STEVE PRICE, HOST: Here with us is Joel Fitzgibbon. Like the rest of us, I guess, yesterday, Joel, around lunchtime when AJ was found, you must have been absolutely excited about the fact that he was safe and well?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Initial shock was overcome then by excitement, Steve. And to be honest, I pretty much written poor little AJ off. It had been a number of days, he's very young and has his own challenges and it looked pretty grim to me. And, like everyone, I was just overwhelmed with the news – fantastic news for the family. And it was a magnificent thing to see on the television.
PRICE: Pretty tough country in there isn't it? I mean, no wonder they couldn't seem from the ground.
FITZGIBBON: Yes, it is tough country, and it was very cold, Steve, very cold. And as you know, he wasn't wearing a lot. And, frankly, how he survived that ordeal is somewhat beyond me. He's obviously a tough kid. And you know the vision of him sitting in that water drinking away, washing his face is something I suspect many of us will never see again.
PRICE: It will be one of the images of the year for sure. You're a veteran federal MP, you spent a lot of your life away from your family in Canberra, both when parliament's sitting and, and obviously, you know, the time away, you don't get back. But that's what politicians, when they sign up for the job, they know that's what's going to happen. There's some people trying to stir up some controversy today about the Prime Minister going to Sydney, see his family on Father's Day, then flying back to Canberra. You know, I don't think Scott Morrison necessarily reads the room particularly well. But you can hardly begrudge a father doing that, could you?
FITZGIBBON: No, I'm not going to jump on this one, Steve. He's the Prime Minister. He took an opportunity to see his family, he had the legal exemption. No, probably doesn't pass the front-page test. But gee I think we are pretty tough on our leaders these days. It was hardly an extraordinary thing to do. I suspect that if I'd been advising him, I would have appealed to him to think about how it might look. But whatever was the case, he took that decision, and I'm not going to join the pile on.
PRICE: Where do you think we ought to go on this question of opening up? Should it be based on percentage of people vaccinated? Or should we perhaps choose a date and say, ok, everyone's had the opportunity to be vaccinated by this date, whether it be, I don’t know, November 1, December 1, whatever it might be Joel, and we open up then because everyone's had the chance, the supplies are here, you got three different types of vaccines, if you're then unvaccinated, that's your choice, good luck?
FITZGIBBON: I think it should be based on vaccination, Steve, and the number of vaccinations based on the science. And after a very slow and unfortunate start, we are accelerating towards 70 and 80 per cent now. And, you know, I just continue to appeal to people to get vaccinated. I know it's not easy for many because those with underlying health conditions can't take the AstraZeneca vaccine and there isn't enough Pfizer, or any mRNA vaccinations, vaccines around. But that's improving, soon there won't be an excuse. People do need to get vaccinated. And when we have mass vaccination, we can open up, it's as simple as that and I hope that's before Christmas.
PRICE: Do you have reasonable supply do you think in your area? Is that what you're hearing?
FITZGIBBON: No, we still have a problem in the Hunter region, like many of our regions outside the capital cities. General Frewen admitted the other day that disproportionately vaccines are being extended to Sydney. I know there's some good reason for that because that's where all the trouble is. But, you know, when Sydney opens up, they're going to be coming back to us as visitors and we welcome that. But our young people who [inaudible] won't be vaccinated, because we simply can't access enough Pfizer in our region. I hope that's about to change with the new deals which are being done. Hopefully, more Pfizer is coming our way but it's all too slow. But I do encourage people to take the opportunity as soon as they have it.
PRICE: The UN, again, is climbing into the coal mining industry. I'm sure you'd be aware of this. The Assistant Secretary General Selwin Hart says the goal to keep future warming below 1.5 c requires quote: “the urgent global phase out of coal” and the reporting of this suggesting that we've got 10 years to shut down the coal mining industry – seriously?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, well, that's wrong. It was, it was an amazing speech for a number of reasons. First of all, it was a heavy criticism of our own Prime Minister on his own home turf. I mean, this was delivered in Canberra. And he had a real good go at Scott Morrison for not signing up to zero net emissions. He praised the state Premiers for doing that here. And therefore, by our omission was heavily critical of the Prime Minister. Look, the Prime Minister – he's right to for call upon us to sign up for zero net emissions. Scott Morrison should do it. I think inevitably he will do it before the year is out, because he's looking like a bit of a neanderthal not doing so. But on the other side of the equation, I mean, I think the adviser to the UN had to do a little bit more research on us, the Australian economy and our markets. I mean, we have the energy security board telling us now that we need to start paying our coal generators capacity payments to keep them in the system because they can no longer compete against subsidised renewables. It makes – we need to keep those coal generators in the system so that we can put more renewables in, but at the same time keep the grid stable as we get more gas-peakers into the system as well. But we'll need those younger coal generators in the system, Steve, well beyond 2030. I mean, the youngest in Queensland will go to 2050, if we allow her to do so. The other point, of course, is that the lights will be going off in Asia, if we stop exporting our coal to those countries, particularly the developing countries. And that sort of also true of our steelmaking coal, Steve, which they will require for a long, long time to further progress their development in those countries. So, it's not well researched.
PRICE: There is one thing, I mean, you make a really good point there about – there's two sides, there's two parts to this argument. There's the argument about keeping the lights on in Australia and keeping power prices low, and by that we need coal-fired power. The other argument is the export of coal. I mean, you know, if we’re suddenly going to turn the tap off to India and China and Japan, what sort of dent is that going to put in the national economy?
FITZGIBBON: That's right. And the International Energy Agency will tell you that those developing countries in particular, not just the developing countries – I mean, Japan's building coal-fired generators as we speak – but those developing countries will need coal for many decades to come. And, therefore, if you're serious about doing something about greenhouse gas emissions globally, you need to further progress development of technologies like carbon capture and storage. So, India and China can continue to burn coal for many years but on a low emissions basis, that's the common sense approach. But the advisor to the UN failed to even make reference to any of those technologies yesterday and on that basis, I didn't think it was a very balanced, a balanced approach.
PRICE: I think you're 100 per cent right. Great to catch up again, Joel.