SUBJECTS: Hunter Air Quality; Dairy Farmers; Work Casualisation and Unions
JESSICA ROUSE, HOST: Hunter MP, Joel Fitzgibbon joins me this morning – plenty to talk about Joel, how you doing?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: I’m doing well very, Jess. I’ve been watching you on social media all you energetic activities, well done.
ROUSE: Got to balance, you know, sit in the studio; go for a run.
ROUSE: There’s plenty to talk about and while it is a state issue, air quality has been a massive talking point, and still is a massive talking point. This week we had Opposition Leader, Jodi McKay, come up to councils, to community members, to acknowledge that is a massive problem. From your prospective, are you in agreeance with Jodi McKay in what she has been saying this week?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, this is a state issue but Jodi gave me a call last week to let me know that she would be talking more about it, and so she should. As the drought, of course, gets worse I think this is going to be an even bigger challenge. And you know there is no greater supporter of the coal mining industry than me, but we do expect the coal mining industry to work within the parameters of their approvals and it does seem that they are exceeding their levels on a regular basis now and it’s only reasonable that we should expect as a community and as community leaders that they comply with their conditions of consent.
ROUSE: It’s certainly, as you said, mines aren’t the only problem at the moment. I mean; we got bushfires; we got drought; we got a whole host of things contributing to the air quality at the moment. What do you see that could be done in addition to what is being done?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I’ll leave that to the experts, Jess. But first and foremost, the coal companies have to comply with their conditions of consent. And we see the regulator admitting on a regular basis now that mines are exceeding the limits which are set for them. So, step one of course is to ensure the coal mines are complying with their conditions of consent.
ROUSE: So you’re saying that coal mines are basically the root of this problem?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I’m sure the coal mines are contributing to the problem, that’s just common sense and obvious. So, I think the coal mining sector needs to get together collectively and though, obviously, coal miners can do things on their own by complying with their conditions of consent, but I think the industry has to do more collectively to impact on the cumulative affect
ROUSE: Yep. Now, you mentioned the impact of the air quality at the moment on our farmers and speaking of our farmers, there was a Queensland lobby group in Canberra this week, and dairy farmers across the country are struggling. At the moment, in Queensland, apparently they are losing at least one dairy farmer a day, and we know in Denman we’ve lost quite a few over the last 18 months – two years – this certainly is a problem that is not going away.
FITZGIBBON: No, it’s not going away. We’ve lost 35 per cent of our dairy farmers in the last decade so it’s not an exaggeration to say as I did in the Parliament this week that we are at real risk of losing our dairy sector and importing all of our dairy needs, including our drinking milk, and that would be a horrific outcome for a great agriculture nation like Australia. And the Federal Government is just showing now urgency on this matter; our dairy farmers have long been caught in this cost/price squeeze; their costs are rising all the time particularly now because of the drought, but of course the retail price of milk, or at least their farm gate price, has remained stubbornly low. Now this has been going on at least since 2016 and, indeed, to a lesser extent before and the government refuses to act in a meaningful way. One thing we are asking for is a mandatory code of conduct for the industry to put farmers on a level playing field with the processors who buy their milk. This is a pretty simple thing to do to put a code of conduct in place. The ACCC recommended one back in April 2017 – sorry 18 – and 20 months on we are still waiting and I don’t understand why. The Nats are having a fight with the libs about what the code should look like; we say just get on with it.
ROUSE: Exactly, definitely something needs to be done and lastly, something else that’s been quite a talking point here at the moment is casualization in the mining industry; a number of issues that our mine workers are facing. Senator Malcolm Roberts from One Nation has certainly been very vocal on the issue; he was in Parliament again this week. About a 20 minute speech talking about Chandler Macleod, particularly he said a number of things, including one person was told that a mine had a large number of safety incidents and if it was reported, an injury that had happened, he would be fired. Now, he mentioned numerous among similar lines; there is clearly a problem here.
FITZGIBBON: There is a problem. Casualisation in the coal mining industry is a huge issue for me and the Labor Party. We went to the last election committed to legislation to fix this problem. The government had a bill itself before the parliament it claimed would help but, indeed, all it did or would have done was give employees the right to ask to be considered as a permanent. That bill, by the way, never made it through the parliament before the election and six months on, the government has brought their bill back to the parliament. That’s how much the government is concerned about the issue. Now, Malcolm Roberts could help us here. He could go on strike, tell the government – I mean One Nation votes with the Morrison Government about 95 per cent of the time. So another words, it’s propping up the Morrison Government. Malcolm Roberts, if he really wants to help, he should say back Labor’s plan to fix this casualization or I won’t support the government in the Senate until you do so. Now, that’s what Malcolm Roberts could do if he really wanted to help our coal miners. We can’t accept a situation where two people alongside one another in a coal mine are doing the same job and yet one is getting paid less than the other.
ROUSE: That’s certainly not the only issue, I mean Malcolm Roberts has spoken about a month ago now about workers who are injured at work and then are basically cut off from their contractor; they get no help; they get no nothing; they’re underpaid; their sick leave; their annual leave; all sorts of things. So, that’s something that needs to be looked at as well because it looks like it’s an issue right across the industry not just here in the Hunter Valley.
FITZGIBBON: And Jess, that’s why we are fighting this Ensuring Integrity Bill that Scott Morrison currently has before the Parliament. He wants to bash the unions, de-register the unions, the only organisations we have hope of fixing some of these problems. We should be supporting our trade union movement, not bagging out our trade union movement or worse seeking to eradicate our trade union movement. And by the way, just some of these contracts with labour hire firms are done by workers who aren’t in the union and there was a time when those contracting firms were able to avoid being covering their people by coal miners’ insurance and then they get hurt and they expect to be beneficiaries of all the benefits offered by coal miners’ insurance. So, let’s get behind our union. They have interests of the workers at heart. Back them and ensure that all coal miners are on the same pay for the same job and they are covered by the more generous and adequate coal mines insurance policy.
ROUSE: So, do you think the union really does care about their mine workers?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely, I talk to the union – the first thing I do when I have a coal miner come to me with a problem is consult the union to find out how much they know about it and what they’ve done about it so we are on the same team doing the same work. Sometimes aren’t in the union and that makes it more difficult for me but of course, we always take up their case.
ROUSE: Well, there is plenty going on as always Joel. Thank you so much for you time this morning.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure Jess.