Transcript - Television Interview - Sky News - Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Transcript - Television Interview - Sky News - Tuesday, 15 September 2020 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

15 September 2020

TOM CONNELL, HOST: We’re going live now with Shadow Resources Minister Joel Fitzgibbon – thank you very much for your time. Let’s start with Shadow Cabinet: no Target reportedly for 2030 or 35, but net zero by 2050. Is that accurate? Does this show you've got your way on this?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES: No, no surprises there Tom. Our clear commitment is net zero emissions by 2050. Obviously, the 2030 medium-term target is now redundant. You know, by the time the next election comes around, we'll be pretty close to 2030 and I think people are increasingly becoming aware that the pathway to 2050 won't be a linear one, because as technologies evolve and improve, the task will get less-difficult along the way. So I think that the idea of having medium-term targets is a bit of a distraction. What we need to do is focus on making sure we get to net zero emissions by 2050.

CONNELL: No mention of coal in the document? What does that mean?

FITZGIBBON: Well you know, Tom, you know I was part of the framing of that document. We all worked hard to produce it. If coal isn't mentioned in a word that's not deliberate. We show and express strong support for the resources sector and of course coal is very much a part of that. It’s our second largest export in the resources sector, so you can hardly accuse us of not recognising that and not being supportive of coal. The Labor Party has always supported the coal mining industry. We were, in a sense, in part, built on the struggles of our coal miners and we will always support the coal mining industry.

CONNELL: What does it say though for Labor's support for coal mining, for new thermal coal mines, for example? Is there a position the party has on them?

FITZGIBBON: The important thing to remember, Tom, is that more than 90 per cent of our coal is exported to our Asian markets, and the balance of course is used for thermal coal generation here in Australia. The problem is that 50 per cent of our installed capacity coal generation is 30 years old, or older, and in New South Wales it's much worse, it's about 90 per cent, I think you'll find. So we've got to acknowledge that, you know, coal-fired generators, like any machine, do run out of puff. They do come to the end of their physical and economic lives at some, some point just as the Liddell station in my electorate is about to do, at 50 years of age. So we've got to be ready to replace that firming capacity and that's what I have in large part been fighting for.

CONNELL: Right, so you're fighting for that. The Prime Minister is announcing today that if Liddell doesn't go ahead and replace that power plant with something that has firmed capacity as its described, there'll be a backing in some way by the federal government of a new gas-fired power station in the Hunter Valley. Would you support that?

FITZGIBBON: Scott Morrison's announcement can be fairly described today as capitulation. What he's announcing, is our plan. My plan as a local member, and the plan of Meryl Swanson, the Member for Patterson who neighbours me. We've been arguing for three years now, that as Liddell comes to the end of her natural life we will need new capacity in the Hunter so that we can maintain our status of the powerhouse - as the powerhouse of New South Wales, a status we’ve had for many decades. So we've been working on this plan to have AGL, and supporting them, investing in pumped hydro, and the upgrade of the Bayswater power station next to Liddell, another hundred megawatt hours there. Storage - battery storage. And of course, gas. A gas peaking power station. Now, that's what Scott Morrison is embracing today. He is continuing with this pretence that he'll only do this if AGL doesn't extend Liddell in seven months’ time. He knows that's never going to happen, they always knew that's not going to happen because the station is just too old and we want to get two peaking stations, here in the Hunter, Tom: one from Snowy Hydro on the old Hydro Aluminium site in Kurri Kurri, and we want one from AGL on their Tomago site right next to the existing Rio Tinto Tomago smelter. That's going to be a great boost for the Hunter region.

CONNELL: Well, let me ask. When you say ‘we want’, is that just you and Meryl Swanson? This would be a government-backed so perhaps through a grant, which could be hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, or through underwriting from the federal government. Is that Labor's position, that you would support what Scott Morrison’s talking about, or is that your position?

FITZGIBBON: What Scott Morrison has been doing up until now is running interference on the investment plans of these companies by pretending Liddell can be extended and if you do that, you put uncertainty in the market. How do you build a gas-peaking station if you're not sure whether the government is going to be successful in their attempts to extend Liddell? So, he's putting that aside effectively today, even though he still continuing that pretence. But AGL is at the planning stage - or sorry, the planning approvals stage for its 250 megawatt peaking station in Tomago. So, that's proceeding and that's great. And Snowy Hydro, of course, is a company wholly-owned by the Australian Government. It will build a peaking station, or a 350 megawatt station, in Kurri Kurri, and guess what Tom? It'll make money. That's what Snowy Hydro does. It generates electricity both in renewables forms, hydro forms, and gas forms already, and in doing so, it makes money. And that's a good thing for Australia, and it is a good thing for the people of the Hunter Valley.

CONNELL: What about the thousand megawatt power plant that's been spoken about? As I said, government-backed, so some sort of taxpayer support in the Hunter. Are you saying that's your position, but is it federal Labor's position?

FITZGIBBON: That's not right. That's not been accurately reported. The Snowy Hydro plant will be about 350 megawatt hours, but there is scope to ramp it up in the future, and that would be a good thing. The Tomago gas station is about 250 megawatts. We've got an additional 100 megawatts coming at Bayswater, we will get about 1000 megawatts, I think out of battery storage and I'm not sure how much out of the hydro project but it's significant. There's also a gas generator on the Central Coast, which is struggling to ever meet capacity at the moment because of a lack of gas. And that's why we've been arguing for some time - I'm saying we, as local members, to get that Hunter gas pipeline down from Wallumbilla in Southeast Queensland, down through Quirindi, picking up Santos gas, down through the valley, energising our manufacturing sector and getting the gas needed to build these gas generators...

CONNELL: Okay, let me clarify that point again. So government underwriting of gas infrastructure – you mentioned there pipelines – this is being announced today from Scott Morrison, another thing they're looking at. Mark Butler has expressed concern about whether that's the right use of taxpayer money. How does this get worked out? Because you seem to support it; he doesn't. Does this need to get thrashed out at Shadow Cabinet?

FITZGIBBON: My understanding is that Scott Morrison this morning will say the government is prepared to do these things if necessary, they won't be making any commitments. There's a lot of spin and announcement today, as is always the case, but I'm going to be on their case, Tom, and I'm going to make sure that they do these things. And of course, it makes absolute common sense.

CONNELL: Don't you have to give it to your party first?

FITZGIBBON: No, I don't believe you'll get any resistance from our party of the concept of underwriting long-term gas supply contracts. It doesn't cost the taxpayer any money, but allows money to be raised on the markets because it brings certainty. And the Labor Party committed $1.5 billion to a gas pipeline during the last election campaign from the Northern Territory to Queensland, so we have a strong history here.

CONNELLL: Okay. We've run out of time, Joel Fitzgibbon. I'm sure we'll be talking about this again down the track. Thank you

FITZGIBBON: It's all about jobs, Tom. Thank you.