RICHARD KING, HOST: I think certainly not on the invite list to join all sorts of people in the New South Wales Minerals Council sponsored box at the Voice for Mining day last Sunday for the game against the St George-Illawarra Dragons, I don't think Malcolm Turnbull was on the list. But certainly somebody who was is joining us now, Member for Hunter, Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon, he's on the line. Good morning, Joel.
SHANNA BULL, HOST: Good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good morning team. How are you?
BULL: We're well, thank you.
KING: Look, obviously the hot topic at the moment is the fact that Malcolm Turnbull, who only last week was appointed to chair the New South Wales Net-zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board, was removed from that job yesterday. A lot of people have had a lot to say about that, including, well, Kate Washington, who's the New South Wales Shadow Environment Minister said Malcolm Turnbull should never have been appointed. You also are quoted in the Herald today saying it's a terrible decision, or it was a terrible decision to appoint such a high profile, anti-coal advocate to the board. Can we just have a listen, firstly, to what Malcolm Turnbull had to say after the PM and Angus Taylor came to Newcastle in September of last year to announce that gas would lead the economic recovery out of the coronavirus pandemic. This is what Malcolm Turnbull had to say.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Seriously, we have got to stop this mad ideology, ideological approach to energy. It's not a question of whether you're for coal, against coal, for gas, against gas. They are just physical things. They all have certain characteristics. Some of them have high emissions, some of them have low emissions, some of them are variable, some of them are dispatchable, and you've got to get the right mix. When the government starts saying this fuel is the one to go with that, honestly, in the energy sector, people are just, they are punch drunk with these random interventions from government, it's got to stop. We just need a coherent energy and climate policy. We had that in the NEG. Sadly, you know, that was blown up in 2018. But really, that's what we need to get back to. And then I promise you, the market will do its work and we will have affordable, reliable and lower emissions energy.
KING: That's Malcolm Turnbull, our former PM commenting in September of last year.
BULL: And Joel, you obviously wouldn't agree with what Malcolm Turnbull had to say there.
FITZGIBBON: I think they call that hypocrisy and political desperation. Look, I try very hard to respect the Office of the Prime Minister and all of those who have occupied it. I think anyone who has taken that position deserves to be respected. But I'm just dumbfounded both by Malcolm Turnbull's behavior, and of course, the New South Wales Government's decision to appoint him to this board. I always look to both sides of any political argument or any political decision, but I cannot see any sense in that decision by the cabinet, not just one Minister, by the cabinet, and I'm very pleased they've reversed it because it's very, very clear that Malcolm Turnbull wants to shut down our coal mining industry.
KING: Right. Look, the headline in Michael Parris's article in the Newcastle Herald today - Malcolm Turnbull dumped as rivals tried to out-coal each other in the Upper Hunter by-election. And it's obviously, you know, a lot of the statements from Mark Latham are squarely looking at this by-election coming up in the Upper Hunter. But, out-coal each other, and it would seem that you're a part of that out-coaling each other, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: No, I don't think that's right. One Nation will be playing a bit of catch up because they voted in the Senate recently to do over our coal miners by backing Scott Morrison's IR legislation. But I'd like coal to play a minimum role in the by-election. It seems to me that all the main players have expressed very solidly their support for the industry, including the Labor Party, so we should accept that, set that aside and talk also about the other important issues that affect that electorate. They are always of course, health, education, Tafe, some infrastructure projects which they have been talking about. This Government has been in place in Sydney for 10 years, we still haven't seen a bulldozer on the sites for the Muswellbrook or Singleton bypasses. There are big debates about the design of both of those projects. So I think that we can just all agree - other than the Greens, of course - that the coal mining industry is critically important to our economy, that we support coal mining jobs, and we can discuss then the other issues facing the electorate.
BULL: Do you think that ultimately at the end of the day, Joel, this decision by New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, was a decision made basically just in a bid to try and win the Upper Hunter by-election?
FITZGIBBON: I know, John Barilaro made it very, very clear on Sky News last night that when they made that decision, they could not have seen the by-election coming. It was almost an admission that Malcolm Turnbull would still be in the position if it were not for the by-election. But notwithstanding that, I'm pleased Malcolm has been taken out of the equation because - look, I support zero-net emissions, and I do believe we can get there by 2050 without doing any harm to existing traditional jobs. But we don't need people like Malcolm Turnbull in there showing a heavy bias against the coal mining industry, muddying up that process.
KING: Right. Back to his comments about gas, we've spoken to you on a number of occasions about the establishment by the Federal Government of a gas fired power generator on the old Hydro site at Kurri Kurri. You know, Paul Broad, the head of Snowy Hydro pretty well. You're of the opinion that we'll go ahead 100 per cent, you're still of that opinion?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I certainly know Paul is very keen and determined to make that project happen. I'm a strong supporter, I also hope that AGL will build one near Tomago Aluminium smelter. And the problem here though, Richard, is that the government at the moment, Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison, are playing a funny game. They're trying to garner domestic votes by intervening in the gas market, threatening to set the price for those who produce gas. Now, that sounds great. They’re trying to claim that they're bringing prices down for households and for industry. But if you do that, you send investment running, and if investment isn't forthcoming, then you end up with supply constraints and the price doesn't go down, the price actually goes up. So I appeal today for Scott Morrison to get out of the way. Let us develop sites like Narrabri, get more gas into the system, more gas pipelines to bring more competition, and therefore delivering gas to those, hopefully, to be built gas peaking stations and cheaper energy for our households.
KING: Well, there seems to be, certainly on the part of private enterprise, I mean, Twiggy Forrest is talking about one down in the Illawarra region, there seems to be a greater acceptance of gas at the moment than coal, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Yes, well, gas is far more clean and efficient than is coal. But the overwhelming majority of our coal goes to export markets, this is the point. Now when our coal fired electricity generators reach the end of their physical and economic lives, they'll close and we're not likely to build anymore because investors aren't interested. But our coal mining exports will go on for decades to come. As we speak they are building coal generators right throughout Asia. They're also making lots of steel from metallurgical coal. So, we will be exporting coal to Asia for the decades to come and I tire of these people who say, we have to be honest with our coal miners. No. Stop treating coal miners as if they're stupid. They know the industry as well as anyone, and they know it has a bright future. And I'm backing that future.
BULL: Hey Joel, look, I need to know this. I'd like to know this. What are you going to do with all the Malcolm Turnbull posters you collected for the Upper Hunter by-election?
FITZGIBBON: Well, an old football mate of mine suggested that they had some new toilets at the local footy ground and suggested they need some directional signs to show the punters how to get there. So he thought they might be put into use the other way around.
KING: Right. And finally, a couple of weeks ago you were the feature article on the Weekend Magazine in the Australian newspaper. I think the headline was 'The Player' and there was a photo of you with - appropriate because we've got the US Masters kicking off this weekend - you with a golf club standing there in your plus fours on the golf course. And look, I looked at that and I've spoken to a number of people about that. And I'm just wondering, it would have been your call on you know, yep, I'm okay with that photo. What was the image you were trying to project there? I've looked at that umpteen times and I can't figure it out, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: No, it's far more innocent than that, Richard. They asked me if they could take some shots on the golf course and maybe stupidly, I agreed. I have to say, I look a lot better than I play, you can be sure of that.
KING: Yeah, but you must have given your consent to have that on the front.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah absolutely. You know, you don't want a picture of a bloke in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk. They said, you know, you play a bit of golf, can we get a shot of you on the golf course. I said yeah, I'm fine with that. So, that's me, that's who I am and in part that's not all of who I am, obviously, it's a once a week proposition for me. But I was happy to do that, no problem. And on sport and footy and all of that, can I just give a shout out to Cessnock Council's outdoor staff. Today here in Cessnock, we're opening Bridge's Hill Park. It is absolutely amazing and it was built by our Council staff and it's something they should be very, very proud of.
BULL: Well done. Thank you, Joel.
KING: Okay, we were talking about Greg Norman earlier today. Everybody is talking about his sort of, the photo his wife took in the shower. Yeah, I should imagine you're not going to start posting photos of yourself with a golf club and no clothes on.
FITZGIBBON: Well, some people might say I'm a bit of a media tard and can't say no to a photo, but you can be pretty confident there'll be no photo of Joel Fitzgibbon in the shower.
BULL: From the man himself, there we go.
FITZGIBBON: Shanna, it's not something you want to, you know, sorry for putting that vision in your mind.
KING: Despite the enormous injury toll, you're tipping the Knights to bounce back this weekend up on the Gold Coast?
FITZGIBBON: You know, I was just talking about the 79' Grand Final when North Newcastle beat my beloved Goanna's with 12 men, having had a player sent off early in the game. You know, these things, adversity can lift a team and I think they will lift on the weekend, at least I hope they do, and I think they're a red-hot chance and gee, we just need to pray that we get some players back on the field.
KING: Hear, hear. Well, Kalyn Ponga will be back and hopefully that'll make a difference. Thank you very much for your time this morning, Joel.
BULL: Thanks, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Always a pleasure.
KING: Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon on 2HD.