Transcript - Radio Interview - Triple M - Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Transcript - Radio Interview - Triple M - Tuesday, 30 November 2021 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

30 November 2021

STEVE PRICE, HOST: The Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, would be a karaoke fan, I would imagine, are you, Joel?


JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: I'm unstoppable, Steve, on fire.


PRICE: Late nights in Canberra, a couple of quiet drinks, karaoke machine comes out.


FITZGIBBON: It's seasonal. Every Christmas time, you're singing a Christmas song.


PRICE: When you retire, you'll be able to tip a bucket on all of these things, you can write a book.


FITZGIBBON: What, do you think I'll be able to do just whatever I like, Steve?


PRICE: Yes, I think you can once you get out of there.


FITZGIBBON: I'm not so sure about that.


PRICE: Few nervous people around, I would think, just quietly. How's things there? I know you've had a really bad time with the floods.


FITZGIBBON: Yeah well, I'm in Canberra, the parliament is sitting, but we have had a scary time with the floods, is probably the best way of putting it. I mean, on Sunday the Hunter River fell just a foot, or 30 centimetres short of major flood disaster. And thankfully, it didn't get there. So, it was a great sense of relief. Still a lot of disruption, a lot of people evacuated in any case and economically, of course, there is an impact. But we're confident now the waters are receding. The concern is that the soil is very moist, so it's all run off and more rain could take us to more trouble, but the outlook looks pretty good. Fingers crossed.


PRICE: Yeah, it's been very tough for a lot of people right around New South Wales. It seems like it's been raining for weeks.


FITZGIBBON: Yes it does, and it's another reminder, we get one every summer at least, that Mother Nature can be quite angry – floods, bushfires and the like. And it's just part of being Australian, Steve. But it's a good time to think about and thank our emergency services, volunteers and paid. They do an amazing job.


PRICE: You have got three days to go this parliamentary sitting week. It's unlikely that'll be extended. Do you think you'll be back next year, or do you think that the Prime Minister, if the polls tell him he can win, will announce an election around Australia Day and go for it?


FITZGIBBON: I've always been of the view that Scott Morrison himself wouldn't know the answer to that question yet. He'll come out of the holiday period, he'll take the temperature of the electorate, if he thinks the electorate is happy he'll go in March, if he's concerned about their mood, then he'll wait until May. I don't think anything has changed much. I mean, he put out the parliamentary sitting calendar yesterday showing we are sitting next year, we're having a budget in March instead of May. But he has to put out a calendar, it would be extraordinary not to do so. And putting out a calendar doesn't really mean you're committed to doing what the calendar says. And one thing a Prime Minister doesn't want is predictability, and he'll keep us guessing.


PRICE: It's interesting because as you know, we do this program nationally. And so, you get a bit more of a temperature gauge on what the mood of the country is opposed to doing it in one city and knowing what Sydney is thinking, or Melbourne. I get the sense that Australians, certainly the ones that are contacting us, are disappointed about Canberra leadership. They don't believe that they've had strong leadership. They're happy that they've got big vaccination rates now, they believed until this latest thing came along, that we're almost out the other side of COVID but they're marking the PM down. Not so much because he didn't order enough vaccines, but he doesn't seem to be able to control anything that the rest of the states do. The Premiers seem to be running the joint.


FITZGIBBON: Yeah, speaking objectively, I think that is the mood in the electorate. People are either not happy or indeed angry. They look to Canberra, they don't see much leadership. It should not be surprising because Scott Morrison won the last election by promising to do nothing, by promising not to change anything, in contrast to a large suite of policies Labor had put out, leaving the electorate confused and a little bit nervous about where it might take them. And that's one promise, outside COVID-19, that he's actually delivered on. There is no parliamentary agenda here, there's no reform, there's no ambition, notwithstanding the fact that there are a whole range of issues running through the electorate which are of concern to people. Very large amongst them by the way, Steve, is housing affordability, not so much for Mum and Dad, for the kids. But Mum and Dad are concerned about the kids, about whether they'll ever break into the housing market. But when people go to the next election, they'll, generally speaking, vote with their hip pocket. So, they'll be concerned about the family budget and their ability to provide for their kids, their education, etcetera. So, we'll see where it takes us, but I don't think Scott Morrison is instilling any confidence in people's minds at the moment.


PRICE: Sydney and Melbourne are in the top 10 of least affordable housing markets in the world. It's interesting you bring that up, but what can we actually do to change that? I mean, yes, we can encourage the relocation to regional areas, but that's pushing prices up. I mean, you'd be aware of that in your own electorate that, you know, a lot of people have fled Sydney and bought property where you are, and that's pushed your market up and your rents up.


FITZGIBBON: Yeah, that's right. If you're a homeowner, you don't want prices falling. But if you're a homeowner with an ambition for your kids, you want things to be affordable. So, it's not an easy area of public policy. And that's why Scott Morrison, I suppose, is not talking about it. I mean, his policy actually, his homebuilder policy has fuelled demand and pushed prices higher, but it's the hard policies we need, the hard areas of policy we need to talk about, and I think people want him to show some leadership and start talking about it. Admit it's hard but share with the community some ideas he might have or might not have, it seems, about addressing it.


PRICEP: You're former Defence Minister, what hopes do you have of what might come out of the Royal Commission into Veteran and Defence suicide.


FITZGIBBON: Our hopes have to be high because the suicide rate is far too high, so is the level of depression amongst the veteran’s community. These are people who volunteered to serve their country, to put their lives on the line for all of us and they deserve better than what they have been getting over a long time now and I hope the commission fleshes out a number of deficiencies in the system at government level, which can help us get ourselves on a better path and therefore a better path for our veterans.


PRICE: Was the PM right last night to pause that Wednesday arrival of foreign students and foreign visa holders to pump up the numbers in our workforce?


FITZGIBBON: Probably yes, we just, I mean, I think we do need to get ourselves a little bit of time to get a handle on this new strain. As long as informed caution doesn't lead to populist politics and overreaction, that's the risk. And I would have liked to hear him talk more about what governments might do working with the business community about making some exceptions. I mean, if you're a large employer, you've been desperate for an engineer you've got booked on a plane, the business is making certain commitments about quarantining arrangements, etcetera, then surely there could be a mechanism for taking into account those circumstances and making exceptions to the rule. I'm not suggesting it's easy, but gee, we don’t seem to show much imagination or much agility.


PRICE: Good to catch up as usual. Have a good day in Parliament. Thanks, Joel.


FITZGIBBON: Thanks very much, Steve.


PRICE: Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor MP for the Hunter.