By Joel Fitzgibbon

12 November 2020




SUBJECT: Joel Fitzgibbon resigns from Shadow Cabinet; Labor’s climate and energy policies; Lessons for Anthony Albanese from the Queensland election; Labor talking to blue-collar workers while having climate policies; Mark Butler; Labor must talk to Australian farmers; New mine approved in Hunter Valley.  


LAURA JAYES, HOST: Okay, live now to Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon.  You haven’t been called that in a while. Joel Fitzgibbon, welcome to the program. Why now? Why did you make this decision this week? Wasn't it always your plan to quit by the end of the year anyway?


JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Yes, it was, Laura. I first of all decided on election night 2019 that I wouldn't contest, or run for the frontbench, after the election but I reflected on that and decided I the Party more. And I gave myself 18 months to do all that I can to rebuild the Party after that terrible loss and to make it more competitive. And that's been almost my absolute focus for the last 18 months. I think I've made some progress on that project, and I think it's now got enough momentum for me to continue to progress it further from the backbench. I want to go back and spend some more time in my electorate - you know I had a big swing there against me at last election, and I want to spend more time talking to my people. I have to say, I already spent a lot of time there, but instead of working 80 hours a week and spending 40 of those in my electorate, I want to work 60 hours a week and it's going to be 60 hours in my electorate for a while.


JAYES: What have you achieved internally? Are you happy with the policy process that Albanese has put in place, or is that part of the problem?


FITZGIBBON: I'm happy with the progress. We’ve reaffirmed our commitment to the coal mining industry. We’ve reaffirmed our commitment to the gas sector and developing more gas projects. We’ve reaffirmed our commitment to rid ourselves of that silly 45 per cent carbon reduction target – it’s unattainable and it risks doing harm to the economy. And we've embraced a much more sensible target of net zero emissions by 2050, a target which has been embraced by every state premier, both Liberal and National – sorry, Liberal and Labor, and by the National Farmers Federation, all the big resource companies, the big banks, the big airlines. Just about everyone in the country. So, I think what we need in climate change policy is some unity, and some unity of purpose. We have to put an end to these climate wars. So, if we can develop a policy together, both the major parties…


JAYES: When you talk about unity are you talking about unity within your party? I think you were just getting to it, is this across the board because you know that we haven't had such unity in in 20 years. Isn't it a pipe dream?


FITZGIBBON: It shouldn't be a pipe dream, and it's about time we have some maturity in public office, and in this debate. Yes, we want unity within Labor, but we need unity around the country, and indeed the world.


JAYES: Have you got a policy problem in Labor now? Do you oppose any of the policies or do you think it's just a PR issue?


FITZGIBBON: Well, we've established the aspiration of net zero emissions by 2050. And at some point we need to be able to tell the Australian community, how we intend to get there. And I remind you again there's not a linear path - you don't have to be halfway in your achievement at the halfway mark, because technologies will come along which we don't even know of yet, which will make the effort easier, and allow it to happen more quickly. You know at some point maybe after the halfway mark. Now, there are only two ways really, if you just put aside, you know, carbon farming and other methods and planting trees and other methods for absorbing carbon out of the atmosphere. There are only really two methods: you can put some sort of carbon constraint in place, some people might like to call it a carbon tax. I think that's a bit unfair sometimes. It's not a good description but certainly a price on carbon. So you can embrace that market-based mechanism, which is what Julia Gillard did. Or you can take the technology pathway, that is, help industry leverage - use government money, taxpayers’ money, to incentivise more investment by the private sector in the new technologies which will take us on that same pathway. Now Scott Morrison…


JAYES: Might the Party – your Party - revisit a price on carbon?


FITZGIBBON: Well the point I was about make, Laura, is that Scott Morrison is using the cover of COVID, where he's able to spend any amount of taxpayers’ money – borrowed money - that he likes, without any criticism because we are in this crisis. Now he’s using a lot of that money to encourage that investment in technology. Now in two years’ time, if he's done what he says he wants to do and is committing to do, and he's well down that track, then my view is that, you know, as a new government, and in the interests of that national unity, we can, we should continue as a government down that pathway. Look, if you want to take 100 mega tonnes out of the atmosphere - 100 mega tonnes of carbon, Laura - I don't care whether you capture it and bury it, or not allow it to be produced in the first place. It is the same outcome. We need to be agnostic about how we get there, we need to be agnostic about technology, about the technology choices. But here's the point Laura: the Libs don't want to, and the Nats don’t want to, end the climate wars, because it's delivered so handsomely for them at so many elections. Having this war is a political advantage to them. But some of the Labor Party just, it seems, just haven't worked that out yet. And that's what we should be pressing. That's why I say we should just think about backing-in Scott Morrison's target, because then the focus won't be on the Labor Party and what it's proposing to do. It'll be on Scott Morrison, and whether he's on track to achieve that target. Now, and given he's done very little in the last seven years on carbon reduction – maybe a 1 per cent reduction – the focus should be on him. But if he could turn around that flatlining of carbon emissions, to a 26 to 28 per cent reduction, that would be an amazing turnaround. So, we should be focusing on embarrassing him into doing just that, instead of making ourselves the story by constantly talking about what we might do at this point in the electoral cycle.


JAYES: Well, given Mark Butler has been in the portfolio for a number of years now, do you think that perhaps Anthony Albanese should think about replacing him in the next reshuffle?


FITZGIBBON: Well, I don't want to show any lack of - any level of disrespect for Mark, but he has been in that portfolio for seven years, we've lost two elections, we've had two climate change and energy policies that have not been embraced by the Australian people, in fact they've been rejected. And we need an advocate now that the community and industry can trust. I do think that, you know, Mark can go to another senior portfolio. He’s a very smart guy, there are plenty things he can do. But we need a new advocate, bringing a fresh face and a fresh approach, somebody who can reach out to both the community and industry and say, hey the new person's in town. I've been watching this, I heard your message, I want to make sure that whatever we do, to produce a meaningful climate change policy and a meaningful energy policy, is not going to do you harm in your household…


JAYES: Would you put your hand up?


FITZGIBBON: … it’s not going to affect your family budget, and it's not going to affect the competitiveness of your industry.


JAYES: Would you put your hand up for that job?


FITZGIBBON: I'm just a humble backbencher, within Her Majesty's Royal Opposition.


JAYES: But Joel, we know your motivation for quitting the front bench, as it is. So, would you take on the climate change portfolio? You could perhaps be in a box-seat to achieve what you say you want to?


FITZGIBBON: I told you what my plan is, Laura. I'm going home to focus on my electorate and win back the hearts and minds of my people, and to tell them, as Anthony Albanese should do, that – and I’m making reference now to the Hi-Vis and the blue-collar workers – that we respect what they do, we appreciate what they do, they should be proud of what they do, and we've got their backs. They have our support as a Labor Party. Now Anthony Albanese he needs to get out to the regions, in the Hunter, in Central Queensland, North Queensland, visit some coal mines, visit some gas projects, visit some abattoirs and other manufacturing plants, shake some hands, show some love, and thank them for what they are doing for our country.


JAYES: So what about the new mine at Muswellbrook, now before the Planning Commission for the fifth time? Are you on the side of Godolphin or the mine?


FITZGIBBON: It's interesting, Laura, because this was a proposal by the big company, Anglo-American, to extend an existing mine, originally. And it was going to be an open-cut mine. And I have to say to you, this was the only mining application in my political lifetime, that I haven't publicly supported. It was an open-cut coal mine, like a stone's throw from the studs across the road. Just crazy, in my view, not capable of being supported. But then a smaller company took the lease, and they're going underground. And that's a much different proposition, and it's been through that most rigorous planning process in New South Wales, the Independent. Planning Commission. And it's, you know, stacked up for the science. So, I welcome the investment, and the jobs, and I say let's get on with it.


JAYES: Okay, well, we'll see how your colleague Mark Butler feels about your…


FITZGIBBON: Can I just say one thing, Laura?




FITZGIBBON: We need to get out and talk to the farmers too. The farmers, I know, is the natural constituency of our opponents, but they have been let down by this Government, and I think they’re there for the taking. And we need to get out amongst them and listen to them and start doing something for them. This Government has let them down.


JAYES: Let's talk soon, Joel Fitzgibbon. Appreciate your time as always,