STEVE PRICE, HOST: Labor MP for the Hunter is Joel Fitzgibbon, he's on the line. Great to talk to you again.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Yeah, g'day, Steve.
PRICE: Haven't changed your mind, have you?
FITZGIBBON: No, keep working on me, Steve, but that's not likely, not likely to work, I'm ready to move on and do different things after 25 years in the parliament.
PRICE: We've seen plenty of strange things happen in the last week, Joel, you never know. Never know.
FITZGIBBON: We have indeed, Steve. Look, I've shown great leadership here, haven't I? You know, I pulled the pin and they're all following me out the door. I'm not sure what's going on. But there's nothing wrong with a bit of bit of rejuvenation.
PRICE: I mentioned this Newspoll yesterday, which was in the Australian that showed that there was an increase in vote for the category of 'others' that didn't include the Greens or One Nation. So I can only imagine, is it people like the Palmer Party? Does it include Shooters and Fishers? I don't know. But who are these 'others' and why do you think they are attracting popular support? My theory was it might be the anti-vaccination crowd.
FITZGIBBON: Well, first of all, you've got to remember, Steve, that Newspoll is a very small sample, you know, we're talking 1200 to 1400 people nationwide. And when you get to the minor parties, you know, a plus of one or two makes a big difference in percentage terms. That's the first point I would make. Second, I think you're on about Palmer, he's spending a squillion dollars in the media with a very simple message. And that is, you know, give up on the major parties, they're doing you no good whatsoever, basically. Now, at a time when I think both parties are challenged by a split in their traditional bases. I think that's a very powerful message. And I've no doubt that Clive Palmer researched that message very, very well and knows that it's a strong one. So, people are looking for politicians, particularly in the major political parties to really stand for something. And I think we've seen a lot of equivocation of late - the climate change debate is a perfect example. You know, Scott Morrison says: oh yes, I'd like to get to net zero emissions if we can, around about 2050. I mean, I think people want him to be quite decisive about his views on these things. And I think that's lacking in politics generally at the moment.
PRICE: Palmer is also running on an anti-vaccination campaign, and he's recruited Craig Kelly, clearly, who's had a lot to say about the treatment of COVID. And Palmer himself came out probably yesterday and said he will not, nor will his family, get vaccinated. So, if, as we saw in another poll out today, that 6 per cent of the Australian population are against being vaccinated, that's a hell of a lot of people. I'm not much good at maths, but 6 per cent of the Australian population is plenty of people.
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely. Pauline Hanson would love to secure 6 per cent of the primary vote nationally...
PRICE: ...Well, she also said she won't get vaccinated.
FITZGIBBON: Well, One Nation's around 2 or 3 per cent. So, 6 per cent is a huge vote. And you are right, and I was wrong not to mention that. Appealing to the anti-vaccinated would be drawing lots of votes to Clive Palmer's party, and what a tragedy that is for the community because we all know, Steve, that the only pathway back to economic and social normality is high vaccination rates.
PRICE: What's happened in the Hunter with this current outbreak?
FITZGIBBON: It's not great in the hunter, although, obviously nothing like the Armageddon we saw in West and Southwest Sydney. But, the real concern here - you were just having a conversation about Sydney opening up earlier - in my hometown, where I am today, only 50 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated and just up the road and Muswellbrook, it's less than 50 per cent. We're concerned now...
PRICE: ... Why?
FITZGIBBON: Well, there are a few reasons for that. First of all, of course, we were denied our Pfizer. People have, many people have good reason not to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. We have a lot of hesitancy and people concerned about AZ too. People who didn't need to have concerns, but you know, it's a reality. Typically, working class areas like mine are under achievers on vaccination. And of course, because we haven't had a lot of COVID here until now, people haven't felt fearful of COVID-19. So a combination of things, but we have been denied opportunity to secure vaccines other than AstraZeneca. And now we are concerned that Sydney is going to open up, all these visitors - who we will welcome with open arms - will be having to the Hunter Valley, and 50 per cent of our population won't be vaccinated, particularly those young people who work in our restaurants, in our vineyards, cellar doors, etcetera, our wedding venues who have found it very difficult to secure something other than AstraZeneca. So, we are very worried about that.
PRICE: That's got problems written all over it, hasn't it?
FITZGIBBON: It does indeed. And that's why I was so angry when Gladys Berejiklian decided to take our Pfizer from us, and send it back to Sydney for HSC students. Now, we have sympathy and empathy with our city cousins, and certainly we support HSC students completing their studies, but wow, we've got issues here too. And all those young people working in the restaurants that will be serving Sydney patrons will be more than likely unvaccinated. And that is a worry.
PRICE: The other issue there, of course, is, you know, as you said, you've got a lot of working class residents are of those towns and many of them have probably not got the freedom or the capacity to take a day off work to go and get a test. And if that test then comes back positive, they're then off work with no pay.
FITZGIBBON: Exactly, Steve. And the vaccination hub until very, very recently, well the only vaccination hub, was in Belmont. Now for your listeners not familiar with the geography, Belmont from a town like Muswellbrook or Cessnock is at least an hour away. That's probably a three hour round trip by the time you have the vaccination. So, that's a big commitment for people who are too young to be securing AstraZeneca to make, particularly if they're working. And public transport is not in the bush what it is in the city. So you have to have the capacity to get to Belmont, and I can tell you there's no direct bus or train, Steve.
PRICE: Yeah, I hear you completely. Look you're going to stick your promise, you're going to retire. You've been in politics for a very long time. What would your advice be to politicians such as Gladys Berejiklian, John Barilaro, and Andrew Constance who are thinking about jumping from state to federal, how big is the leap?
FITZGIBBON: It's a huge leap. I think there's a big difference between state and federal politics. And while I respect what our state parliamentarians do, the real action of course, is in Canberra. It's where the big decisions which affect the nation are made and I suspect, I could be wrong, but I suspect the work rate is a little bit greater too, Steve. The electorates are bigger, the issues are more broad ranging, of course, the travel to Canberra weighs on you, and of course, all parliamentarians, the most junior to the most senior travel around the country for good reason as well. So it's a huge commitment, serving in Canberra.
PRICE: So you would be suggesting... I know you don't want to give gratuitous advice Joel, but you'd be suggesting they take a bit of a long, hard think about it.
FITZGIBBON: Well, go in what eyes wide open, that is for sure. particularly if there's a young family involved because you know, in Sydney, if you're in state parliament in New South Wales or Victoria, for example, you can drive home at night, if you're a city-based MP. I can tell you, if you're living in the Hunter Valley, or even in Sydney, there's no driving home at night. You're away from home for long periods of time. But having said all of that, Steve, I would never do anything differently. It was a great honour and privilege for me to serve there for 25 years and it was a great ride. I got to do some exciting and good things, I hope, for the country. And it's not something I'd do differently if I had my time over again.
PRICE: Don't tell me you miss sharing pizzas in a two bedroom flat in Canberra for six months of the year in winter, do you?
FITZGIBBON: I was always smart enough to live on my own, Steve. I didn't love any my colleagues sufficiently to spend half my life.
PRICE: I don't blame you. Thanks a lot. Have a great day, talk soon.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks, Steve.