Transcript - Radio Interview - 2SM - Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Transcript - Radio Interview - 2SM - Wednesday, 16 September 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

16 September 2020

MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Now Joel Fitzgibbon, of course is on the Labor side of politics, and he knows that I like to give him a bit of a hard time about it because he's a bloke that's stuck in between a rock and a hard place even though he'd never really say it publicly. He's been not completely at odds with his party's policy on climate change and mining, however, it's a little difficult when you're coming from an area like Cessnock, you're representing your constituents in the Hunter, and you have a party that effectively doesn't like the industry that you, you know, a majority of your electorate of working in. He joins us on the program, Joel Fitzgibbon. Good Morning Joel, how are you?
PAUL: Okay, thank you for your time. The Prime Minister yesterday was in your backyard spruiking gas. The Morison Government will open up new gas supplies and back the construction of a gas-fired power station, in their new plan that will aim to prevent an energy price spike for employers and households. What did you make of all of this yesterday?
FITZGIBBON: And I'll be making sure it does, Marcus. We saw, as is so often the case, plenty of bells and whistles from the Prime Minister yesterday but not much substance. He was threatening to build a new gas-fired power station if someone doesn't. Well I say just build it. He was talking about what he might do on gas pipelines and I say, let's just do it. If we're going to get the firming power into the electricity market that we need to keep the grid stable as more and more renewables come in, then we need to build this firming power. That's pumped hydro, that's gas, that's battery storage. And I want all of those things happening in the Hunter. I want the Hunter to remain the powerhouse of New South Wales.
PAUL: What does that mean, though, for places like Liddell and the coal industry in your electorate?
FITZGIBBON: Well we might not like it, but coal-fired generators age. And when they eventually come to the end of their physical and economic lives – Liddell’s 50 years of age, and she can't keep going, much longer. So as those coal-fired generators exit the system, if you assume that investors aren't going to start showing an interest in coal-fired generators, then we need to replace that firming power - that synchronous, baseload power - into the system to keep the grid stable. Now the obvious fuel from which to do that is the abundance of gas we have in this country. It doesn't emit anywhere near the amount of carbon emissions, so it keeps people happy. But it gives you that baseload power that you need.
PAUL: What do your colleagues think of this stance? I mean I haven't really gone into much detail, this story’s only fairly new, but, for instance what is Labor's stance on the fracking and removal of coal from areas? Is it a concern that, again, that you might be placed at odds with some of your colleagues?
FITZGIBBON: Well, my colleagues understand that only about 35 per cent of our gas goes into electricity generation. Another 37 per cent goes to our industry, our manufacturers. They use it as a heating source, but also as a feedstock, an ingredient into the things they make. Fertiliser, for example, and ammonium nitrate, are basically just gas. Gas makes them, it's the flour, like the flour you put into the cake. And so, gas is very important not just for electricity generation, but for lots of industries. Petrochemicals is another one, a lot of our building products, plastics. So, they also create lots of jobs in this country. So we need to be exploiting our natural gas supplies and this fracking has become a dirty word, you know. It's short for fracturing - using high pressure water to fracture through the rocks, from where the gas is trapped. So, we've got to be sensible about these things. We can do these things safely, not necessarily everywhere. We need to be discerning about where we do it but we've got an abundance of gas in lots of places, and there are communities like Narrabri, which want these - they want this gas exploited to create economic wealth and jobs in their local area.
PAUL: Well that's right, I mean that is a priority. I mean what about… I'll get to Narrabri in a moment, but Kurri Kurri, in your electorate. Snowy Hydro, which of course is owned by the Government, the Government of taxpayers. I mean there is a study going on whether they will build a new gas-fired power station in Kurri Kurri. Is that something that you would like to see come to fruition?
FITZGIBBON: I’m going to make sure it happens, Marcus, and Meryl Swanson, my neighbouring MP and I have been arguing this case for more than three years, now. We've lost three years while Scott Morrison continued this pretence that he’d force AGL somehow to extend a 50 year-old power station. In fact, he in part won an election promising to extend Liddell and, of course, we now know that will never happen. And this was the sort of farcical side of yesterday's announcement. What he was saying is: I'll give them seven more months to extend Liddell and if they don’t I'll build my own power station – like a child almost. Well I say: no, just build it Prime Minister. Snowy Hydro is wholly-owned by your government, and if it builds this power station it will not only create jobs and wealth in my region, but it'll provide a return on the taxpayers’ investment. Snowy Hydro will make money out of a new gas-fired power station in Kurri Kurri.
PAUL: All right, well, let's go to this other – I mean, there are a number of other areas not necessarily just in your electorate, but I mean if you look at areas that you mentioned before – Narrabri, I mean. That is a priority apparently. The Narrabri gas field in northern New South Wales, being developed by Santos at the moment, it's awaiting a state regulatory decision by the end of this month, after which it will require federal environmental approval. I mean, if Scott Morrison is, you know, is to be taken at his word, and he's spruiking the benefits of extracting, you know, gas I should say, as an economic recovery agent, well then this should get the green light for Narrabri, yes?
FITZGIBBON: And of course it should, and sadly under Gladys Berejiklian, it's been almost 10 years in the approvals process. Think about that: we have a system which keeps people waiting for 10 years or more – 13 years in Queensland with the Acland coal mine. Now, if Scott Morrison really wants to do something useful, he can get onto Gladys Berejiklian and say: let's get this Narrabri project across the line.
PAUL: What about the Greens on this issue? Greens and other environmental lobbyists? They've slammed the idea of expanding the use of fossil fuels rather than renewable energy supplies. But, of course, the Government is arguing that our emissions will fall by using gas to shift away from coal. I mean, you can't be on the one hand complaining that you want to have a secure and safe supply of energy – okay, so we can't use coal going forward even though thermal coal probably is a little cleaner than what some would say it is – but now they're going to also complain about gas. I mean, if this is the way, we'll have windmills and solar panels all around the country and have an ineffective and unreliable energy sector, and that's not the way to go, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: They are very unhelpful, Marcus. They fall into two categories. Firstly, ignorant. They just don't know any better. And second, those who do know better, but it doesn't suit their political ideology to say it. And the latter category, of course, the group of the latter category are the worst. We can't we can have, as you know Marcus, 100 per cent renewable. Our grid isn't designed to operate like that. We need synchronous power going into the system. And if investors aren't going to invest in new coal generators, then we've got to have gas generators, and they fail to ever mention the 37 per cent of the gas that is so critical for our manufacturing sector. I was recently at Orica's plant, on Kooragang Island in Newcastle. They make ammonium nitrate, which is used as an explosive in our open cut coal mines. We don't have open cut coal mines without it. And we can't have ammonium nitrate without gas. These people don't think these issues through.
PAUL: No and they go for the headlines of the sky is falling and environmental catastrophe, climate change and all the rest of it, and coal causes bushfires. I mean, it's a big stretch. All right Joel.
FITZGIBBON: And Marcus, can I just quickly say I support renewables. We want more renewables into the system. But we can't get more renewables in until we get more firming power in as well.
PAUL: No, that's right, and a country the size of Australia. I mean, we're not a European – we cannot follow the European ideology of smaller countries with a much significantly smaller landmass than Australia. Simply, we are too big or too spread out in order to, you know, fully go…
FITZGIBBON: And have loads like Tomago aluminum smelter, and God forbid if we ever didn't have them.
PAUL: Alright, good to chat Joel as always. We'll catch up soon.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks Marcus.