RICHARD KING, HOST: Morning Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good morning team.
KING: Why are you outraged about the decision by Mark Vaile not to take on the position as Chancellor of Newcastle University.
FITZGIBBON: I told the Parliament last night that this is a new form of McCarthyism. In the Cold War, people got blacklisted for suspicion they were sympathising with the Communist Party. Today here in Australia they were blacklisting people because of their association with particular industries. And, you know, when they demonise Mark Vaile, they effectively demonise the tens of thousands who, in the Hunter, who work in the coal mining industry, or in industries associated with that sector. And that does make me angry. Now, Mark Vaile is a former Deputy Prime Minister. He's got a very extensive corporate experience. He made a commitment to the University's strategic plan. He did so very publicly. Of course, he has good contacts at both state and federal government level, as a former Deputy Prime Minister and a member of the Coalition. They are, of course, in power at both levels of government. And the interesting thing, of course, is that we are leading the country in renewable energy here in the Hunter. We've got enormous number of projects in the pipeline – pumped hydro, solar thermal, photovoltaic solar, battery storage, hydrogen, gas peaking, you name it, we are doing it in the Hunter. And around the world, the people investing most in renewable energy are the traditional oil, gas, and mining companies, like the BHPs of the world. So, we should have welcomed someone from the coal industry's commitment to renewable energy and the university's strategic plan.
KING: You said a group of people have been demonising Mark Vaile, but surely they've just been saying they think it's an inappropriate appointment. I mean, there's a letter in the Newcastle Herald this morning, and I'll quote a bit:
“it is hard to understand how the council – the University Council – could not see the irreconcilable conflict arising from appointing the chairman of a coal company to the Chancellorship of a public university.”
FITZGIBBON: Well, this is a University in coal economic heartland, Richard. You know, we drive the economy here with the coal – of New South Wales with the current coal mining industry. How would they pay all those academics at the University of Newcastle and researchers without the enormous amount of revenue that comes from the coal mining industry.
KING: The state budget yesterday, I think 1.6 billion from mining royalties to the state government. You add to that the stamp duty thanks to the the property boom at the moment, and, you know, the coffers are looking pretty good. But that aside, we live in a democracy and if people find it not a good decision to appoint Mark Vailes as chairman, they have the say, people who are large donors, philanthropists, whatever you want to call them...
SHANNA BULL, HOST: But once people spoke out and said they weren't going to donate anymore, that would have been a huge push for the, you know, against the University to do that. Would you agree Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well, arguably, the University had no choice in the end. That's the point. Although a lot of those philanthropists were not actually donors to the university, the philanthropists were driving and funding the campaign. But the key point here is that they weren't rejecting Mark Vaile because he committed some crime or, you know, had done something terrible in our community, they we're demonising him because he chaired a coal mining company. Now that is, that appears to be a crime. This is coal shaming. And what message does it send to the tens of thousands of people who work in the mining industry? Should they be ashamed of their work? No, we should be proud of them and they should be proud of themselves.
KING: I disagree with you. I don't think it's about coal shaming. I just think it's people saying they think, you know, you could pick anybody, and the current Chancellor has decided to stay on, and everybody's happy with that. And it's, you know, blatantly, you know, democracy at work. People have had their say and he's decided not to take on the position.
FITZGIBBON: But Richard...
KING: I don't see how that is demonising coal.
FITZGIBBON: But Richard, the University is shedding jobs, and the best way to fix that is to get more Commonwealth revenue into the University and indeed state government revenue into their research projects. And Mark Vaile – I'm not here to be Mark Vaile's advocate, I barely know Mark – but, you know, he could have been a great advocate. He has deep connections into government at both state and federal level. That, that would have been helpful, but the idea that a chairman of a coal company was prepared to sign up to the university is quite progressive strategic plan, I think was a significant one.
KING: And he did say... and he did say that he was 100 per cent behind the philosophy etcetera of the centre of the university.
BULL: Joel, do you have concerns, though, at the end of the day that we may see other industries targeted next?
FITZGIBBON: That's the point I made in the parliament last night. Today it's coal, tomorrow it will be oil and gas and, you know, aluminium smelting, which is energy intensive, then it will be abattoirs over animal welfare, the wool industry, which also comes under attack by animal activists - where does it end? And who are the arbiters of this? Who makes these decisions? That's why I'm saying the community must rise up against these ideological obsession with climate change.
BULL: I think it shows that Newcastle is not all pro-coal at the same time, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Well, it shows that the University is helping the country and the valley move to a lower carbon economy – that's a good thing. And Mark Vaile was signing up. But remember, there are hundreds of millions of people in Asia who won't have lights tonight still and they're relying upon us to continue to providing them with the energy they need to industrialise and become a modern country like us, and we shouldn't be denying them. And we should be accepting the export income.
KING: Look, just changing the subject now. But we're talking about China, a lot of people have accused the federal government of sort of poking the bear. Sussan Ley is our Environment Minister's comments re the decision by UNESCO to declare the Great Barrier Reef in danger. Her comment that it was political because that group is chaired by China. Do you think they're helpful those sorts of comments?
FITZGIBBON: No, they're not, Richard. Since Gough Whitlam went to Beijing in 1972 we've managed a challenging relationship with a much different country than ours. We can't change China, from Australia, but we can do commerce with them. And they are our largest trading partner. So we have to stick up for our values, stick up for ourselves and all that, but be smart about it, as we've always done, because if we lose their trade, Richard, as we already have, in part, that's going to have a big, that's going to be very bad for our economy.
BULL: And just finally, Joel, your thoughts on the return of the very colourful character in Barnaby Joyce?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, well, obviously, it doesn't make much difference to my life, but I will say this – he shouldn't be underestimated. He is a good retail politician. But I actually see it, Barnaby and I fight like cats and dogs publicly, but we do talk a lot. And I see an opportunity here to work with Barnaby Joyce to get more bipartisanship and sensible approach into the climate change debate. We are leading, you know, the development of renewable energy here and the Hunter, but we also have to maintain those traditional jobs in those traditional industries like coal and coal generation. We can walk and chew gum too and I think Joyce and I could do some things together on that front.
KING: Right and the Central Charlestown, despite what you've said, are still equal leaders of the Newcastle Rugby League comp. And you're tipping the blues to win on Sunday night?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, of course. Richard I almost, Shanna, I almost feel sorry for Queensland. I, you know, obviously, obviously their playing group is depleted through injuries and they're going through generational change. And I think New South Wales will be red hot. Go the Blues.
KING: Go the Blues.
BULL: Go the Blues.
KING: Thanks for your time this morning. Have a good day, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks team, Cheers.