ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for joining us. You've declined to attend this environment event – Labor Environment Action Network in the Hunter. What's that about?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: I think, Andrew, all of these discussions are important. We need to be constantly revisiting, reviewing and building upon the party's policies. But there's not much point going to these events when you know that the fundamentalists running them have already made up their minds about what they believe the party policy should be. And I've got better things to do, quite frankly.
CLENNELL: Fundamentalists? So, but this group was set up by your fellow frontbencher who's in the right faction, Kristina Keneally, and the Senator Jenny McAllister. So, are you saying they are fundamentalists as well?
FITZGIBBON: Well, if that is true that they set up LEAN, that's the first I knew about it when I read about it in the newspaper this morning, but it must have been a long time ago. Look, last night and tonight, there will be people in green t-shirts, Andrew, attending Labor Party branch members preaching their gospel to all those prepared to listen. Now those green t-shirts, of course, are the colour that represent the colour of choice of one of our main political opponents, the Australian Greens. And it's the wrong image for the party but it's the wrong way to also approach policy development – running around the branches – infiltrating the branches. I might say, in fact, I suspect some of these people have actually infiltrated the party to push their green agenda. I don't believe that is the right way to be running or developing policy within the Labor Party.
CLENNELL: So, you're saying that people who should be aligned with the Greens Party, or are aligned with the Greens Party, are infiltrating the Labor Party. Is that your belief?
FITZGIBBON: One of the key challenges for the Labor Party, Andrew, and I think there's plenty of evidence in it at the last couple of elections, is that our main political opponents, the Liberal and National Parties, have successfully portrayed the Labor Party as being too close to the Greens. So now, some of that we may have brought upon ourselves. But certainly, we've given the LNP the opportunity to run that scare campaign. And having a core group within our party roaming around in green t-shirts, preaching the environmental gospel only feeds into that narrative that our political opponents are trying to build and we have to demonstrate that we are a much broader church than that. That we are very, very much focused on traditional industries and traditional jobs, while at the same time seeing the opportunities in the newer, more modern parts of the economy including of course, the renewable sector.
CLENNELL: Do you think you're winning the debate in the party around climate and coal with the leader Anthony Albanese at the moment?
FITZGIBBON: Andrew, I hope I'm sparking a debate. Because of the last two elections, at least and probably more elections than that, we have taken a certain religious zeal into the environmental policy platform. We need to protect our natural environment. We need to take up new cleaner energy opportunities, and we will, and our economy is naturally moving in that direction. But particularly in this pandemic, we need to be creating lots of jobs, and we need to be creating them quickly. We could be approaching, this time next year, 3 million people on the unemployment queue. And the best way to create jobs quickly is to build upon, to give every opportunity to the established industries, those that have been successful, those of which have been resilient throughout the period of the pandemic, and to give them the best chance to grow. And there's a bit of talk about the EPBC review at the moment – that is the Commonwealth environmental law established by John Howard 20 years ago. But it's interesting really because the key point Graeme Samuel makes is that the EPBC is neither serving the natural environment, nor investors, nor industry and jobs. But there are those who think it's heresy almost, to talk about touching that act and reviewing and changing that act. And I'll remind you, Andrew, there have been a couple of recent examples, high profile examples, but there are others. Projects like Santos' Narrabri gas project, more than a decade under consideration. Projects like New Hope's Acland Mine in Queensland, 13 years under consideration. Now that's the wrong message to be sending to investors. Investors who will look at us, see sovereign risk, inevitably take their money elsewhere, and of course, the jobs with it.
CLENNELL: Well, when you say there are people who don't want to touch it, do they include people in the Shadow Cabinet?
FITZGIBBON: Well Shadow Cabinet hasn't had a discussion about the EPBC review. You know, essentially only an interim review at this stage. But I've seen plenty of commentary, particularly from those within this LEAN group, who are already rejecting Graeme Samuel's interim review, of course, before the final review has been published. Now, that sort of pre-emption I don't think is helpful to the debate. And where is there a recognition of Graeme Samuel's findings that the EPBC as it is, is not serving our natural environment well?
CLENNELL: Have you had a discussion with the leader about the party's approach on that issue?
FITZGIBBON: No, I haven't.
FITZGIBBON: But I'm sure that debate is coming, and it will certainly come when Graeme Samuel finally reports on the EPBC.
CLENNELL: You clearly see climate and coal as the reason Labor lost last the last election. I guess you had a near death experience in your own seat, but is that fair to say? You see this is the reason that Labor didn't get there?
FITZGIBBON: I don't – I'm not outspoken, Andrew, because I see things through the prison of my own electoral fortunes. I like to think that if they didn't get me last time, they never will. But I'm not complacent about that, of course. My concern is for the future of the Labor Party, its capacity to be elected, and, therefore, deliver for the millions of people who rely upon us to form a government from time to time. We can't implement our environment policies, we can't implement our tax policies, we can't implement our jobs, health and education policies from the Opposition benches. And, you know, we've been on the Opposition benches now for too long, since 2013. And we can look for perfection in some of our policies, but if they don't – if they're not capable of bringing the community with us and, therefore, capable of winning us an election, then what is the point?
CLENNELL: Ok. Well, look, Anthony Albanese in February said that he didn't see a chance of another coal-fired power station in Australia, do you think he's changed his mind on that? And how much does that concern you, that sort of talk?
FITZGIBBON: I agree with him, Andrew, this is the point. You know, the renewable energy sector creates about 27,000 jobs at the moment. Half of those are solar rooftop installations on our homes – they're one-off jobs. The coal industry employs 200,000 people directly; 75,000 people just in the Hunter Valley both directly and indirectly. But the overwhelming lion's share of that coal, of course, is exported. Sadly, from my perspective, when our existing coal generators come to the end of their useful economic and physical lives, they will be mothballed or shutdown and investors have made it clear that they are not interested in investing in new coal-fired generators. Why? Because you need about a 40 to 50 year return. There's too much uncertainty long term, we don't know what the energy sector is going to look like in 10 years let alone in 40 years, and they're not investing. So, that is just the reality. But our whole money industry will remain strong.
CLENNELL: Do you still believe that Labor should adopt the government's 2030 climate change target?
FITZGIBBON: Well, when I thought that, Andrew, I was putting it as a hypothetical, as a way of demonstrating – as an example – how we might put the focus back on the seven year old government. Now, Scott Morrison has this target of 26 to 28 per cent. He's clearly not on track to reaching that target. But he gets away with that narrative.
CLENNELL: Why is that?
FITZGIBBON: Well, he's just not and no expert in this field will tell you that he's on track…
CLENNELL: Well, what about carry…
FITZGIBBON: … but… but… but while ever we're talking about big targets on our own side, the attention and focus is entirely on us when it should be on a seven year old government, which is not on track to deliver the Paris Agreement commitment it made itself.
CLENNELL: As a factional powerbroker, you've clearly decided to stick with the leader rather than change leaders with the primary vote still around 34 per cent. You've decided that your best bet, it seems, is to change the policy direction as opposed to the leader. Is that a fair characterisation?
FITZGIBBON: Well, the key point there is that I think Anthony Albanese is an outstanding leader and the right person to be leading the party particularly at this time of crisis. He is pragmatic. He's policy smart. He has deep seated convictions as a politician of long standing. He knows regional Australia well. He knows coal mining and power generation in the resources sector - more generally - well. As the Regional Development Minister, he spent a lot of time in the bush. And I think you would agree that he's been very accommodating in some of the arguments that I've been putting forward because like me Anthony Albanese, one, wants to win, and two, having won, hopefully, wants the opportunity to deliver on the millions of Australians that are relying upon the re-election of a Labor government.
CLENNELL: And what do you make of Clive Palmer potentially getting involved in the Queensland campaign? Do you have fears about his potential role in the next federal election again?
FITZGIBBON: Well, of course, I mean there is no doubt. It's just a simple fact that Clive Palmer played a role in Labor's election defeat in 2019. He's demonstrated the capacity to influence the vote. It's a shame that, you know, the architecture of our democracy allows, you know, a rich person like him to use his money to shape the voting outcome in this country but it's something we need to live with. But what we should never do is become hostage or give into the demands of a rich guy like Clive Palmer, who's entirely driven, of course, by his own political ideology. And it's not an ideology that matches the key ideals and objectives of the Labor Party, which first and foremost, from my perspective, is equality of opportunity.
CLENNELL: Mr Fitzgibbon, thanks for your time.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure, Andrew.