SUBJECTS: Liddell Power Station, Energy Generation, Energy Crisis, Williamtown Contamination
THURSDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER 2017
PETE DAVIS: Time now to catch up with Federal Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon who also represents the seat where the Liddell coal fired power station is located and as we know there has been a lot of talk about Liddell over the past few days, particularly with what’s happening with the Prime Minister and Joel believes that the Prime Minister has mislead the community on the Liddell situation and he is online to have a chat to us on the network here this morning. Morning Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be with you Pete.
DAVIS: How’s it all going, alright?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah going alright. A busy week in Canberra, a bit weary this morning but we will soldier on, no complaining.
DAVIS: Yeah. Could I just ask you firstly, your reaction to the news the other day that the Prime Minister was in talks with AGL to try and keep and Liddell open for at least beyond 2022. What’s your thoughts on that, do you think that’s a good idea?
FITZGIBBON: Well I’ve been in the Parliament for 21 years Pete, and my first instincts were to be really concerned, I don’t really believe Malcolm Turnbull has a plan, I just think that he is putting his own political interests ahead of the National interests and indeed the interests of my community. If he really had a plan on Liddell, he would be talking to people like me. I do fear it’s a stunt. I fear it raises false hope amongst my local communities and I also fear that while ever he is banging on about this spin he is not seriously looking at the things we really need done to make sure we maintain our role as the powerhouse of NSW there in the Hunter Valley.
DAVIS: Yeah, I got a call this morning from somebody, I didn’t watch Parliament yesterday. Is it true that you want the power station shut down?
FITZGIBBON: No, that’s not true, I’ve said from the get go that no one would be more pleased than me as the local Member if we could extend Liddell by five years but I just won’t engage in that false hope. I just don’t believe it’s going to happen. And I don’t mind Malcolm Turnbull talking about it as long as he is doing other things at the same time in parallel with that proposal. You see, I’ve been for two years now or more saying that the Hunter can remain the powerhouse of NSW, a title it has had for decades if we move on now to a gas-based generation capacity sitting alongside renewables because we have such significant renewables opportunities in the Hunter Valley but on gas of course we have the land there and the buffer zones of the existing power stations, we have the skilled workforce, we have the transmission lines right there. We’ve just got to get the gas to that part of the world which is not all that difficult and we could be doing both baseload and peaking power and employing those coal generation workers in these new industries which will be with us then for decades to come. All Malcolm Turnbull wants to do is spend a lot of tax payers money to extend an old coal fired power station for a few years and what happens after that, Pete?
DAVIS: Yeah, good question. Can I also ask you this. Energy prices could rise in this $50million plan to combat the power shortages. Do you believe in your opinion, are we going to face an energy crisis this summer, do you think?
FITZGIBBON: I fear we will and we will because for the last five years now we haven’t had an energy policy in this country so people haven’t been investing in generation because they don’t know what the rules are going to be from one day to another and that’s another problem with Malcolm’s so-called plan for Liddell, it’s just further confusing the market and the problem is, I mean this started when Tony Abbott unravelled or started to promise to unravel the carbon price architecture we had legislated for so everyone knew the rules into the future and since that was all withdrawn we’ve had nothing in its place so people have not been investing. We are under-supplied and therefore when demand rises dramatically we are going to be in trouble and anything Malcolm Turnbull says about talking to the retailers and having them write to their customers or even some of the things he has done like not allowing any longer the energy companies to appeal against decisions of the Regulator, none of that will change the fact that we’re not going to have enough electricity supply this summer if things get really hot.
DAVIS: Yeah, can I talk to you about AGL?
DAVIS: Your opinion, do you feel as though they’re fairly hypocritical when it comes to their plans to abandon coal though?
FITZGIBBON: No, I don’t because they announced formally in 2015 that they would close Liddell in 2022. Why are they closing Liddell? Its 45 years old Pete, its clapped out. It’s now the most inefficient and dirtiest power generator in the country. But it’s just like a motor car Pete. The longer you keep it, the more expensive it becomes to keep on the road. I was a former Defence Minister and it’s the same with military capability, you know, the longer you have it the more expensive it is to keep in the field. So, they’ve just decided, I think rightly and understandably, they’ve made a commercial decision you can’t keep throwing money at the thing to try to keep it going. Now they’ve got shareholders of course to take care of here. They say that to extend Liddell would cost between half a billion and a billion dollars, even then it would be a less reliable operator than it is now and this is all for maybe five years. Remember Pete, when they asked Tomago to shut down dramatically, it was in part because at least one generator maybe two generators at Liddell were not operating and it’s an old generator, you can not run them forever.
DAVIS: Yeah true. Can I actually turn to another issue very quickly before we go. A motion by the Greens and One Nation for property buy-backs in the Williamtown contaminated red-zone were defeated in the Senate yesterday. Why did Labor side with the Coalition on this to bring it down?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I wasn’t even aware that that happened, I’m gona be honest with you, I was so busy in the House you don’t always see immediately what’s happening in the Senate, but no one is more sympathetic towards those people than me and Meryl Swanson, oh my god she, the Member for Paterson, she has been working her butt off to try and help them and she has been very frustrated by the pace of the Government’s approach to addressing the problem. I think what you will find Pete is that Williamtown is not the only place where this contamination exists. You’ve got it at Oakey up there in Queensland and its now starting to appear over a period I’m told in all sorts of places, even civil airports, places where emergency services have been using the foam. So I think the Commonwealth just doesn’t know what sort of liability on behalf of the tax payers it faces. Once it starts, you resume, one, you buy back parcel of land then you’ve got to buy back every parcel that pops up and it could run into the tens of billions of dollars. I suspect that’s the problem but this Government has been all too tardy in addressing the problem. It’s easy for One Nation to get up and say yeah let’s just spend taxpayers money resuming all of the this land, but it’s a little bit reckless when you don’t even know what that means, you don’t know if it’s a billion dollars or 100 billion dollars so a bit of a political stunt it sounds like, but that doesn’t mean the Government doesn’t need to do a lot more to help these people.
DAVIS: Alright mate good to talk to you and thanks for coming on the show here this morning and just before we go, you must be very proud of your nephew too who plays for the Newcastle Knights who has just signed a new contract?
FITZGIBBON: He so obviously has all of his uncle’s skills
DAVIS: (laughs) yes
FITZGIBBON: No I’m very proud of him, he is a great player, very determined and very tough, he is doing very well.
DAVIS: Yeah, of course his name is Lachlan Fitzgibbon so we wish him all the best in the next couple of seasons with the Newcastle Knights. Righto Joel, good to talk to you mate we’ve run out of time and I do appreciate you coming on the show.
FITZGIBBON: Cheers mate.
DAVIS: There he is, Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon to talk about what’s happening with Liddell and obviously what is happening with the Williamtown issue as well which really is a very important issue that needs to be sorted out.