RAY HADLEY, HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal Labor MP for the Hunter, he's on the line now. G'day, Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good to be with you, Ray.
HADLEY: Now two things I wanted to have a yarn to you about. I'll get to the most recent one first. Labor and the Greens have delivered a shock defeat to the federal government with a Senate vote to strike down plans to invest taxpayer funds into new fossil fuel technologies, taking advantage of the surprising absence of One Nation leader in the Senate, Pauline Hanson. The Senate vote last night vetoed Energy Minister, Angus Taylor's changes to regulations to expand the remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, known as ARENA, to fund the development of carbon capture and storage and blue hydrogen, which is produced with gas. Can you understand why they've teamed with the Greens, your party?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, well, as you know, Ray, I call a spade a spade and my colleagues won't thank me but this isn't very clever, and I'm not sure we were supposed to win. Pauline didn't turn up last night and the disallowance motion got up. And you know, this regulation put in by the government was about allowing ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to do more things with more money. And it's regrettable that Labor is now opposing $1.2 billion worth of public investment in carbon reducing innovation, simply because we don't like the entities being used to spend the additional money. Now this is ideological craziness.
HADLEY: I mean, just go back to the technicalities of this because people will be trying to understand. And I'll use an old expression, you understand. Are you suggesting the Labor Party in the Senate were running dead, and just supporting the Greens in belief they'd get voted down anyway. But then were shocked to see that Pauline wasn't in the chamber. So all of a sudden, running dead, they won by default?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I can't know what is in the minds or was in the minds of those running this tactic. But what I do now is we won. Now...
HADLEY: ... You weren't supposed to win, were you? Is that what I'm getting?
FITZGIBBON: Look, I believe the people who argued that we should oppose this initiative, I thought they wanted to win. But I privately wondered whether it was a bit of a tactic to make a point, and would do no harm, because we weren't likely to win and we should not have won. And Pauline not turning up, of course, gave us the victory I didn't want.
HADLEY: So, in terms of what it means, to say to your constituents in the Hunter Valley in simple terms, by the veto that was presented last night by your party, what does it mean to your constituents, the people who will vote for you at the next election if offered the chance?
FITZGIBBON: Well, two things. It sends the message that we don't support, carbon capture and storage. And if people are serious about getting global emissions down, they should be embracing the idea of taking the carbon out of the fossil fuel process and burying it in the ground. Second, just to give one example, some of the $194 million dollars that was going into ARENA, or should have gone into arena, if it were not for last night was going to be used to roll out EV, electric vehicle charging stations in the regions. Obviously, where they, the population is sparse, it's less economical to roll out these expensive charging stations. And of course, that opportunity has now passed us all because that money won't be available, but the idea of putting more money into efficiency so our heavy vehicles give out less emissions and some of our industry give out less emission is a good thing for regional Australia. It creates economic activity. I'd understand the argument of others if we were going to use money already in ARENA to do these things. But the government was proposing to put more money into it. We're not displacing windmills and solar panels. We're going to do those too. But we, you know, people were hopeful we might do some new things as well.
HADLEY: The West Australian Government, I read this Federal Labor and the Greens are blocking important legislation to cut red tape, create jobs and strengthen environmental protection. So, it would seem to fly in the face of what at least Labor is trying to achieve by voting with the Greens in this particular piece of legislation.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, well this again, is unfortunate. I mean, Graeme Samuel held the statutory review into the EPBC, that's the Commonwealth's primary environmental legislation and he said: look, this bill is not working for business and it's not working for the environment and it needs fixing, and the Government's put up some proposals to do that. Labor's not really opposed to the proposal, it's arguing the government's rushing them through. I think it's time to get on with it. I know Mark McGowan in Western Australia, the Premier, is certainly keen for us to get on with it. So, too, is everyone in the resources sector, the agriculture sector and many others and we really do need – I mean, Samuel reported last year, and you know, the Minerals Council has said that on Greenfield projects, it can cost the company $47 million every month if there are delays. We need to create this one-touch system so that you don't have to go to the State Government for months getting approvals, and then when you've done that, go off to the Federal Government and wait maybe years to get the second level of approval. It needs to be fixed.
HADLEY: Yeah sure. Now, on the other matter, because it's your hometown, I thought you'd take an interest in it and you have. You made a speech about Mark Vaile. You've said a new form of McCarthyism has crept into Australian culture. It's alive and well in the Hunter region, deep in coal economy heartland. You say the 21st century version of the Cold War doctrine has been on display that local University. Now, this is about him being voted by four people, independently, to be the Chancellor, which is pretty much a titular role. But he's been forced to surrender before he's been appointed, because of people screaming the joint down because he chairs the board of Whitehaven Coal. But you also point out in your speech he's the chair of an investment fund, which has a billion dollars’ worth of wind and solar technologies under management. And it's only a ceremonial job anyway. But all of a sudden, those from the left and those because someone said Whitehaven and coal together, and because this bloke happened to be the chair, they've hounded him from office before he took office.
FITZGIBBON: That's right. In a campaign, Ray, funded and organised, well organised, I should say by the usual environmental groups. And, you know, I made the point last night in the parliament, today it's the coal mining industry. But tomorrow, it will be the oil, gas and refining sectors and then maybe they'll move on to meat processing and wool because, you know, the animal rights activists don't like those either. So this is a bit of a slippery slope and I pose the question, who is the final arbiter in these things? And I also made the point that by demonising Mark Vaile, a former Deputy Prime Minister, with great corporate experience and deep connections into both the Federal and State Government, which is not unimportant, Ray, but by demonising him because of his association with the coal mining industry, they are demonising every person who, the tens of thousands of people who work in the coal mining industry and in relating sectors.
HADLEY: I mean, when he thought he was going to get the job, and he'd been voted to get the job as a fait accompli, he said:
I'm excited by the role I can play in helping the University deliver on its commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2025.
the importance of an energy transition in our backyard, the education sector has a critical role to play in this challenge.
All sensible stuff that you'd want educators to talk about, and people leading universities to talk about, and yet, those from the left have hounded him out of office before he took office.
FITZGIBBON: That's right, Ray. And the optics of a guy from the coal mining industry, joining at the University, with the University in their ambitions for a cleaner economy should be a welcome thing. And of course, around the world, the biggest investors now in low carbon innovation are the big corporations that have been traditionally into oil, gas and mining. You know, they're switching their investments too. So what an opportunity to say, you know, we are now coming together, we can still have a coal mining industry, but a coal mining guy in Mark Vaile is also prepared to work with the University, on its current aspirations to lower their own emissions and to drive research into carbon reducing innovation. It was a good mix, but sadly, the hard left, the excessive progressives, as I call them, are just on an ideological bent, and it was a shrill and misleading campaign.
HADLEY: Alright, as always, good to hear you and take wise counsellors often say in such matters, the world has gone completely cuckoo, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: I agree. I agree. Good on you, Ray.
HADLEY: Cheers, Joel. Joel Fitzgibbon, Federal Labor MP for the Hunter. A thinking man.