SUBJECTS: China relations; Victorian gas.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Joel Fitzgibbon is slamming the current situation [with China]. He says the relationship between Australia and China has never been so bad in all of my time in politics. He’s been there a while – Joel. And he joins us on the line. Joel, good afternoon to you.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES: Great to be with you Karl.
STEFANOVIC: Thank you for being us this afternoon, I mean you would have seen some of the responses from the PM today. Do you buy it?
FITZGIBBON: No I don’t Karl. The relationship has reached a low and new ebb, and you know Barnaby Joyce and I were having a stoush on Channel Seven this morning and I made that point and Barnaby…
STEFANOVIC: Well there’s your first mistake.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, Barnaby confirmed it by saying that, worse than what? After Tianamen Square? Barnaby – I was 27 years of age. I said, ‘there’s worst it’s been since I’ve been in the Parliament’ and that – those 24 years, not the 30 years, but of course it’s a low ebb. We see that on a daily basis. Malcom Turnbull’s Government in particular used very, very colourful language on a number of occasions towards our major trading partner. They made changes to the Foreign Investment Review Board thresholds making it tougher for China to invest in Australia; they put David Irvine on – he’s a highly regarded security expert in Australia – they appointed with chair of the FIRB to send a signal to China, there was a whole lot of fuss about Huawei, and of course it’s come to a point Karl, you get yourself mentioned in the newspaper these days if your answer a Chinese restaurant in Sydney, so things are pretty bad and I welcome this morning Scott Morrison trying to address to reverse that situation, trying to rebuild the relationship.
STEFANOVIC: And you think, though – you’re standing by your claim that it hasn’t been this bad in all your years of politics?
FITZGIBBON: Oh absolutely and I do believe that Barnaby Joyce confirmed that when he compared it to Tiananmen Square which of course is 30 years ago. That’s coming off a pretty low base and as I’ve said I’ve been in the Parliament for 24 years and I’ve been a Defence Minister, Karl, and I understand that relationship well and we’ve seen some retaliatory action from the Chinese in recent months and over the course of the last couple of years and on the trading front we export $118 billion of goods and services to China each year, they are easily our largest trading partner and what is my interest in this? Well the obvious, but 72 per cent of those exports come out of the resources sector – I’m the Shadow Minister for Resources – and a large value of agricultural product over which I also have responsibility goes into China.
STEFANOVIC: So do you think we should be sucking up to them? Do you think we should be making it easier for them to invest in Australia?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely not. Well, yeah, I think Chinese investment in Australia is important and we need to find…
STEFANOVIC: You don’t think it’s gone too far, though?
FITZGIBBON: No, I don’t. They are still a very low investor in Australia compared to the United States, the UK, Canada, New Zealand. But you know smart leadership would require us to find new investment models that would allow Australians to feel more comfortable. But the relationship is very important, Karl. There used to be a thing called statecraft, diplomacy and people used to be careful about what language they used towards any country let alone our largest trading partner, and that’s just not the language which the current government has been adopting in recent years.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, just on another matter quickly before we let you go. You want the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to reconsider his ban on fracking – a review of that policy is due to take place next year. Should they bring that forward, do you think?
FITZGIBBON: I’d like to see them bring that forward if possible. Look, we have an emerging gas crisis Karl, you know, we’re using more and more gas, but less and less gas is coming from our traditional sources. The Bass Strait of Victoria is a perfect example of that and if we want to grow our economy, keep energy prices lower and keep our manufacturing sector – and the jobs in it – alive and well, we simply have to get more gas out of the ground. And I think each gas project or proposal should be assessed on its merits and some will be allowed to proceed without causing any harm to the environment and water tables, and some will not. Some will have community support, and some will not.
STEAFNOVIC: Maybe we don’t have to export so much. I mean we have plenty of it, don’t we?
FITZGIBBON: Karl we have enough to export to the whole world and consume plenty ourselves if governments were more prepared – here in New South Wales the Santos project in Narrabri has now been nine years in the making. Nine years of process and we have to do better than that Karl if we want to maintain those job and if we want to keep electricity prices low.
STEFANOVIC: Good to talk to you Joel, thank you.
FITZGIBBON: Always a pleasure.