LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: Joel, good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: G'day, Liam. Good to be with you.
BARTLETT: Good to catch up with you. Would you be supportive, Joel, of a push to consider nuclear?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I'd love to see some bipartisanship, Liam. And there's been a bit of that around the place lately. We've formed a Parliamentary Friendship Group, getting behind the idea and we had a briefing actually a very good briefing from an academic here in Parliament House just this week. He was talking mainly about the fifth generation of nuclear generators, so called small modular reactors, which are smaller, they are safer, they don't need water cooling, and they can even be buried under the ground. So in many ways, they are safer and more efficient than the earlier generations.
BARTLETT: A Parliamentary Friendship Group. That sounds like an oxymoron.
FITZGIBBON: It does indeed, doesn't it. But, we have Friendship Groups in Parliament for all sorts of causes, including, you know, various forms of cancer. You name it, there's a Friendship Group. And it's good to have one, to establish a bipartisan approach to these issues.
BARTLETT: And what was the reaction of the group with Labor and Liberal and others involved?
FITZGIBBON: Well, very attentive. There are many Members of Parliament of all stripe, who understand that around the world, countries safely generate with nuclear fuels. I mean, France is about 75 per cent nuclear, the UK is very high, the United States is the biggest generator in the world, because it's such a large economy. And you know, people talk about the risk and the safety of nuclear generation, but it's a bit ironic that we dig up our uranium and send it to others to use, there's a bit of a moral question there. If we don't think it's safe, we probably shouldn't be supporting it. But it has been proven to be safe. And this next generation of generators gives us, I think, a real opportunity.
BARTLETT: Well, so you would get behind it, you would say yes? Because you're one of the key planks here. Your electorate is full of coal mines, full of coal workers.
FITZGIBBON: Yep. But our coal mining industries is based on export markets, Liam. You know, the overwhelming majority of our coal goes to our Asian markets, and our coal generators will come to the end of their physical lives sometime in the not too distant future. In the case of Liddell in my electorate, in two years’ time. In the case of the last, the youngest one in Queensland, in I think 2050. But as they come out of the system – we can't run the system on renewables alone – as they come out, we need to put more firming power in, we can do that with gas, we can do it with pumped hydro, or hydro generally, battery storage can play a role too, but it's not enough. We need other forms of baseload generation and nuclear should be at least an option to be debated and considered.
BARTLETT: Okay. And now, you know very well how the politics works on this, what's the chance of Albo being on board?
FITZGIBBON: Well, sadly, the politics is toxic. And if we had a scare campaign, it wouldn't be the first in the history of Australian politics. And I think the Friendship Group and the opportunity for people to come together and start at least talking about it is a good start. The next step, of course, is to get rid of the general prohibition on nuclear energy. Something John Howard put in place back in the late 1990s, when he was negotiating and trying to get his GST through the Senate. He bought votes of both the Democrats and the Greens by saying he'd put a prohibition on nuclear energy. And the rest is history. But while ever that prohibition is in place, investors can't even have a proposition tested either in the community, or in our Parliaments because they just can't get past first base. I say that any nuclear proposal should face the same stringent environmental safety tests and community consultation as any other industrial proposal.
BARTLETT: Well, that's the thing, isn't it? But having the debate, Joel, that's the key. How do you have the debate without the scare campaign? The only way you can do that is really at senior level.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah look, that is true. And you know, I'm not going to speak for the leadership of the Labor Party. I'm just a humble backbencher these days, Liam, as you probably know and your listeners probably know too. But it's going to take some leadership. And it would be nice if we could just take the conversation to the next level without someone getting the boxing gloves out and seeking political opportunity.
BARTLETT: Well, that's exactly right. The other side of the debate is how can we get to net zero emissions without it?
FITZGIBBON: Well, there are only two ways you get to net zero emissions globally. We can do it without nuclear in Australia but we have to embrace carbon capture and storage in our gas and coal-fired generation systems. Now, we have an advantage in Australia because we are well advanced in that innovation, we can actually do it now, but not at the cost to make it – you know, if you're going to do it in coal generation, then the cost has to be low enough for coal to remain competitive. So, we can do it here, but globally, you either have to go more carbon and capture or more nuclear, you can't do it without going down one of two, one of those two paths.
BARTLETT: Would you be able to sell it politically to your electorate, to your coal miners? Would you be able to sell the idea that, look, even if you face losing your job down the track, you would pick up that employment in nuclear?
FITZGIBBON: Well, coal miners aren't going to lose their jobs because most of our coal is exported to our Asian customers. When those coal-fired generators on the eastern seaboard come to the end of their physical lives, they'll close and our coal miners know that. So this is, this doesn't have an impact on them. The big game changer here with these small modular reactors, is that you can do them in isolation. You know, historically, these plants have been put in coastal areas where they're close to water, that won't be necessary in the future. The problem has always been, Liam, that, you know, people say yeah, I support nuclear, it might be okay, but not in my backyard. Now, if we can bury them more remotely under the ground and use transmission lines to bring them to our capital cities, then that's a different proposition.
BARTLETT: Joel, thanks a lot for your time this morning. Good to chat to.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure, mate.