Transcript - Radio Interview - ABC Newcastle, Monday 27 May 2019

SUBJECTS: Labor Leadership, election result, energy generation, coal mining industry, agriculture portfolio.

PAUL TURTON: The Member for Hunter joins me now with reflections on the new leader for the Federal Opposition. Joel thanks for doing that by the way.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure Paul.

TURTON: Why is Anthony Albanese the answer do you think?

FITZGIBBON: Anthony Albanese is Labor to his boot straps. He’s from a working class beginning. He is in touch with working Australians and understands their needs, their challenges and their aspirations. Albo and I were elected together 23 years ago, March 2 1996. No one knows him better than me and he is highly regarded both inside and outside the party and think he is the right person to pull us back together, help us dust ourselves off, to get the party united and moving forward.

TURTON: You told ABC Newcastle Breakfast with Dan and Jenny just after the election on the Monday morning that you wanted to see a centrist candidate. Albanese is clearly from the left. Aren’t you going back on what you told us?

FITZGIBBON: This is the ironic part of the equation I suppose Paul but Albo often has said to me in the past when we’ve been having a debate, he’ll say come on Fitzy, you know I’m no more left winged than you. Now, I suspect that is pretty true and think we agree on most things. These days the factions are in large part organisational structures and that’s a good thing because it allows the party to deal with matters in a sensible, orderly and effective way. He’s been around a long time and has spent as much time in board rooms as he has at the footy and out there amongst blue collar workers. He understands that to support our working base we have to have a strong economy and have fair distribution of wealth but I do believe he understands what the right balance is and I think he will do a fantastic job.

TURTON: Joel are you surprised with how tight it got in your own seat of Hunter?

FITZGIBBON: Yes I am. I did have some private polling I can say now that indicated that the One Nation vote would be up around where it landed. I thought that poll was probably a little bit exaggerated but I was predicting about 15 which was huge in itself but I couldn’t have imagined it would get to 21 per cent so it is a big wake up call to both me and the party.

TURTON: So what happens next in regard to climate policy and coal in particular for the Labor Party? There is concern now that the Labor Party will desert its consistency that argues coal is the problem not the solution?

FITZGIBBON: We will remain committed to climate change action Paul, we have to be. Having spent six years in the agriculture portfolio no one knows better than me the threat a changing climate poses to us in so many ways but I think in particular to our food production system. I honestly believe and sincerely believe our agriculture sector is in real trouble. We see evidence of that at the moment as you see so many dairy farmers are leaving the land. There are plenty of beef producers doing the same thing or heading to Tasmania for example chasing a cooler climate so we need to take that very seriously. What Tony Burke my colleague was saying recently is that you can’t keep pursuing a market based mechanism if it is clear that it will never get political consensus and therefore it is clear you are never going to achieve anything by doing so. You know what they say Paul, the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So we remain just as committed but you have to find different ways of getting there.  But can I say, we didn’t have any policies which would have had adversely affected the coal mining industry. Ninety per cent or thereabouts of our coal goes to export markets. Coal generation will decline over future years as the power generators come to the end of their physical lives but we don’t have any policy to accelerate that but we left ourselves open to a misleading campaign. In my electorate they were saying the Labor Party is going to close the coal mining industry by 2030. Now that is ridiculous, we were never going to do that and didn’t have any policy to give effect to that but we opened ourselves up to that scare campaign.

TURTON: You mentioned irony, does is surprise you that in seats like the Hunter, rural and regional areas where the coal mining and power generation is taking place that the vote against climate change was at its strongest? And you only have to look at the electorates around Adani in Queensland as well those communities are clearly not as concerned about climate change as urban communities are.

FITZGIBBON: That’s true Paul and it reinforces my point that you can’t keep going down the same path when so many people remain sceptical about the need to take action and our political opponents here, they walk both sides of the street. They say yes the climate is changing and we need to do something about it but they haven’t seen a carbon constraint policy they are prepared to support. As you know it cost Brendan Nelson his leadership, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Malcolm Turnbull. It has taken out lots of political leaders and it is time to try harder to get a political consensus and I think it is the other side of politics that needs to try a bit harder and needs to come to a settlement on this issue.

TURTON: Are there enough resources in the community to grow both sides of energy generation? Because that is where the focus is. You will hear Coalition and conservative members talking about energy security rather than climate change but isn’t it possible to build them both simultaneously, renewable and alternative energy sources while leaving coal and thermal power alone for a little while?

FITZGIBBON: I’m constantly pointing out to people Paul that we had an objective, an aim, an aspiration to have 50 per cent of our energy come from renewable sources by 2030 but no one talks about or asks themselves where the other 50 per cent is coming from so you know, we didn’t have a policy to deny other forms of energy. Even if we hit 50 per cent by 2030 we will require another 50 per cent from somewhere else and the truth is Paul the market will take us to 50 per cent by 2020 anyway. The balance will be provided by coal and gas fired generation.

TURTON: Just finally, to the other side, the Government has announced Bridget McKenzie as the first female Agriculture Minister. Is that a good move do you think?

FITZGIBBON: Oh look I am concerned that Bridget is part of the fundamentalism brigade. David Littleproud was pushed out because he was a little too much like me. He could see the big challenges in agriculture and he was prepared to act on it and prepared to act also where there was evidence on animal cruelty and I think he paid a price for that and I fear we have gone back to someone who is a bit more like Barnaby Joyce who is just prepared to tell the farming sector everything they want to hear not what they need to hear.

TURTON: Alright Joel, thank you.

FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure Paul.

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