LAURA JAYES, HOST: Let's go live to Canberra because there's a bit going on. And Joel Fitzgibbon, Labor MP joins us. Thanks so much for your time. What should the Nationals do here, in your view? You represent a constituency that was very similar to what the Nats try to, who the Nats do represent. So, what's the answer here?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: There is, of course, Laura, a fair bit of political posturing going on here in Canberra...
JAYES: ... Yes, there is.
FITZGIBBON: It's fairly obvious to me that Barnaby Joyce has now joined Scott Morrison in a late conversion to the view that you can have a net zero emissions target without doing any harm to the economy, to our mining and gas sectors, to our manufacturing sector. Of course, you can. And it's obvious to me – I should say, by the way, I suspect this was part of the new Coalition agreement that Barnaby Joyce signed with the Prime Minister after he took the leadership back. This is the agreement, the secret agreement, which allows them to form a government, but the Australian people are unable, or not allowed to see. So, I think Barnaby will fight for the rest of the week and at some point, sometime soon, will have another party room meeting and declare that the Nats are all on board for net zero emissions by 2050.
JAYES: And what price should they extract, what offsets should the Nationals, or do you expect the Nationals to get?
FITZGIBBON: It's an interesting conversation, isn't it, Laura, because you know, all of the experts say that there doesn't have to be a cost, that if you get to net zero emissions by 2050, with the right plan, the right strategy, then it brings only net-positives to the community. Remember that our coal-fired generators are exiting the system with or without a government policy. That is happening, regardless. So, we're going to have to change our source of electricity generation. And that's happening as we speak, electricity generation went down last year, as did transport. But agriculture and some industrial practices went up. So, the plan has to focus on... we need to really stop talking about targets in percentage terms. Australia emits about 500 megatons of carbon every year. Around 30 per cent, or the majority of that comes from the electricity sector, it's going down. The plan needs to focus on those areas, which are not going down. Obviously, transport is going down as vehicle efficiencies improve and more people take up electric vehicles and hybrids. So, we need to focus on helping industry and those other sectors drive their emissions down. Agriculture is on the cusp, both in terms of carbon farming, and methane reductions of doing much better. So yes, we have to help – and the forestry sector is another one. So, we need to take taxpayers money and invest in these industries that are struggling to drive their emissions down. And in doing so, we can create jobs rather than forego jobs.
JAYES: Okay, so what's your view on all this? Because you know this area better than most. If we did sign up to a net zero emissions strategy by 2050, would that mean the end of coal jobs at that point, or well before then?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely not. Look, the coal generators will exit the system at the end of their physical lives. Now, government could introduce a policy that accelerates that withdraw, I'm against that, I don't believe that's necessary. And I don't believe we're capable of achieving it in any case, without sending energy prices up and of course, without risking unreliable sources of energy. But the majority of our coal, Laura, particularly in the Hunter region, about 90 per cent, goes to export markets. And we'll be exporting that coal to those markets in Asia for, in my view, decades to come. Now, people say: oh, no, these markets are committing to net zero emissions too, and they'll stop exporting our coal. Rubbish, Laura. They're building coal fired generators, as we speak, right throughout Asia, around 200 of them, I think, at this point in time. So, net zero emissions does not impact on our export markets – neither gas, nor coal.
JAYES: Are you worried that whatever agreement is struck in the Coalition, that Labor will be tempted to be more ambitious?
FITZGIBBON: Well, Labor should remain determined on net zero emissions by 2050, and I made the point today, the Prime Minister, if he can't get the Nats on board, should put a motion into the parliament. And it will pass easily with the support of the Labor Party and the support of probably half the Nationals Party Room. That's what he should do. Now, the medium-term targets, in my very strong view, are a matter for governments. You know, we have a charter of budget honesty, don't we Laura, on the state of the nation's books so that the parties know going into an election what the real state of those books is. Maybe it's time we had a charter of climate change target honesty, so that we – you know, Angus Taylor says that they're going to easily meet and beat their 28 per cent target. Well, let's share that with the parliament, let's see whether that is true. And then if they're on track to be, say, 32 per cent or 33 per cent by 2030, that's something I think the Labor Party and the Australian people are entitled to know. It would help us have a more sensible conversation about a medium-term target. But I don't think, but I hope the Labor Party does not get sucked into, without that information, committing to a bigger medium-term target, because the reality is that from opposition, it is in no position to do so on a technical basis.
JAYES: Okay, so 2050 target, fine, but Labor should not be tempted to have a more ambitious 2030 or 2035 target?
FITZGIBBON: Well, one would assume that Scott Morrison will go to Glasgow, come home and refresh his nationally determined contribution, his medium-term target. And I've often said that once a government does so, that should be the country's commitment for the five-year period. We should not be in this situation where the target keeps chopping and changing with each change of government. If the government has a respectable medium-term target to 2035, let's say, then that should be supported...
JAYES: ... That goes to your point, whose decision is it? Because bipartisanship has been, there's been a complete lack of it over 10 years and that's why we are in this position now. So, is it the job to set a target and set a policy of the executive of the government of the day or of the Parliament? Is this going to your argument that it should be passed through Parliament?
FITZGIBBON: Look, I think the best thing the Labor Party can do now is continue to do whatever is necessary to take the heat out of the climate wars. You make the point, and you said I know more about this than most, I don't know about that, but certainly I've been looking at this longer than everyone in this building, I suspect. And we've got to end these climate wars, we are lacking in achievement, although achievements have been fairly substantial, because of the politics. So, I think we should be doing everything we can. I'm happy to help Barnaby Joyce persuade his party room this week that you can get to net zero emissions without doing harm to our economy, or jobs. But let's not – this is a really interesting point, Laura, we spend all this time fighting out about targets in percentage terms. It suggests that we're going to do more if we've got a bigger target. Not necessarily. We should spend every day looking for opportunities to help industries in the various sectors further reduce their emissions in a way that relies on technologies and efficiencies rather than, you know, taxes, for example. And if we did that together, I think we'd achieve a lot more, regardless of what the target is, we've become almost obsessed with targets. Targets people don't understand. You know, what is 28 per cent?
FITZGIBBON: Given we're currently, in cumulative terms, we're currently emitting nearly 500 megatons every year, people don't know what that means. They want us to get on with practical solutions. And never have we been so close, I think, to a form of bipartisanship, despite the National Party posturing. I mean, when Barnaby Joyce is now on national television, you know, indicating he's trying hard in the party room, that's a long way to come from the, you know, $100 lamb roast, isn't it? Things have changed and that's a good thing.
JAYES: Exactly. Well, we would love to see that Coalition agreement, as you put out at the start of this interview...
FITZGIBBON: ... I fought them in the courts. On behalf of the Australian people I've even fought them in the courts, Laura. But the Coalition parties are unwilling to share that document with the Australian people. And that poses the question: what deals, and arrangements have been entered into to allow a party, in the Liberal Party, which doesn't command a majority in the House of Representatives, the right to govern this country?
JAYES: Yep, well, we'll ask it, Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks so much for that. We'll speak to you soon.
FITZGIBBON: Good. Thanks, Laura.