Transcript - Sky News - Monday, 10 February 2020

Transcript - Sky News - Monday, 10 February 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

LAURA JAYES, HOST: The government will decide on a new long-term emissions reduction target ahead of November's United Nations Climate Summit. The Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, has indicated any new policy would focus on technology development instead of the introduction of a new tax. The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has called on countries around the world to commit to achieving a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Scott Morrison has vowed not to be bullied on climate change policies though, despite pressure from within his own party, to take greater action.
Let's go live to Canberra now, joining me now is the Shadow Agriculture and Resources Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for your time. I just want to clear something up that Richard Marles was repeatedly asked about Labor's support for new coal projects yesterday. What is Labor's position on this?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good to be with you, Laura. Look it is very, very clear Laura. The Labor Party supported our coal mining industry at the 1901 election and the 2019 election, and we've supported the coal mining industry at every election in between. We are strong supporters of Australia's coal mining industry.
JAYES: But do you support new coal-fired projects?
FITZGIBBON: Coal-fired projects as in generators?
JAYES: As in generators, new coal mines, any new coal-fired projects.
FITZGIBBON: Well, Richard made the point that these are matters for the market. If people want to invest in a new coal mine or an extension of a coal mine, or indeed the construction of a coal-fired generator, they've got to make their own assessment as to whether that's economically viable; whether they can make a profit from that venture. And if they want to do that, then they need to run the gauntlet of the toughest environmental tests in the world here in Australia. And if they can do that, of course, we welcome the investment and the jobs.
JAYES: But would a Labor Government ever subsidise a new coal project?
FITZGIBBON: No, absolutely not. Why would we spend taxpayers’ money on a venture the private sector has deemed to be uncommercial? I'd much rather spend that money on tax cuts for hardworking Australians, or invest it in schools and education, roads and bridges - whatever you like. Now, Matt Canavan is creating a bit of a straw-man here because, in fact, in Queensland they currently generate almost twice the power they consume, and Queensland exports much of its energy into New South Wales. In North Queensland, which Matt keeps talking about, there is an excess capacity of power because of the great growth in the renewable sector in that part of the world. So, Queensland doesn't – by the way, Queensland has the youngest fleet of generators, coal-fired generators in the country. They're going to be operating for many decades to come. So, there is no need for a new coal-fired generator in Queensland. This is a fiction created by the National Party for two reasons: one to make themselves more popular in some parts of Queensland, but two to drive the knife into Michael McCormack and by definition into Scott Morrison.
JAYES: Okay, but Matt Canavan is not just talking about power generation from coal. He's talking about the jobs that the industry supports. Do you accept that argument?
FITZGIBBON: Well, the industry does employ people and, again, Queensland has the youngest fleet of generators in the country and it will continue to employ those people for many years to come. That's true also in the Hunter Valley where the Bayswater power stations and the Eraring power station - not sure about the other power station, Vales Point, but it'll be around for a few years yet to come, too, of course the doors are closing, but the employment will be strong in the sector. But there are also employment opportunities in the renewable sector. So, the only way Collinsville power station works, and we know this, the business cases have been done before, is if electricity prices dramatically rise so someone can make a return on their investment. But if someone wants to come along with two or $3 billion in the belief they can build up a power station designed to earn a profit for the next 40 years, at a time when our energy system is changing so rapidly, well good luck to them. I think Matt Canavan knows no one's going to do that. That's why he wants to throw taxpayers’ money at it rather than spend that taxpayers’ money on the things the community really needs.
JAYES: I guess the argument on the other side of things is why would a government fund something that can be taken care of by the market and government's role is to perhaps step in where the market doesn't want to. Collinsville has not, well the business case – others have looked at it – but there is a scoping study underway. So, are you ruling out if any future Labor government even looking at this seriously?
FITZGIBBON: A Labor government would never use taxpayers’ money – scarce taxpayers money – which could be used to fund tax cuts or to build schools and hospitals to build a coal generator the market is clearly saying doesn't work and we know Queensland clearly doesn't need.
JAYES: Okay, well, that's pretty clear. Now, Labor in many ways, do you think perhaps might be enabling these Nationals rebels for a long time, Joel Fitzgibbon? I'm not blaming you on what's going on in the Nationals at the moment let me be very clear. There's been a policy paralysis in this area for the better part of a decade, even 20 years, you could argue, is it time for a level of bipartisanship here, a grand accord if you like, where Labor could band together with the moderates within the Liberal Party who want to see this put to bed?
FITZGIBBON: Well, you're right, Laura, this debate has been going on for 20 years, and I've been here for all of it. So, I've seen this movie a few times before and I made a big appeal in the parliament here last week and in a 25 minute long speech for bipartisanship. We need a political settlement here. We all agree – well, almost – most here agree that the climate is changing, that there's a very, very strong possibility human activity is making a contribution, and therefore we need to do something about it. And we've all had policies to do so from time to time, but politics is getting in the way and inverse to what you've been saying, the problem now is that Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and others are going to use this as an opportunity to attack their own people. So, we're getting less bipartisanship, not more. Now, whether Scott Morrison has the strength of leadership to see their centre and say to the Labor Party okay, it's time we found that political settlement, remains to be seen. But I live in hope that that is possible. We see a bit of a shift from Scott Morrison this morning talking about a long-term target and that would be a welcome thing. But having a target is one thing; having a policy be able to demonstrate how you're going to reach that target is another thing all together. Of course, he's been allowing emissions to rise or flatline for the last six years. So, it's pretty hard to have any confidence that Scott Morrison is at the strength of leadership and the capacity to build a plan that can significantly reduce emissions.
JAYES: Well, we don't have Labor's policy, long term or short term, on emissions reduction. 2050 is what 80 other - zero net emissions by 2050 is what 80 other nations have committed to; do you think there could be some bipartisanship on that?
FITZGIBBON: I hope there can be some bipartisanship generally. We'll continue to develop our policy over the course of the next, I suppose, 18 months or so. But what I'm determined is that the focus not be on the Labor Party in Opposition, but the government and what it’s prepared and, indeed, what it's not doing, and what it hasn't been doing for six years. So, it is time for political settlement. We must act meaningfully on climate change; we must find the least cost ways of doing so. And the most likely way of getting that outcome is for the major parties to be working together.
JAYES: Well, we've got to see the Nationals and Liberals work together first, so hopefully that happens at some stage. Do you miss your sparring partner, Barnaby Joyce? Do you wish he was Leader the Nationals?
FITZGIBBON: Terribly, Laura. Every day I think about Barnaby.
JAYES: Okay, well on that note, we'll leave it at there. Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you.
FITZGIBBON: And of course, Laura, there's been a resignation for the National Party today, so Barnaby's doing a very, very fine job with the wrecking ball.
JAYES: Well, he's sitting on the crossbench, he still supports the Prime Minister. Is that really a big deal? Am I right?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, we will see. Why has he done this, Laura?  I've seen this movie before too. This is step one in the second challenge. It's coming and Barnaby Joyce is obviously determined on that. And it's going to be a rough time, I think, for the Prime Minister over the next few weeks.
JAYES: Okay, Joel Fitzgibbon. Thank you.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks, Laura.