SUBJECTS: Drought; Energy Policy.
LAURA JAYES: Mr Fitzgibbon, thank you for your time. I’ve got to start with the drought situation, because I think it should be front of mind of all of us. You’ve been home over the weekend, between your trips to Canberra – what are your constituents telling you?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCES: Nice to be with you, Laura. Look, it’s very dry in the Hunter, as it is in most cases across the eastern seaboard. Our landscapes are burning. Our towns are running out of water. Our farmers aren’t getting the assistance they need, and deserve, and all we see in Canberra again today are distractions, and people like Barnaby Joyce off into the New South Wales Parliament arguing the case on abortion, in my view, using women’s health as a political tool to further his own advancement, and that’s true of so many people in that debate.
We want this Government to back to concentrating on the immediate, and the things that really matter, and what’s happening out there at the moment is approaching a calamity, and yet we have no Government strategy or response
JAYES: What are you proposing should be done immediately?
FITZGIBBON: Well, you can’t talk about that without first acknowledging that we’ve now just lost six years. Six years of inaction leaves us now pretty stranded, and leaves us to come to the conclusion that there are many things we can’t do now because it’s too late, but it would be a good start if the Government at least had a strategy in place, at least had something to say. We’ve had a drought co-ordinator, a drought envoy, a drought taskforce, a drought summit, and of course, we’ve got a future fund that doesn’t even come into operation until next year. They’ve formed a committee to decide what they’re going to do with that fund.
And of course, over the weekend we had the announcement of another committee. A, what is it? A water grid authority and I’m told a committee will be formed to decide what it’s going to do as well. So, people just want this government to act, Laura, and in six years it’s failed to do that.
JAYES: Well, the government can’t make it rain, but John Barilaro, the Deputy Premier in New South Wales, wants to – wants dams built in your state ASAP. He’s supported – well he’s proposed some pretty radical methods this morning in the Daily Telegraph – are they warranted?
FITZGIBBON: I haven’t seen what John Barilaro has had to say today, but…
JAYES: Okay, just let me take you through it, because I don’t want to ask you about a story that you haven’t seen.
JAYES: But he’s essentially proposing that more dams be fast tracked in New South Wales. He suggested that it could be done by even curtailing community consultation, and even abandoning some environmental impact studies. Basically, he’s saying the situation is so bad that this needs to be done sooner rather than later, and those kinds of issues do delay the process. Is he right?
FITZGIBBON: Well certainly, Laura, harnessing water has to be part of the solution, and the last time a Federal Government built dams in Australia it was a Labor Government who, in fact, invested and built. Now, this Government’s been talking about dams for six years now. I mean, there’s a dam here, a dam there, and a dam everywhere there for a while, and yet they’re yet to turn a sod of soil. So, I would welcome a new urgency being brought to water infrastructure – absolutely. But, you know we’re not going to, we’re not going to circumvent all the approvals processes and consultations.
Dams aren’t the answer on all occasions, some can be built without environmental damage, some less so, and of course, they’ve got to stack up economically. So, they are big infrastructure projects which need a lot lead time, a lot of consultation, and have to pass through a lot of hoops. But what’s been going for the last six years Laura? Absolutely nothing. So it’s easy – it’s lazy for John Barilaro, and others – including, I saw at the Nationals Federal Council they were banging on about dams again, well again, Laura, they’ve had six years. Six years to do this, and they’ve done nothing.
JAYES: Ok – the Labor Party did reject the need for this ‘Big Stick’ legislation before the election - it’s going to be brought forward into parliament this week – will Labor be supporting it this time?
FITZGIBBON: Well, we haven’t seen the legislation Laura, and we will consider it on its merits…
JAYES: It’s been around for a while.
FITZGIBBON: But, isn’t it – I think the fact that it’s called ‘Big Stick’ tells you what it’s about, doesn’t it? I mean, it more populism in the absence of real government action over six years. Why would you be running around the country talking about a ‘big stick’? And taking ‘big stick’ to big business if you really had a proper plan and real solutions. So we will look at it, but I saw Angus Taylor – I think on your program this morning – admitting that he hopes this is legislation which will never be used. So it is so urgent, and so effective, and such good policy, he hopes no one will ever use it. Well, again, I think that tells you a lot about the proposed legislation and the lack of strategy on the part of this government.
JAYES: Well, there is some proof that these methods are working. The pricing legislation that came in July, the ACCC shows us it has cut power bills by up to $400. Do you welcome that?
FITZGIBBON: Well, no one is going to thank, or congratulate, a government for doing its job, Laura. It’s now six years into power – I apologise for repeating myself – and then five years into power it decided to do something. Energy prices have been an issue for at least a couple of years prior to it finally acting. So I welcome any initiatives that have put downward pressure on price, so it was outrageous that…
JAYES: But to be fair, Mr Fitzgibbon, do you accept that your plan on reducing power prices was not clear at the election could have contributed to your loss? Now Labor is reviewing its target on emission reduction. Also, in your electorate – you saw a big swing against you – do you think that ambitious target of 45 per cent contributed to that swing?
FITZGIBBON: What I accept is that if Tony Abbot hadn’t torn up the architecture the Gillard Government put in place on carbon and energy then we wouldn’t be even having this debate. And investment would be flowing…
JAYES: So the 45 per cent emission reduction had nothing to do with the swing against you?
FITZGIBBON: There are lots of reasons on why we didn’t do well at the last election, and we are reviewing those. But what I am saying is if Tony Abbott, supported by Scott Morrison, hadn’t recklessly torn up the legislative architecture which was put in place, then investment would have been flowing for the last six, seven, eight years and we wouldn’t need to have this debate at all, nor would we have to have a debate about how we are going to meet our Paris Commitments – Malcom Turnbull’s Paris commitments – because the architecture would still be there, carbon would be trading at a fairly low level at the moment, all the compensation packages would still be in place, and people would be getting on with their lives and business would be getting on with their lives. We are in this position because of this government.
JAYES: Joel Fitzgibbon, appreciate your time this morning.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure Laura.