SUBJECTS: Adani mine, John Setka
KIRSTEN AIKEN: Joel Fitzgibbon joins me in the studio. Thanks for coming in.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure.
AIKEN: Has the Queensland Government got this one right? Do you welcome the approval?
FITZGIBBON: We welcome the fact that a decision has finally been made, we welcome the approval and we welcome the investment and jobs the Adani project will create.
AIKEN: You personally backed this mine didn’t you?
FITZGIBBON: I did and internally I had a lot to say about Adani throughout the course of the election campaign but look when you think about it, the Labor Party was very consistent. We said that he project had to stand in its own two feet and that’s without taxpayer subsidies and it had to pass the most stringent environmental tests. It has done both of those things now and we welcome the investment and we welcome the jobs.
AIKEN: Was it consistent? Because it was only after that federal election result, a disastrous one in regional Queensland for Labor that the state’s Premier came out and said I heard the message loud and clear and we’re going to get this sorted now. Regional Queensland essentially, Annastacia Palaszczuk said needs jobs.
FITZGIBBON: Well in terms of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party certainly one thing was missing from our narrative. We should have said it has to stand on its own two feet, it has to pass the environmental hurdles and if it does, the third thing, we welcome the investment and jobs. We weren’t energetic and enthusiastic in expressing our view that we welcome the investment and the jobs. In terms of the state government I think you will find this of course has been a challenging project. The site is challenging in environmental and water terms and I think what the Queensland Government has done, as frustrating as it has been, is ensure that all its T’s were crossed and all the I’s dotted because this is likely to now be subject to legal challenge from various environmental groups and I’m very pleased that the Queensland Government took the time necessary to ensure that they have a robust decision.
AIKEN: Kevin Rudd was just on the ABC News Channel an hour ago. He said climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our generation. Does Labor have a difficult balance in talking about coal in the Galilee Basin and addressing climate change?
FITZGIBBON: I agree with Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party remains absolutely committed to action on climate change and we took a whole suite of policies to the election to address climate change but we also took to the election support for the mining of coal and the export of coal. Now we are exporting that relatively clean and efficient coal to developing countries where they are desperate for the fossil fuel source and where we are displacing dirtier and less efficient coal so in a sense by exporting our relatively clean and efficient coal we are displacing dirtier and inefficient coal and that is a good thing for the climate.
AIKEN: That’s a difficult message to sell though. How will Labor be able to do that?
FITZGIBBON: I can see why people think it’s a confusing message but it is a statement of fact if you export clean and efficient coal to developing nations where they are burning not only dirty and inefficient coal but all sorts of other things like animal waste to source their energy then you are improving their carbon footprint and environmental footprint. You know we have an enormous wealth of value in the ground in the form of coal and the reality is that in 50 years it will be worthless because the whole world would have moved on to other energy sources. Some sources of energy we don’t even know about yet so we need to get it out of the ground while we can and create the jobs while we can and at the same time in India alone bring 300 million people out of the darkness in a relatively in environmentally efficient way.
AIKEN: Are you hoping that this indeed will start the opening up of the Galilee Basin and that other coal projects will follow?
FITZGIBBON: Certainly we know that demand for our relatively clean and efficient coal in Asian economies will be strong for decades to come so therefore we should be taking the opportunity to pull as much of that resource out of the ground as we possibly can during that period, we’d be foolish not to and we can do so with a clear conscious again with the knowledge that we are displacing dirtier forms energy.
AIKEN: Now of course your election in the Hunter is an electorate which is heavily dependent on coal mining. Do you think the Adani issue hurt your result at the last federal election?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely, because the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party didn’t add that third tranche to the equation that is that if it can pass all the hurdles then we welcome the jobs. They saw us equivocating over Adani and they were right to come to the conclusion that we are not all that enthusiastic about the coal industry and of course we invited a scare campaign. In my own electorate we had these targets on carbon emissions and on renewables for 2030. The paraphernalia in my electorate said Labor is closing the coal mines in 2030. Now we can’t complain about a scare campaign but it did have a big impact.
AIKEN: Is the party going to face a really difficult conversation over its climate change platform?
FITZGIBBON: No I don’t think so. We have got to get the spotlight back on our opposition. Now we had these climate wars now for more than 10 years. Labor has put forward a number of reasonable proposals most of which were supported by a very large slice of the Coalition Party room but for political expediency, various leaders Morrison, Abbott and to a lesser extent even Turnbull decided to oppose those policies for all the wrong reasons as did the Greens when we failed to get the CPRS through the Parliament. It was a good architecture and if it was put in place it would have been there for at least 10 years now and we wouldn’t have had all this investment uncertainty and if we didn’t have the investment uncertainty we wouldn’t have higher energy prices as we are suffering today.
AIKEN: Now just finally do you think that Anthony Albanese and Sally McManus have got it right in calling for John Setka to step down from his union role and to exit the ALP.
FITZGIBBON: Anthony Albanese has absolutely got it right. Labor’s brand is important and we don’t want our brand to be John Setka. As far as the union movement is concerned it is entirely a matter for the union movement and you know sometimes in elected positions whether it be in parliament or in the union movement you have to fall on you sword for the benefit of the organisation even if you don’t really believe you’ve done anything wrong. I’ve had to do that myself, you just take it for team and that’s probably what John Setka should do?
AIKEN: So the Setka story is now damaging Labor?
FITZGIBBON: I think John Setka has been bad for the Labor brand because people associate that union with the Labor Party so I think Anthony Albanese has called it right and I think John Setka really needs to- apparently he’s a good leader and apparently he’s done a good job on the work site securing safe conditions and good wages for his members so I can understand why he has support amongst his members, but he has to think about the team and whether him staying there is a good thing for his team or indeed for the broader Labor movement.
AIKEN: Joel Fitzgibbon, good to speak to you.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure.