SUBJECTS: Dams, Labor’s investment in the Central Queensland Livestock Centre of Excellence, electric vehicles, Labor’s climate change policy, Adani.
LAURIE ATLAS: Alrighty, 27 past 2, Joel Fitzgibbon is touring Queensland today. Do I have to go through your titles again?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Just all-round good bloke, Laurie.
ATLAS: All-round good bloke will do. Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, Rural & Regional Australia. What’s Country Caucus?
FITZGIBBON: It’s a very powerful and energetic group of MPs in Canberra who hunt as a pack and ensure that all Labor’s decisions are consistent with our aspirations in rural and regional Australia.
ATLAS: How are things in the Hunter at the moment?
FITZGIBBON: The Hunter Valley is in good shape, very strong political representation.
ATLAS: Getting enough rain?
FITZGIBBON: Not getting enough rain, some good rain in recent months but not enough.
ATLAS: Hmm, that’s good cos it was nasty there for a while wasn’t it?
FITZGIBBON: Very, it’s very very dry, very dry.
FITZGIBBON: Very dry still, better but it’s still very dry.
ATLAS: What can we do. We disagree on dams don’t we? Do we disagree on dams? All that water, did you cry when all that water fell around Townsville? Apart from for Townsville, but did you look at it and go, ‘oh man could we just put that in some dams and we could drought-proof the country’?
FITZGIBBON: I cry Laurie when I reflect on the dams that the former Labor government built in six years in office and the fact that the current government in six years has not built a dam, in fact not even got to construction phase for a dam, that’s what disappoints me.
ATLAS: If you wanted to build a dam you’d have to get it past the Senate, wouldn’t you?
ATLAS: And you would support it?
FITZGIBBON: Well the last piece of water infrastructure that the former Labor government built was in the midlands area in Tasmania, very, very successful scheme and of course that didn’t need to go to the Parliament. Executive government makes these decisions itself and funds these things itself. Of course all water infrastructure projects, including dams have to go through an environmental approvals process as you’d expect.
ATLAS: Takes years doesn’t it?
FITZGIBBON: No, not if the government is serious about securing an outcome.
ATLAS: Because all of that water went into the sea, didn’t it? It’s just sad.
FITZGIBBON: It is frustrating for people to see water pass by. Of course environmental flows are important, they have an important role to play there but we do have to be smart at harnessing our water, just as we need to be smart about improving the quality of our soils so we get better water retention and of course water efficiency. There is never one response to a challenge, you have to have a suite of responses. Some work better in some areas than others and vice versa of course.
ATLAS: Do you know why the Greens hate dams? I can never get a straight answer from a Green. Mind you, they don’t come in here much I have to admit. I haven’t seen one for a while, a Green.
FITZGIBBON: I’ve been around for a while Laurie, I mean I’ve never had any inclination to speak on behalf of the Greens.
ATLAS: So you don’t know why they loathe them, cos I’d like to know but they won’t speak to me, but anyway. Look we will move on, we will move on to local jobs and industry, investing in the Central Queensland Livestock Centre of Excellence. Good for you, it’s a good thing.
FITZGIBBON: Really important Laurie. We can’t have a strong economy if we don’t have strong regions and you can’t have a strong regional Australia if you don’t have a strong agriculture sector.
ATLAS: Can you tell that to Jackie Trad, the State Treasurer?
FITZGIBBON: I’ve worked cooperatively with Jackie Trad, obviously we don’t agree all of the time but we agree on one thing, and that is agriculture will continue to play a really important role and here in Central Queensland of course you are 10 per cent of the agriculture sector and about a billion dollars in the cattle industry. But what we need to do is ensure that we remain internationally competitive. If we are to continue to create and hold jobs in the region - in that sector - and an important part of that of course is lifting productivity - and an important part of that in turn is embracing the best of technology. That’s why today I announced we’d invest in the Livestock Centre of Excellence to ensure they are able to continue their very, very good work.
ATLAS: They do do great work. Were they surprised to get the money?
FITZGIBBON: Well they seemed very happy. I don’t know about surprised, but very happy and it is consistent with what the Labor Party stands for and that is lifting productivity. Making sure that every sector, not just agriculture, is embracing the opportunities of the 21st century, particularly in respect to research and development, particularly in respect to technology and innovation and that’s what today’s announcement was all about.
ATLAS: Agriculture is certainly very important here. Do governments do enough?
FITZGIBBON: Governments can always do more and I don’t - you know, even though we are in an election campaign - I’d prefer to not go down the path of political partisanship, but the last six years Laurie, you’d have to say, and I ask producers and producer organisations all the time, what has the Coalition government done for you in the last six years? And quite frankly the answer is always “zero”.
ATLAS: There was certainly a huge backlash in NSW, wasn’t there, against the National Party?
FITZGIBBON: There certainly is, because people are starting to realise in regional areas that the National Party, including LNP members here - National Party LNP members - are taking their local backyard for granted and they’re not embracing the 21st century. They’re still talking about the things they talked about and the things they did in the 20th century and if we are going to have a modern competitive agriculture sector, we have to embrace all the opportunities of the 21st century.
ATLAS: Now Bill Shorten said yesterday that Toyota will move to only manufacturing electric vehicles by 2025. Toyota then released a statement to say that’s nonsense, we vehemently deny it. Did he tell a lie?
FITZGIBBON: I’ve been on the road Laurie, I don’t know anything about either of those statements but I do know that Australia is running last in the world, in the developed world on electric vehicles and we need to do better. We need to do better because of the environment, but we need to do better because EVs provide us with an opportunity to rebuild our car manufacturing sector in this country. We need to do better because it will be cheaper for people to run electric vehicles. There are all sorts of reasons we should be embracing it and of course the world will eventually stop making petrol and diesel based vehicles.
ATLAS: Do you think it’s possible?
FITZGIBBON: I’m sure that it is possible because -
ATLAS: It’s a bold plan, I agree with you, it’s a bold plan.
FITZGIBBON: Well let’s start talking about the 20th century again Laurie, people are still thinking that it’s not possible to make more powerful vehicles that run on batteries. Have you ever had the opportunity to sit in a Tesla and feel how powerful those vehicle are? They’re doing it now Laurie and every year they will do it better again. So people can get stuck in the 20th century but the Labor Party knows that to lift wages, to deal with cost of living, to make us a more modern society with more opportunity, we will need to embrace all the technologies of the modern world.
ATLAS: You’ll need your headphones on for this question, I just want to, now Bill Shorten was in Boothby today in South Australia. You know Boothby don’t you? A beautiful part of the world, that’s a very close seat isn’t it.
FITZGIBBON: I do know Boothby, it’s a very close seat, it’s one we have our eyes on.
ATLAS: This is up there with, “I don’t know what the Prime Minister said, but I agree with what she said,” okay. I need you to listen to the whole thing, here we go.
(BILL SHORTEN AUDIO GRAB)
ATLAS: Now it was a very good answer, but it wasn’t the answer to the question he was asking, it was a specific question about the cost of emissions and an exceptional answer, but not to that question.
FITZGIBBON: Why Laurie, does no one talk about the opportunities of the carbon economy? Now Russell Robertson, Senator Murray Watt and I have just been out to Belmont Station to look at the great work researchers are doing which will serve well, not only the environment, but provide farmers with a new source of revenue in the carbon economy.
ATLAS: So how will it benefit them?
FITZGIBBON: Well it will benefit them in two basic ways. Many more ways but I’ll give you just two examples. One, if we can have more farmers improve the quality of their soils, their soil health, and to work better on water efficiency and the efficiency of their operations more generally, that is the best way to lift productivity, income and of course to build resilience to drought. But it also gives them another source of revenue because if they can enter that carbon economy and provide offsets for polluting industries - which will need offsets to meet their carbon constraints - then that’s revenue for local farmers. So we spend too much time asking ourselves the wrong question. That is, what’s the cost? When I believe the benefits will outweigh the cost.
ATLAS: Should have given that answer, see good answer, he should have given that answer, rather than give the answer to another question, don’t you think, don’t you think?
FITZGIBBON: Well what would you like me to say to that Laurie?
ATLAS: Well it is a fair question. Some of them, some people say that a lot of these emissions credits are just going to go overseas.
FITZGIBBON: Now see that’s just silly, I mean, these are people - I saw David Littleproud was in town here today scaremongering again - sending farming families to bed tonight worried about Labor’s policy because he’s misrepresented the policy. We have carved the agriculture sector out of the enhanced Safeguard Mechanism. That’s the mechanism that puts a cap on the carbon or pollution outputs of certain industries and if they can’t constrain themselves to the cap, then they will have to go and buy some offsets from somewhere, someone else. And those offsets could come from overseas but that’s a limited market. Or they might come from someone domestically. And in the future, I look forward to a lot of those industries if they can’t constrain themselves to the cap, going to our farmers to secure offsets from their land management practices. This is a good news story for farmers, not a bad news story for farmers. David Littleproud and his colleagues should be ashamed that they are unnecessarily causing concern in the agriculture sector.
ATLAS: Do you think the current industry that we have and where the carbon credits are and where renewables are, do you think that can marry itself nicely enough with the mining industry which is really Queensland’s biggest, it’s our biggest money maker? There’s no doubt about that. That may change in 50 years.
FITZGIBBON: Laurie I represent the electorate of Hunter in NSW, the beautiful Hunter Valley, you know the place, it’s where we make the world’s best wines and I’ve been representing that place for 23 years in the Parliament and for eight years in local government before that and I’ve enjoyed watching - it’s also a strong agriculture, thoroughbred breeding, viticulture I already mentioned, and I’ve enjoyed watching those industries co-habitate for all of that time.
ATLAS: Alright, I’ve got a question for you. If you wanted to build a new coal mine in the Hunter right now, right, would you get the same nonsense that we’re getting about Adani, or not, just out of interest?
FITZGIBBON: Well the first response I would give to that is to remind you Laurie that in the last four years - just here in Queensland something like $9 billion of mining projects have been approved, $2 billion of them have been coal projects.
ATLAS: That’s why I sometimes wonder, why the focus on this particular project. I don’t watch Q&A anymore for that exact reason. The Stop Adani t-shirts make me crazy and I look at these people and I think you are miles - Russell Robertson who is sitting right here, I’ve discussed this with him all the time. These people are miles away, Zali Steggall, why does she care? Kerryn Phelps, why does she care? Why do, why do Victorians care? Just go away, get out of the way, stop telling us what jobs we can and can’t have here in Central Queensland.
FITZGIBBON: And there’s no better friend to the mine worker, the coal mine worker than Russell Robertson,
ATLAS: I agree.
FITZGIBBON: And he, like me, knows that Adani has to jump through the same environmental and economic hoops as any other project. People who make an issue of it can speak for themselves but Adani should be treated like any other project. We all look for the investment and job opportunities. It should face the same environmental standards as any other project and I believe it has faced the same environmental standards.
ATLAS: Eight years?
FITZGIBBON: They are slow projects. I was reading this morning about one of Australia’s bigger companies - I think BHP, trying to establish an iron ore, some sort of minerals projects in Arizona and they had been going since 2001.
ATLAS: Okay. I hope this one doesn’t take that long. Good to see you, always a pleasure. Take care.
FITZGIBBON: Thank you Laurie.
ATLAS: Only how many more weeks of the campaign to go?
FITZGIBBON: How many more sleeps is it? Maybe about 31 or 32 sleeps?
ATLAS: Have a happy Easter won’t you?
FITZGIBBON: I will indeed.
ATLAS: And to you Murray Watt.
MURRAY WATT: Good to see you Laurie.
ATLAS: And to you Russell if I don’t see you before.