STEVE PRICE, HOST: … Joel Fitzgibbon who'd be well aware of what's happening in his region, good to talk to you again.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: G'day Steve.
PRICE: Do you reckon we need to keep those strong restrictions on in regional New South Wales even though, Joel, there's no cases out there?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, I do think we need to be cautious, Steve. We had an interesting exercise last week. We all rejoiced in the fact that we'd been allocated the State of Origin in Newcastle and, of course, there was community backlash, which somewhat surprised me, but it does reflect the fear people have in their minds. And frankly, I thought it was overreaction. I thought we could have hosted the State of Origin, it would have been a great thing for the region, and I think we could have done it safely. But, gee, a lot of people were really concerned about people bringing COVID into our region. So, again, it shows you the level of concern in our communities.
PRICE: Yeah, it would appear that there are people trying to get out of Sydney, I mean, and they shouldn't do it. It's against the law, you'll get a fine if the police pull you over with one of their number plate recognition cameras, and so don't do it – that would be my advice to everyone. But it's a great temptation for people I guess.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah and you see lunatics like those guys who, you know, chattered that boat out of Melbourne over to Sydney – what are these people thinking? On the flip side, my economy is hurting really badly. My own backyard is largely underpinned by the wine tourism sector and people are not coming from Sydney, and that's killing us economically. It's becoming a real concern. So, it tells you the overwhelming majority of people are doing the right thing, you'll always get the off lunatic.
PRICE: What about the, the financial package that's due to be announced today? What are you hopeful of for people like the tourism and hospitality industry, but also, other small businesses dotted through the Hunter that must be doing it very hard? There's no JobKeeper anymore, which is an argument in itself. And it appears to me, Joel, you've got better a political antenna than I do that there seem to be, at the beginning of this week, some sort of breakdown between Macquarie Street and Canberra, and Josh Frydenberg and Dom Perrottet about exactly what this JobKeeper package might look like. It seems they had a bit of a blue and they've got back together and decided they've got to announce something. You got any hope for it?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I do hold some hope. We are yet to see the detail. I'm really concerned about, again, people in my own area. You know, you're a small, small wine tourism business, or even a medium-sized wine and your customers have absolutely disappeared. You want to be assured that you're going to get support for a problem created, by necessity, by your government. And I'm yet to see the detail. And I'm yet to be reassured that those people in my region, who are well outside the hotspots are still impacted, will be covered by this [inaudible] arrangement. And I've already heard about thresholds on revenue and classifications on entities, whether they're a sole trader or not a sole trader, for example. So there seems to be lots of details yet to be disclosed and I'm waiting with bated breath to see those details.
PRICE: Is there some argument that there should be some sort of standing JobKeeper-type scheme that kicks in after a large community like that in Sydney gets shut down for a week or more?
FITZGIBBON: I think there need be. I mean, I know we can't keep borrowing and spending money forever. The exercise over the last eighteen months has demonstrated to us how resilient our economy is, regardless of who is in government. We just are lucky to have a very diverse economy, strong economy, and one in which people now have lots of money in their pocket, which they might have ordinarily spent, for example, traveling overseas, interest rates are low. So, there's lots of cash around and I think governments having done the right thing the first round don't really have an argument for doing things differently the second round. If it works, then surely you need to apply the same formula the second time round.
PRICE: On a vaccination question. We took a lot of calls on the program from regional Australia yesterday about how hard it is for people in many regional centres to actually get a vaccination, get in get an appointment, whether it be AstraZeneca or Pfizer. What's the experience in the Hunter? Is there enough vaccine around or has the bungled rollout impacted on the number of people there able to get it?
FITZGIBBON: It's quite bad, Steve. I'll use my myself as an example. I was booked in to get AstraZeneca one Sunday and was told three days prior to my appointment that I no longer qualify. First time a long time, Steve, someone's told me I'm too young for something. I was pretty happy about. And then I, of course, I went on – because I'm, obviously, I'm 59 – so, then I went on a scramble to get myself some Pfizer. I've now finally locked in two appointments, the first one in August, the second in September, which is still, for me, a long time away but it took me weeks to do so. I was very careful not to seem to be trying to, you know, use my position to make myself a more urgent case. And I didn't, and it just demonstrates that it is hard. It took me a number of weeks, and I'm still waiting, but of course can now be confident that appointment is locked in.
PRICE: I didn't think I'd ever admit this, but I'm actually older than you and I've managed to get my first Astra dose and I'm getting my second one today so I'll be fully vaccinated which will make me feel very happy. Thanks for joining us on the program. Really appreciate your input. We'll talk to you soon.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure, Steve.