STEVE PRICE, HOST: One politician who won't be doing that is the standing Labor MP for the Federal seat of the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, he's on the line. I bet you're not going to regret for one moment, not having to do another shopping centre walk with some visiting MP.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: While I would confess, Steve, that I won't miss that, but I suspect that on the odd occasion I'll be standing side by side with Dan Repacholi, Labor's new candidate in Hunter, and doing just that, but I'll be very happy to do so.
PRICE: Remember that famous - was it Hawkie? In one of his election victories, where he was going through a shopping centre and some bloke yelled at him and the mics picked up Hawkie saying...
FITZGIBBON: ... “Silly old bugger”, yeah. And Paul Keating telling that university student to get a job.
PRICE: You've got to be careful, don't you, in the campaign?
FITZGIBBON: And Peter Dutton saying something about sinking islands in the Pacific, you might recall, under the boom mic.
PRICE: Yes, it must be – how hard is it to, I mean, you've been a local MP there forever, so everyone knows you. But how hard in the initial days is it to walk around, I mean, we've got that famous vision of Scott Morrison making people shake hands with him after the bushfires. It must be difficult to approach people who just don't want to know about you.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, it's either in your personality or it's not, I think, Steve. I think many people including me take energy from others as we do that sort of campaigning. I've always enjoyed it. And I think I always would if I continued on, but you know, I've been there for more than 25 years now, and I had 8 years on the local council before that. So, I've been an elected representative for more than 30 years and I think that's enough for anyone.
PRICE: You had Barnaby there yesterday pointing at a laden coal train saying that's how we pay for the NDIS. What did you make of that?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, I love it when Barnaby comes to town to highlight the fact that I'm doing a fantastic job here in the Hunter Valley. We're exporting more coal at a higher price than ever before, we have a more diverse economy than any time in my 25 years here, indeed, in any time in our history. And I'm really happy with the state of play in the hunter. We've been buffeted by COVID, of course. But coal is just so critical to us, Steve, 160 million tonnes every year, at as I said, the highest price ever. But the important thing, Steve, is that coal, that relatively clean and efficient coal is going to developing nations like India and China, it's keeping the lights on, it's keeping the wheels of industry going, it's keeping people warm, and importantly, it's displacing the dirtier coal they'd be importing from somewhere else if we weren't selling it to them.
PRICE: And it wouldn't have surprised you then that India pushed very hard for that language at COP 26 to change from phasing out to phasing down the use of coal. Were you happy about that?
FITZGIBBON: I was happy. And it wasn't surprising. And you know, one of the things that amused me during the debate about the Adani mine, was those people who were saying, well, it's not needed. It's not needed, why are they digging this stuff out of the ground? Well, the Indians think it's needed. And that's why they are investing a lot of money in Queensland to get that thermal coal out of the ground because they know they're going to need it to generate electricity, to keep homes warm, to keep the lights on, to keep the factories moving for many decades to come.
PRICE: You've got a police task force now established, what are these protesters up to? What are they doing, chaining themselves to train tracks?
FITZGIBBON: They're doing their very best to make themselves both famous and to look silly. I don't know how many of you listeners have seen any of the footage of that woman who had taken a lump of coal which had fallen off one of the wagons and was burying it back into the ground, saying that, claiming credit for having saved one piece of coal from polluting the atmosphere. It's just madness, Steve. These people don't even understand what coal is, let alone what it does. You know, 80 per cent of the world's energy system, Steve, is fossil fuel based. Either oil, gas, or coal. People think about, when they're talking climate change, they think about electricity generation, and it is the largest single component for us here in Australia. But the jets in the air, the cars on the road, the industries making things every day including our aluminium smelters, the heating they use in factories, the gas they use as a feedstock, an ingredient, into so many of the things that we use every day including plastics, is all fossil fuel based. And you can't just turn off fossil fuels, Steve. The global economy will grind to a halt. You can't run it on windmills and solar panels.
PRICE: How do you feel then when you see the left of your party prosecuting exactly the opposite argument? I mean, you've fought the good fight, but you're still hearing that. How hard is it going to be for Anthony Albanese to structure a response to COP 26, and come out with a policy between now and the next election that will convince people to vote for him?
FITZGIBBON: Well, it's not easy because Labor made the mistake of going into the last election with that crazy 45 per cent target, something it couldn't explain. And now, of course, people on the left of the debate will be asking why, when and if we announce something less than 45 per cent. But 45 per cent would be madness. I've consistently said that setting a medium-term target from opposition is in itself crazy. Because we don't have the information, we don't have the advice of the department and the various entities that provide government with information on these things. I've always said that it's for governments to set medium-term targets on behalf of the country, regardless of its political persuasion. And then whenever that target is set, that should be our commitment internationally for all the commitment period. We don't need to be having a bidding war in elections about what the target should be. Remembering Steve, there's nothing magic about a target. It's an aspiration. So, the crazy part now is that Morrison says he will meet and beat his 28 per cent target and get to 35 per cent, but he won't make 35 per cent his target. It's like committing to a weight loss program and making 80 kilos your target when you're already only 76. Makes no sense.
PRICE: Yeah, we've all done that. Weight loss. You must be bemused, I'm not a huge fan of electric vehicles, but talk about backflips. I mean, you've seen a few in your time, Joel, the Scott Morrison backflip on electric vehicles is almost laughable. I mean, during the last election when Bill Shorten was prosecuting this idea of, you know, half the fleet going to be electric by 2030, or whatever it was. Scott Morrison said, well, they're going to rob your weekend, they're going to take away your camping trips. Now he's suddenly a fan of electric vehicles.
FITZGIBBON: It's breathtaking, Steve. So too is his backflip on net zero emissions. It was going to kill the economy. But of course, this is typical of his spin. I mean, what Labor said at the last election, of course, was that we'd have an ambition of having all new cars, not all cars, all new cars electric by I think it was 2050. And when the manufacturers of EVs said well, what are you going to do, will you consider enforcing the fuel standards here that just about every other country has, which helps make the EV's competitive, Bill Shorten said he would have a look at them. I think he said we'll have a conversation about that, he didn't commit to them. And even if he had, there's not necessarily any evidence that that would have put upward pressure on other prices, as Scott Morrison suggested. So, he's putting a lot of spin on it, Steve, you have got to give him credit for that. But God, how do you vote for a guy who changes his mind so regularly? Says one thing before an election and something else after an election.
PRICE: It's a very unusual way to operate. I mean, I've called him before, I suggested he had a tin ear and a glass jaw. But he seems to be able to change tactic completely, go 360 degrees, and think that he's not going to be criticised for changing like that.
FITZGIBBON: Maybe he's normalised the behaviour, Steve. People just expect it from him. He certainly doesn't have a tin ear, he's got his ear to the ground. He's obviously got some good research and good pollsters who are telling him what people are thinking. But he's really good at changing the conversation. And again, you give him credit for that. But again, how do you believe a guy that says one thing before an election and something else after the election? People should be running their ruler over everything he says.
PRICE: it's going to be fascinating to watch. Great to catch up as usual, mate. Thanks a lot.