STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Joining us as he does on a Wednesday is the Labor Member for Hunter and one of the few voices of common sense in the parliament, Joel Fitzgibbon. G'day Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: G'day Stephen, how are you?
CENATIEMPO: I want to talk to you about something, before we get into issues important. Now you mentioned something called the Otis group when we spoke to you last week. Now, from what I gather, this is a rather secretive organisation, and most – I was saying this to eddy earlier that most gatherings within politics, it's pretty easy to identify who is in them. But my understanding there's about 20 of those Otis groups, but I can only track the five members.
FITZGIBBON: Well, it's hardly a secret, Stephen, when we openly dine in Canberra restaurants in particular, the Otis Dining Hall in Kingston, where it derived its name. It's a pretty innocent thing, Stephen. It's a group of MPs getting together and discussing policy and having a few lighter moments. A group of, I suppose, fairly conservative Labor MPs, determined on sticking, keeping the party on track, keeping it close to its traditional roots, and focusing solely on working class people and their aspirations, their aspirations to climb the ladder, and to provide both for themselves and their children.
CENATIEMPO: So, we know that you are the supreme leader of the Otis group, and you mentioned last week that the late Senator Alex Gallacher was a member. From what I can gather Don Farrell and Kimberley Kitching are also part of the group. Senator Raff Ciccone from Victoria outed himself on this program last week, do you want to make any other admissions about some of your fellow travellers?
FITZGIBBON: There are plenty more, Stephen. I'm not going to name them on your program. It has been published by the way, there was a sensational story by Peter van Onselen not that long ago, where the whole list was provided to the newspapers for public consumption. But look it's an innocent thing. It's, if more than anything, I suppose, it's a group of people determine on putting Labor in a position to win an election because you know, Stephen, some of those people have real commitments to principles and their ideological approach to certain policy matters. And I keep reminding people, you can have the best policies in the world, but they're not much good if I stay in the top drawer of the desk after every election. And the reality is the Labor Party hasn't proven very good at winning elections in the last few decades. And we need to do better because there are a lot of Australians out there who rely upon the Labor Party to win the election, at least from time to time.
CENATIEMPO: Well, you and I have discussed on a number of occasions over the years that most Australians are inherently conservative, despite the fact that they might have different ideas of what that word means. And both the Labor and Liberal parties always seem to be most successful when they come from that sort of centrist base. But both parties seem to be losing that at the moment.
FITZGIBBON: You know, within the Labor Party, I always talk about the Hawke/Keating model. Those two gentlemen brought the Labor Party well and truly to the centre of the political debate where the overwhelming majority of Australians rest. We're in a two-party system, which means Australians change from one side to the other from, from time to time, not often enough from my perspective. But you know, about 70 per cent of them are in that political centre, and if you're not, if you're not appealing to them, you're not in the race.
CENATIEMPO: Now I want to talk to something that's – talk about something that's very close to your heart, particularly in your electorate. The UN's top climate official has told Australia to have an honest and rational conversation about urgently ditching coal-fired power and shutting down the coal industry within 10 years. I mean, this is just ludicrous.
FITZGIBBON: It was a curious speech, Stephen, for a number of reasons. First of all, here you have a UN adviser making a speech in Canberra and sharing heavy criticisms of our own Prime Minister on his own. I mean, he really talked about the government's failure to commit to net zero emission, something you know I believe in. I believe Australia can make net zero emissions by 2050 without doing any harm to our economy because we'll have the technology to get there. And our coal-fired generators will close when they come to the end of their physical lives and we won't be replacing them because the market has no interest in replacing them. So that's already happening. But one it fails to understand is that the overwhelming majority of our coal mining industry is focused on export markets. And we'll be exporting that coal for many years to come. And if we cut that coal off from our partners in Asia, well, the lights would be literally going off up there, Stephen, and their steel mills, for example, would be grinding to a halt, slowing down the development of countries like India and China. So, this seems to be not very well understood in New York, and I would have thought he'd do a little bit more research before making such a speech.
CENATIEMPO: I think another important point, too, is given the drama with our relationship with China, seeing that Indian economy build itself up is so, it is probably more important now to Australia than ever has been.
FITZGIBBON: And of course, we had all that controversy about the Adani mine in Central Queensland. Now, that's built by an Indian company, why? Because they desperately need a secure source of thermal coal to drive their growth for the next 30 years. So, if your listeners are asking yourself who's right about where coal consumption is going, that is the UN advisor in New York, or the Indians putting billions of dollars into a mine in Queensland, I suspect I'll bet the Indians every time
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, no two ways about that. Well, Joel, once we get out of lockdown and the Otis group has the opportunity to enjoy Damian Brabender’s fantastic food once again, can you put on the agenda at the next oldest group meeting nuclear power?
FITZGIBBON: Well, we've had that discussion, and it is something that has to be front and centre for Australians as we think about our energy future. The prohibition in Australia is stupid and outdated. And, you know, someone proposing a nuclear generator in Australia should be able to run the same gauntlet as any other person making an application to do something on an industrial scale in Australia. If it can't meet the test, well so be it, the community rejects it, so be it, but it should be allowed at least to canvas its idea, its proposal with the Australian community. And the last, my last point on Otis, Stephen, is this: we are there to do good things.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah. No, I'm 100 per cent with you. Speaking of which; how's that Fitzgibbon Shorten leadership ticket coming along?
FITZGIBBON: There is no such thing.
CENATIEMPO: Talk to you next week.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you mate.