Transcript - Radio Interview - Triple M - Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Transcript - Radio Interview - Triple M - Tuesday, 19 October 2021 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

19 October 2021

STEVE PRICE, HOST: Someone who is looking on, I'm sure, from the outside and also with increasing interest given that the seat that he still represents even though he's leaving that shortly, relies so heavily on jobs that involve coal mining, he's on the line, good to catch up again.




PRICE: Same old story, over and over again, doesn't seem to get advanced anywhere.


FITZGIBBON: Yes, you said a decade, far more like two decades. But Steve, I have to say, David Littleproud, who by the way, would be fully signed up to net zero emissions, but I did see some of your commentary on the project last night, and I thank and congratulate you for your common sense, pragmatic, well-informed views on this very important issue. I got a bit of amusement out of the way some of the more progressive people on that panel switched to the next subject very quickly, because you were making too much good sense.


PRICE: Kind of you to say. It's a bit of a lone battle sometimes to make the sensible economic argument that we produce the world's best quality coal, and if there are customers, it would be ridiculous of us to leave it in the ground and say you can't have it.


FITZGIBBON: And there will be customers for that quality coal for decades to come, Steve. I see the investments flowing into my electorate on a daily basis. And your listeners will recall the big fight over Adani. Well, really it was a fake fight, really, with the Labor Party both sort of pretending it supported it and pretending it didn't support it at the time. But the Indians are not investing all that money in that huge mine in Central Queensland because they don't believe they're going to be using thermal coal for much longer. They know they're going to be using it for decades, they'll need decades of return on that investment and that's what they will receive. Even a modern economy like Japan is building highly efficient coal generators as we speak. So, the demand will be there for a long time. The Paris Agreement, nor Glasgow, they don't require us to account for what we call our scope-three emissions – that is the emissions of our coal when it's burnt elsewhere. They are the rules, the internationally agreed rules, and it's those rules we need to be guided by. Going to net zero emissions will have zero impact on our coal export industry, metallurgical and thermal, zero impact on our other big export earner in the fossil fuels area, and that is our liquefied natural gas.


PRICE: What sort of position should Morrison take to Glasgow?


FITZGIBBON: Well, he has to be there. I mean, it was just ridiculous to suggest he might not be there. You're not there just to argue for more action, he's there to argue, from my perspective, a balance. So, we want Australia in the room. He has to commit to net zero emissions for two reasons. Both the international political community and the international business community expects it. The second reason is it's doable, Steve. It's doable by technology. It's 30 years away, there will be technologies we've not even dreamed of yet, which will make a contribution. And here's a key point – our coal generators will close, decommission when they come to the end of the physical and economic lives. Liddell, in my electorate in two years’ time, the youngest in Queensland, in 2050. So, think about that, we will have no coal generators in Australia by 2050. That is a hell of a reduction right there in itself. Of course, we can get to net zero.


PRICE: What are we going to replace that with, that baseload power?


FITZGIBBON: Well, it is really important. We cannot continue to put more renewables into the system. Because as the coal generators withdraw, there won't be sufficient baseload or firming power in the same system. So, we need to get gas peakers in, that's why I welcome to $600 million investment in a gas peaking station in the Hunter region, that's really important. Battery storage will improve markedly, so by storing the variable power, you're effectively providing that firming power. Snowy 2.0, Malcolm got something right. It's expensive, but it will certainly be baseload power, so there's plenty coming on stream. And of course, eventually it might be a long way off yet, but eventually hydrogen will play a big role too. Now, hydrogen can do the job now basically, but it's too expensive, Steve. And that's why, over the next 30 years, governments will invest in that industry to help it further drive those prices down. Carbon capture and storage, I believe, still will play a role. Again, it can be done now. If you're going to compete, you're going to produce gas, which has had the carbon taken out of the gas, it's already difficult to compete against wind and solar, but if you have got to pay to get the carbon out too, it's even more expensive. So, they just need to get the price down, Steve, and they will.


PRICE: What did you make of Andrew Forrest, he was on the East Coast last week, obviously runs and owns Fortescue metals. And he was talking about green hydrogen and plowing money into the development of it, good on him. But I found it a bit rich being lectured to by a bloke who's made a fortune out of digging up iron ore and sending it off to China to be used in the process of making steel, which needs coal. I mean, there's a bit of hypocrisy going on there, isn't there?


FITZGIBBON: That's right. It needs coal and a lot of it. Do you know we need 200 tonnes of coking or metallurgical coal, to build one wind turbine? Now, I respect anyone like Twiggy Forrest that's been so successful, but he's on a mission of profits. He wants governments to subsidise his projects so that he can make more money. Now, that'll be a good thing for the environment along the way. But I laugh when I hear regularly, usually on Twitter, people talking about those in the fossil fuels industry as people who have vested interests. Well, Steve, there aren't any people in the renewable sector with vested interests? Come on, they're looking for government subsidies and handouts all of the time. But I think, notwithstanding all of that, I think Twiggy Forrest is prepared to invest big money, that'll be a good thing for the economy. But to have a close look, Steve, most of the investment is in the outer years, the investment in the near years, coming years over the short term is pretty modest.


PRICE: You've watched very carefully the relationship between the Nats and the Libs over the years, I put it to Littleproud yesterday, last night that the Nats are on a shakedown mission to get as much as they can for the regions out of Scott Morrison before his deadline to get to Glasgow comes around. That'd be a fair assessment, wouldn't it?


FITZGIBBON: Well, it's a curious proposition when you think about it, Steve, because those in the Nats party room and amongst the Libs, and indeed me, are arguing that you can get to net zero emissions without doing any harm to regional economies. Now, if that is true, and that seems to be the majority view, what are we compensating for? It's rather passing strange, isn't it? So, there's a contradiction in that argument. But I think the regions can do well. You've seen these hydrogen hubs go in. One of them is coming to the Hunter region, we've got the gas peaking investment. In the Hunter region, we've been the powerhouse of NSW for decades, many decades. Now, our coal generators will all be gone within 25 years. And in the meantime, we're building, we're looking, we're hoping to build, we've got investment interest and money in the pipeline for pumped hydro, solar thermal, photovoltaics solar, battery banks, the gas peaker, and of course, a hydrogen hub in the region as well. So, you know, we're working already on remaining the powerhouse of NSW, we're not waiting for the politicians to end the fight, and the region will be a better place for it.


PRICE: How do we navigate, just finally, the hysteria that's going to build between now and when this meeting takes place in Glasgow about the zero net emissions?


FITZGIBBON: Well, it's pretty hard, but people are so fundamentalist and ideologically driven on this issue. You look at Twitter, it just drives me nuts...


PRICE: ... But the mainstream media and not much better.


FITZGIBBON: Yeah, some on the right path are just as extreme. I mean, Matt Canavan is a guy I respect. I was on Sky with him last night. He's not to be underestimated, he's smart, he's a good thinker, but you know, he's just playing politics with net zero emissions now. He surely knows as a former Productivity Commission analyst, that we can make this commitment to net zero emissions without hurting our economy. And let's remember, Steve, this is an ambition, a commitment. I mean, we might not get there, and that'll be a great shame if we don't, but there's no, you know, a spaceship isn't going to come and laser us from Mars or something because we failed to get... we only get to, you know, 5 per cent short or 10 per cent short of our target. You've got to have an ambition. It's like weight loss, you know, you set yourself a goal and it provides discipline and motivation. So, it's reckless, really, from Matt Canavan.


PRICE: And most of us never get there, on weight loss at least...


FITZGIBBON: ... Well, I need to find a new analogy on that, don't I, Steve? One of the things which amuses me, I admit, my side is guilty of it, is to say we should legislate net zero emissions. I don't know what a bill legislating for net zero emissions looks like, quite frankly. Is it a tax bill, is it an immigration bill, is it a health bill? I just don't know what it looks like and who would be regulating it. It's a pretty broad scope.


PRICE: Good luck getting that through the parliament. It was a pleasure to catch up. I'll talk to you soon.


FITZGIBBON: A pleasure, Steve.