SUBJECTS: Election result; Paris commitments; Regional Jobs; Economic Policy.
HOST: Look I want to congratulate you in a perhaps more meaningful way too and that is you showed a fair bit of courage by coming out and talking about policy issues, policy reforms, challenges for Labor, even before the leadership issue was settled. You were demanding a much more pragmatic approach to economic development and coal mining and resources generally and you said if you didn’t get satisfactory responses you might run for the leadership yourself. I suppose giving you the job of Shadow Resources Minister is that assurance?
JOEL FITZGIBBON SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES: And I was determined to run if I felt it necessary to get the Party back into the centre and talking about our own policies. I mean, Chris, its Labor’s policy to mine coal and to export it to global markets. Always has been, I think always will be. The difficulty we had pre-election was that we weren’t really prepared to talk about that, to boast those credentials and I’m determined that we talk about it more, we acknowledge the value of the mining, the coal mining industry to our economy and the regional jobs it creates and the mining industry more generally of which of course coal is a relatively minor component. We are the biggest coal exporter in the world but gee we produce more iron ore than anyone else and we have an enrichment of rare earths which of course will be important to the future economy.
HOST: Yeah, obviously Bill Shorten and the rest of the Labor team, you had a lot of trouble before the election talking about Adani. Obviously you didn’t want to have full throated support for the Adani coal mine because you feared it would cost you votes in the inner city because of the climate issue. Does Labor now have a clear position on that Adani coal mine in Queensland?
FITZGIBBON: Well I won’t agree with your motivation but certainly we weren’t prepared to make an unequivocal stance on Adani and as I’ve said many times, what we should have been saying is yes it has to stand on its own two feet financially, yes it has to pass the most stringent environmental tests, but if it does we welcome the investment and the jobs, that’s what we should have been saying. Now Adani will be done and dusted by the time the next federal election comes around. We’re the opposition almost certainly for three years, so let’s get beyond Adani and just make the clear point that if a project, any mining project, can stand on its own two feet, can pass the most stringent environmental hurdles then the Labor Party should and will support it.
HOST: Does that include the exploitation of more coal for domestic needs? Does Labor see that if a project stacks up to increase coal fired electricity generation in this country, to bolster our dispatchable energy that you could approve such a development?
FITZGIBBON: Well look, our objective was to reach 50 per cent renewables by 2030 Chris. Actually automatically then you need to get 50 per cent of your energy from another source and of course that other source well into the future will be fossil fuels, coal and gas. So we had a policy when you think about it that way of securing half of our energy needs from fossil fuels, but did we say it? No. And by equivocating on Adani, the issue became emblematic and it provided our political opponents with an opportunity to turn that into an anti-coal mining stance, something which affected just not only in Central and North Queensland but of course in the Hunter Valley, which I represent of course.
HOST: Labor’s climate policies, these increased goals for 50 per cent renewable and for 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, were these too ambitious, were these seen as too reckless by the electorate and is there a chance to perhaps wind back those targets?
FITZGIBBON: Well let’s just take them one by one. I don’t think, or believe, 50 per cent renewables was overly ambitious. I think, under the Government, the market will take us, this Government, I think the market will take us there anyway. People both, people in households and private sector investors are scrambling to invest more and more in renewable energy. In my own home town of Cessnock, we have under construction a 5 megawatt solar farm so they add up pretty quickly, so I don’t see how that could have been too ambitious. The 45 per cent reduction, by international standards indeed is quite modest. I think it was a reasonable goal to have. But we didn’t explain well enough how we intended to get there and again we opened ourselves up to a bit of a scare campaign. But that’s not an excuse, I say if you open yourself up to a scare campaign, a scare campaign you can expect.
HOST: But the issue here is Labor initially agreed of course to the Paris commitments and the Government is committed to the Paris commitments as a 26-28 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. What would be wrong with Labor coming back to the Paris commitments, it was once a bipartisan national goal. It is what Australia signed up to under international agreements and you can always reserve the right of course that should Australia get to that position either by 2030 or earlier, without too much problem well then you can increase your targets. But why not just settle for the Paris commitments to start with?
FITZGIBBON: Well let’s put targets aside because they are in fact an aspiration and agreement to strive to reach a goal. What is important I think is that carbon emissions in Australia have gone up year on year for the last four years so I think we should spend less time talking about targets and international agreements and more time talking what is happening here in Australia. And it’s unacceptable that our emissions continue to grow when the world, the globe is moving together in an attempt to reduce emissions.
HOST: That’s a fair point, you’ve got to keep the Government’s committed to Paris and you got to make sure they actually are accountable and meet those targets, but doesn’t that just underscore the point that surely where Labor should be now is not aiming for 45 per cent reductions but just setting its sights too, having a bipartisan commitment to those Paris targets?
FITZGIBBON: Well I certainly agree with you on bipartisanship. Tony Burke made the point as the former Environment Shadow that we have been trying now for ten years or more to get a settling on a market based approach to carbon reductions and you know, the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect to get a different result. It’s obvious to me at least, and I think many in the Labor Party now, that the Coalition forces are not going to settle on a market based approach, as close as they have been on a number of occasions, and I think 14 different policies over the last six years, but they’re going to double down now and if we are going to be serious about getting carbon output down then we need to reach out across the aisle and say ok, where are you prepared to work with us to start driving emissions down rather than continue to allow them to rise? Climate change remains very, very important Chris. I’m in the agriculture portfolio as well, I’ve been there for six years and I think our agriculture sector is in real trouble and will remain in trouble without a change in direction both in terms of government guidance and the attitudes and directions taken by farm leadership.
HOST: Alright well we will keep in touch over those issues. I just wanted to finish up with a broader issue and that is economic management. You, like me grew up, and saw the economic success, the economic reforms of the Hawke Keating years. That’s when Labor used to talk about aspirational politics. That’s when Labor looked at policies and enacted policies that helped families in the suburbs and the regions get ahead and I’ve been saying for the last ten years, especially the last couple of years, your higher taxing, higher spending redistribution politics have sort of turned their back on the Hawke Keating years and obviously that was rejected by voters just over two weeks ago. I noticed yesterday that the new Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers is talking about aspiration and people getting ahead. He seems to have rediscovered that Hawke Keating version of aspirational politics, I think that is a significant shift for Labor and the right one. Do you agree?
FITZGBBON: Well every politician should just ask themselves a question, the question, what do you want for your children? And we all aspire for every, to every generation having opportunity and to climb that aspirational ladder. If we start making that a basis of our policy approach, in my view, we can’t go wrong. You are right, many people found our policies in the lead up to the last election very complex and I’ve made the point before when we said we were going to take from the rich to give to the poor, we didn’t clearly define who the rich are. And many of my coal miners for example who are, you now might be on $160-170,000 a year might have a negatively geared home and have some, you know, some, you know important aspirations for their children, were asking themselves whether the Labor Party was talking about them. And I believe that’s understandable, we didn’t articulate the message well, and we need to learn from those lessons.
HOST: But in, in specific policy terms then when you talk about that sort of example a couple of policies you’d have to look at either changing or dropping is the increased tax rate for the top marginal income tax rate and also the negative gearing changes?
FITZIBBON: And they, they will be all under review as Anthony Albanese has said, he’s not going to make policy on the run without proper process and consultation. Nothing will escape the review but aspiration of course starts with education. If you want to give every person the opportunity to fully participate in the economy and meet their aspirations, it has to begin with a sound education so investment in education and other social infrastructure will remain important. Governments plural, whatever the political persuasion, have to work out how that, where that investment, where that funding will come from, so you know, we need to look at both side of the equations but on the, you know on the economic front aspiration has to be underlined every time we’re reviewing these policies and should remain foremost in our mind going forward.
HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for being the first Labor front bencher on my show for quite a while.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure Chris.