SUBJECTS: Federal Budget failing the Hunter region, Williamtown PFAS contamination, aged care funding, Cessnock Goannas’ win.
RICHARD KING: With his thoughts on last night’s Federal Budget joining us now is our most senior, local Federal politician Labor’s Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon who is on the line. Morning Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: G’day team, good to be with you.
KING: And look I might add at the outset, I did endeavor over a number of days and expressed my frustration even to one of your former sparring partners Bob Baldwin that it is impossible to talk to anyone from the Government about what is in it for the Hunter. Mind you there is not a hell of a lot to talk about there. A little frustrating that we cannot. And I jumped through hoops. Originally we had Jim Molan, Senator Jim Molan, the recently appointed Senator and he said he was told he couldn’t talk to us until after Scott Morrison had spoken to the press gallery this morning so unfortunately we can’t talk to anyone from the Government. Your thoughts on it specifically for the Hunter? Not a great deal Joel.
FITZGIBBON: First of all Richard I find Jim Molan’s excuse pretty funny, but there is nothing funning about the budget. The Newcastle Herald screamed the truth this morning with the headline, ‘Hunter dudded again’ and that is exactly what has happened. You’ve pointed out that the tax cuts are small and on the never-never. Malcolm Turnbull will have to be re-elected twice before we get them. And I wish him luck with that after this budget. In particular I was looking - look every region wants the same thing. First and foremost we want equality of access to 21st Century health, education, aged care and childcare services. We certainly did not get that last night. All those areas of funding were again cut. A big one for me is investment in our young people in skills training. We don’t have so much an unemployment problem, a jobs shortage. We have an incapacity to fill jobs so we have to rebuild our vocational education and training structure but they cut another $200 million out of TAFE last night.
Last but not least we do want some infrastructure, we need some infrastructure. We are a growing region and have bottle necks right throughout the Hunter and of course nothing for infrastructure last night. In my patch nothing for the Glendale Interchange, nothing for the bypasses in Singleton and Muswellbrook which have been on the books now for all of their time in Government and not a cent going to them. Cessnock is another town that has a huge congestion problem and I want to hear Governments start talking about how we are going to address that. We need a link to the Hunter Expressway.
KING: Right, we were talking yesterday about the Health Report released, well it affects not only Williamtown but Oakey and a number of other areas in Australia because of the PFAS contamination. I think the only mention of it was something that had already been mentioned, $55 million for water and in a lot of cases bottled water and a sort of brief mention about the fact there are a number of class actions that might cost the Government a bit of money but basically nothing there for Williamtown residents Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Meryl Swanson is going to be running around Parliament House with a spear today I reckon. She is not going to be a happy vegemite at all. She has worked really hard on this and been responsible too. We understand the concept of unlimited liability. Governments have to be a bit careful about how they manage these things. But this Government doesn’t seem to engage in this issue. It’s the whole thing, the budget , PFAS, it looks to me like the region is being punished for returning Labor Members. I heard that David Gillespie said this morning, now David Gillespie is a Nationals Federal MP. He is in Lyne but he comes right down to the Hunter River in Maitland. So if go across into Lorn, you’re in his electorate. He said today that we should be thankful we are going to benefit from the bypass of Coffs Harbour. He doesn’t know his geography very well.
KIM BAUER: No well it makes holidays up to the Gold Coast with the kids maybe a little bit quicker.
KING: And again I think that starts in 2020 and will hopefully be completed by about 2023. I go to Grafton all the time because my mother lives there so I will be happy when that is finished. But looking at the positives, funding for an extra 14,000 places across Australia over the next four years to help people avoid going into residential aged care. That’s a good one.
FITZGIBBON: I’m a great supporter of community care packages allowing people to stay in their homes longer. I think Labor invented the concept actually. But where is the money coming from? It’s coming from our Institutional Aged Care Program. So they are taking the money out of nursing homes and using it to fund aged care packages. We need to be doing both. You can’t be taking money off one side of the equation to give to the other.
BAUER: Well that’s right. And also on our older Australians, money being set aside to retrain people to keep them in the workforce longer. Now that sounds good in theory but we know ageism is rife. A 57-year-old can’t go into a workplace and compete with a 25-year-old when technology these days is front and centre. How are they going to stop ageism albeit that they are throwing money at training?
FITZGIBBON: They want you to work to 70 Kim. That’s okay if you are pushing a pen, but not if you are a tiler or a brick layer. It’s just, look all the priorities are wrong. $80 billion still in the budget for tax cuts for the biggest corporates. $17 billion of which will go to the four major banks which are not exactly enjoying a good time in the Royal Commission. This is money that could be invested elsewhere. We don’t ask for all that much. We just ask in the Hunter for a fair go. We certainly didn’t get that last night.
KING: You’ve always got to look on the bright side of life but you’d be very happy the Cessnock Goannas had their first win last weekend against the mighty Rosellas Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Well Al Lantry, a good friend of mine, would have been under enormous pressure, he needed that and to pull a win off against the Rosellas on our home turf was I think a real breakthrough for him. He has plenty of cattle this year so the pressure is on and he needs to produce the results.
KING: And that was the battle of the Lantrys. Of course his brother Matt coaches the Rosellas. A step in the right direction anyway for the Rosellas Joel.
FITZGIBBON: A step in the right direction - and go the Knights, without Mitchell Pearce we are still going okay, and the controversy over the Jets – heads should roll.
KING: Thanks for talking to us Joel, have a good day.