Transcript - Television Interview - ABC - Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Transcript - Television Interview - ABC - Tuesday, 15 September 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

15 September 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and the Labor MP for the Hunter. Joel Fitzgibbon, welcome.
KARVELAS: Do you welcome this announcement? [Government’s Gas Plan]
FITZGIBBON: Well there you go again, PK. After six years still no guidance from Government. This is a capitulation by Scott Morrison. Instead of spending the next - last three years developing new firming power as Liddell exits the market, he's been playing political games, trying to pretend he's going to extend the 50 year-old Liddell power station, something all of us knew was not possible. But it certainly gave him the opportunity to go to an election in 2019 claiming he will do so. What he's done today PK, is steal our plan, here in the Hunter region. We've been working on this with AGL and other companies, for more than three years now, to ensure that the Hunter remains the powerhouse of New South Wales, and that we keep developing the dispatchable new power, pumped hydro, battery storage and gas generation – the capacity we will need to fill the system, and to keep the system stable when coal continues to withdraw, beginning with Liddell. And of course, the only way to get more renewable energy into the system is to make sure it's firmed by new capacity, replacing coal as it withdraws.
KARVELAS: Okay, the Australian Energy Market Operator says the demand for gas in New South Wales is likely to be around 300 megawatts. Is there any evidence a power plant this size is needed?
FITZGIBBON: Well, that's not what AEMO said at all, I'm sorry PK. The AEMO ran through three – five scenarios, out to 2045. But what it certainly said is that to firm up the grid, that is to keep it stable and to allow more renewables into 2045, we would need between six and 19 gigawatts of firming power. Now for your viewers, let me tell you that that's either three Liddell power stations – that’s six; or 10 Liddell power stations at 19. So it gives you a bit of a feel for how much new firming power you need to get into the system as coal-fired generators age, and you know, come to the end of their economic and physical lives.
KARVEALAS: Okay, it is actually what AEMO and the Grattan Institute say though, so is it responsible for the Government to be opening up major gas fields when the world needs to be reducing carbon emissions?
FITZGIBBON: Well PK, about 30 per cent of our gas goes to electricity generation, another 30 per cent goes to industry, to manufacturers both as a heating source and as a feedstock, an ingredient into their manufactured product. Fertiliser, for example, is effectively gas. And about another 10 per cent goes into our homes to keep us warm and to light-up our hot plates. So gas is about much more than electricity generation, but electricity generation will be a very important part, because at only about 20 per cent of the market now we will need more of it to firm up the grid. It's just a physiological fact PK that you can't put more renewables into the sector, which we are ambitious to do, if you don't replace that firming power as the coal generators begin to exit the system.
KARVELAS: Okay, this plan doesn't mention coal, Joel Fitzgibbon, neither does Labor's draft policy platform. Is coal dead as a future energy source?
FITZGIBBON: No, coal is not dead. Coal – the platform does make plenty of reference to the resources sector and the importance of it. And our biggest export…
KARVELAS: It doesn't talk about coal being part of the future mix at all, does it?
FITZGIBBON: Well you can say minerals, coal or oil and gas, in every sentence but when we say the resources sector we mean all of it, including the potential to value-add in rare earths, et cetera. But coal is our third-largest resources export, so of course we're talking about coal when we mention resources. The Labor Party was, in part, formed on the coal mining industry. We've always supported it and we always will. And our export…
KARVELAS: What do you mean, you always will? I have to interrupt you, then. What do you mean you always will? What sort of time-frame are you talking about?
FITZGIBBON: While ever our international customers are demanding both our thermal and coking coal PK, we will surely continue to export it and to earn the export income. That's what pays for our imports PK, and I think Asian demand both for our coking and thermal coal will be – and for thermal coal at least a couple of decades, and for coking coal, metallurgical coal, probably longer.
KARVELAS: Is it dangerous for Labor to go to the next election without specific climate change targets for 2030?
FITZGIBBON: We have a very specific climate change target for 2050, zero net emissions.
KARVELAS: Ok, 2030 was my question, for 2030 not having specific targets.
FITZGIBBON: Well, when the Labor Party established the 2030 target, it did so off the back of a climate change report of 2015, and we would have been, you know, obviously three more years out from 2030 at the last election than we will be now. So, it's a silly idea to suggest that we'd have a 2030 target. But the point I've been making about this, PK, and I think it's reinforced every day now, through, you know given what we're seeing about in terms of technological advancement, that the path to 2050 will not be linear. You don't have to be halfway there in half the time. The challenge will get easier over time as new technologies, including hydrogen, come into play. As battery storage, for example, gets more sophisticated and more capable. So, zero net emissions is the real target and we'll need to demonstrate, and we will, a pathway to get there.
KARVELAS: I just want to change the topic to something else in your portfolio. Should the Federal Government set up a campaign to get school leavers to do agricultural work, and is a HECS discount a good way to do that?
FITZGIBBON: Well, certainly the Government needs to establish a plan for the agriculture sector which has a number of significant structural problems, including our very, very high dependence on foreign labour – around 50,000 of them each year. We are short in this country of human resources, capital resources – that is money – and, of course, natural resources, water, soil, and of course, all those elements that go into the agricultural system. But this government has no overarching plan to deal with these issues. I think, PK, what we need to be thinking about is going up the value chain – value curve and putting those limited resources into the things that produce a high return both for the farmer and for our economy and for the community, which of course owns those natural resources. But there is no real or sophisticated thinking going into this problem.
KARVELAS: What do you make of the Refugee Council of Australia's proposal to give people on refugee visas a path to permanent residency if they go and they pick fruit?
FITZGIBBON: I haven't seen it, PK.
KARVELAS: The concept, though. The idea that you would help refugees; we clearly need more fruit pickers. This seems like it could work. If you put, you know, this cohort of people into those jobs?
FITZGIBBON: Well, COVID has highlighted our vulnerability on a number of fronts, including our dependence on foreign labour. So, while it's very good to be looking at how we improve access to foreign labour, it's even better to be talking about how we get more Australians, with given our unemployment rate, more Australians into the sector. And, you know, PK, if you went up that value curve, chasing that higher value, you might also be creating more sophisticated, interesting jobs and you might attract more people into that workforce.
KARVELAS: An ABC investigation has detailed fresh accounts of what is clearly exploitation, even sexual harassment of backpackers, but that's – they're nothing new really. This has been going on in this industry; does the industry need to lift its game?
FITZGIBBON: It does, PK. But the Government needs to lift its game. This exploitation, and of course, the use of unauthorised labour – that is people who are in the country who should no longer be in the country – has been a problem now for at least half a dozen years. But we've seen no response from this Government. We've seen the Government on a number of occasions promise an agriculture visa without any capacity to enunciate exactly what that looks like. But of course, that agriculture visa has never seen the light of day. This is a Government without any ideas on this front. So many challenges for our agriculture sector, particularly since COVID, but no ideas and certainly no overarching strategic plan for the agriculture sector.
KARVELAS: The federal government says plane capacity isn't what's stopping Australians being brought home. How would using the Prime Minister and Governor General's planes help? Why do you think that's a good idea, the plan that Labor has put forward today?
FITZGIBBON: And like so many Members of Parliament, PK, I deal with people and families on almost a daily basis concerned about family stuck overseas. There's clearly a federal government response. I'm happy for Scott Morrison to come up with his own ideas and his own plan to deal with this issue, but he hasn't been able to do so. So, we're happy to throw the ideas out, PK. Obviously it takes more than one response. But this Government has been either unprepared or unable to do so.
KARVELAS: Do you want to see the states lift that cap on international arrivals at Friday's National Cabinet meeting?
FITZGIBBON: No, I want to see the National Cabinet working as Scott Morrison promised it would…
KARVELAS: Sure, we all want everything to work, but on that specific proposal should they lift the cap?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I want the National Cabinet to have a discussion about this very serious issue and come up with some solutions. Obviously, hotel capacity is a problem. Obviously airline capacity is a problem. I've had a number of people say that they're on flights which were cancelled, then they were on another flight, and it disappeared as well. So, obviously aircraft capacity is a big part of the problem.
KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you so much for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure, PK.