I thought was the infrastructure spending, having basically time limits on it so that, you know, we’ll fund your projects and this is I guess throwing down the gauntlet to state government, but if you don't spend it we'll take it off you and give it to someone else. I think that might actually put a bit of a rocket on the state governments when it comes to building infrastructure and I know a major project in your electorate was one named, the Singleton Bypass that, you know, governments of all varieties have been dilly-dallying about for years.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, obviously I very much welcome the Singleton Bypass – better late than never. I’ve been fighting for it for years, as you know, and it’ll make an enormous difference there. But as you know, if you're spending a trillion dollars you might have thought that there are a number of other projects getting funded and some big ticket items. Even in the Hunter region there are other projects, like the Glendale Interchange and the M1 Extension - your listeners don't know them, but really important economic projects in the Hunter Valley, ready to go but they missed out last night. A trillion dollars and we can't find more projects than a Singleton bypass? I mean, something's not right there.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I guess you’ve got to draw the line somewhere but you're right, it does sound like a hell of a lot of money for little - but I mean the devil’s in the detail. Have you had a chance to go through, line by line, and see what’s in it for your – well I imagine your electorate is the first priority, of course, but then looking at it further from your portfolio perspectives of agriculture and resources?
FITZGIBBON: No, last night I was focused on the macro, the big picture, and my local electorate. Today I'll go line by line through my portfolio areas of responsibility. The resources sector will welcome accelerated depreciation, you know, the instant write-off. So will agriculture. There's a bit of stuff for water in there, but I haven't yet had the opportunity to closely analyse it. They're talking about this agricultural workforce shortage we have. It looks like they're giving some money to relocation but I can tell you, Stephen, that's not going to fix the problem. It's going to need something more sophisticated than that.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think you're right. Look on the face of it, you know, it looks like a lot of money being thrown around, but it's going to, it's going to take time to see how it all works out and whether or not the results go the way the Government wants. I'm sure they’re sweating on it as are the rest of us. Joel, always good to talk you, we’ll catch up again next week.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure Stephen.