SUBJECTS: Adani mine, John Setka
DAVID SPEERS: [Intro omitted] Does Labor welcome that construction will now begin on this mine?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yes, we welcome the fact a decision has finally been made. We welcome the decision and we welcome the investment, we welcome the jobs and in particular we welcome the opportunities for indigenous employment in Central Queensland.
SPEERS: Your colleague Mark Butler of course argued that opening up the Galilee Basin was not in the national interest. Do you think it is in the national interest?
FITZGIBBON: Despite our lack of enthusiasm David pre-election for the mine itself or the mine application, our position has been very consistent. We have said all along that it has got to be able to stand on its own two feet without tax payer subsidy and it’s got to jump the most stringent environmental tests or hurdles and today it did both of those things or demonstrated that it could and on that basis we should be welcoming it and we do welcome it and we welcome the jobs it will create.
SPEERS: So to be clear, you’re speaking not just as an individual here, you’re stating Labor’s position in welcoming this approval?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely. It’s met the first – the two tests we set for it pre-election and even earlier than that. It has demonstrated or it claims to be able to operate on its own two feet without any government subsidies and according to the Queensland Government it is now jumped all those environmental hurdles and of course allegedly has jumped all the Commonwealth approval processes. So on that basis, Labor welcomes the investment and welcomes the jobs.
SPEERS: What do you say though to many in Labor’s ranks who will be concerned about opening up the Galilee Basin and the impact that will have on global warming? Do you share that concern?
FITZGIBBON: I simply remind them David that it has been the Labor Party policy for eons and will continue to be Labor policy to allow the mining of our coal resources and to export those coal resources to those nations particularly in Asia including developing nations who have a strong demand for that product. We have a very valuable resource under our ground and look, in 50 years David it might be quite valueless because the world will move on to other forms of energy sources and we should be exploiting that resource while we can and while we can extract that value and while we can create the jobs.
SPEERS: So to be clear Labor has no problem with the expansion of coal mining?
FITZGIBBON: Labor should welcome both the expansion of existing mines and new mines because demand for our relatively efficient and clean coal will remain strong for decades to come. That’s what all the experts tell us and of course by exporting our relatively clean and efficient coal, we are displacing dirtier and less efficient coal so in that sense we are making a contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases and at the same time creating wealth here in Australia. That is unequivocally a good thing.
SPEERS: So this new coal mine is helping in the fight against global warming, is that your argument?
FITZGIBBON: Well when you displace dirty and inefficient coal with relatively clean and efficient coal then of course you’re making a positive contribution to the environment.
SPEERS: How do you know that’s what is happening here?
FITZGIBBON: Well because we know if Australia doesn’t provide its cleaner and more efficient coal – and I thank you for your complimentary remarks on the Hunter region’s coal – then those countries will be forced to source their coal from other sources and therefore from countries producing less clean and less efficient coal. Now these developing countries in particular David will need all the coal, gas, solar and wind technology they can secure as they seek to go through their own industrial revolution. We should assist them in that process while at the same time displacing dirtier coal and creating wealth and jobs here in Australia. The Labor Party has always held that position and I don’t see that changing.
SPEERS: Based on that argument, should we use more of this coal in Australia?
FITZGIBBON: Well the market will determine how much demand there is for our coal on international markets. We could use more coal here in Australia but we are highly unlikely to build more coal fired generators because the investors simply aren’t interested in doing so. So when our current coal fired generators–
SPEERS: But why is that Joel Fitzgibbon? Isn’t part of the reason for that that Labor has held this position for years now of a 45 per cent emissions reduction target
FITZGIBBON: No it has nothing to do with that David. You need at least a 40 year time frame to get your return on investment on a coal fired generator which is between three and five billion dollars so you need a significant timeline for a decent return and the reality is that investors and we don’t know what the energy system is going to look like in 10 years let alone in 30 years. In addition of that of course the cost of producing power from renewable sources continues to fall. Already it’s cheaper than energy from coal production so investors look at how those prices are declining on renewables
SPEERS: If it’s cheaper to use renewables already than coal, then why isn’t India doing that?
FITZGIBBON: Because India and other large developing nations including China are producing all the coal fired and renewables and gas fired generation they possibly can. Their growing demand is so great that they need all the power they can get from all the sources possible.
SPEERS: But don’t we as well?
FITZGIBBON: No because we are a modern wealthy economy, well placed to invest in and construct renewable forms of energy. People are doing that, not to the extent we would like because we have had 10 years of investment uncertainty. This is the big problem with power prices in Australia David. Two problems, one is the cost of transmission, we are a large country and sparsely populated and of course, second for the last 10 years because of the destructive attitude of the Coalition forces we have had investment uncertainly. But investors aren’t going to go to coal, at least I’d be very surprised if they do. They are going to run to renewables and they are doing that in a big way now and will do that increasingly into the future and the more they do that, the less likely it will be that someone would invest in a coal fire generator. Can I just make this point David, in my own Hunter region up to 90 per cent of the coal we produce is exported so there is not such a relationship as some would have you believe between coal mining and coal fired generation. Theoretically you could close all of the coal fire generators down in my electorate tomorrow, you wouldn’t want that to happen and it won’t happen, but you would still continue to produce as much coal. In fact the coal would probably secure a higher price on export markets that it does on the domestic market. So there is not really a direct link between the two but we will have coal fired generation in Australia for at least 15 years and at least probably 20 years in the case of some of those generators particularly in Queensland, maybe more in Queensland actually but eventually when they run to the end of their physical lives, renewables would have taken such a hold and battery storage will have improve so significantly that no one would be investing in coal fired generators. That’s not a decision of government, that’s a decision of the market and investors.
SPEERS: You mentioned Hunter Valley coal exports there, will opening up the Galilee Basin have any impact commercially on the Hunter Valley coal miners?
FITZGIBBON: Well some experts say it could pose competition for Hunter Valley coal. I suspect that’s not true, I believe demand globally will remain so strong that we will be able to sell all the Queensland coal and all the Hunter Valley coal we can so I don’t think it’s an issue but theoretically you could say that Central Queensland and Hunter at some point in time could end up in competition with one another on some of those Asian markets. If that does happen I think it’ a long way off but at some point David, maybe not until 2050 even these now developing nations like China and India etc. will move further and further to renewable sources or new sources of energy we don’t even know about that including hydrogen based sources of energy so at that point, whenever it might be, they will stop buying that coal. Hopefully that is a long way off but the time will come.
SPEERS: Let me turn finally to the John Setka saga. Do you think he should be expelled from the Labor Party?
FITZGIBBON: I agree with Anthony Albanese that the test we set for, like any organisation whether it be the local Lions or Rotary Club or your local church you set standards or an image for your association. The Australian Labor Party sets a high standard it’s a subjective standard if you like it’s one we set for ourselves we are not talking about a test which might be applied in a court of law for example and we have come to the conclusion that the image promoted by John Setka is not consistent with the image and the brand we would like to promote for the Australian Labor Party.
SPEERS: Why is that? Image is a pretty broad thing. Is it because of apparent comments he made about Rosie Batty?
FITZGIBBON: Well there are a whole range of things which have had media publicity over recent years with respect to John Setka, I’m not going to repeat them here. Suffice to say –
SPEERS: So it’s a mix of issues?
FITZGIBBON: A mix of issues and we don’t want people to be looking at the behaviour of John Setka and seeing that is brand Labor. We don’t think it is consistent with brand Labor and I think Anthony Albanese has called it right.
SPEERS: If he stays and (inaudible) certainly want him to stay, should the party remain affiliated with the CFMMEU, should it keep taking its donations?
FITZGIBBON: I think what happens within the union movement is entirely a matter for the union movement and I don’t think we should try to interfere –
SPEERS: But I am asking about Labor’s relationship with this union.
FITZGIBBON: You are asking me about a hypothetical David and I’m not going to answer it. We will let the union movement deal-
SPEERS: Well it’s not a hypothetical he is saying he’s not going and wants to stay and he says he’ll stay.
FITZGIBBON: And I will let the party organisation make those decisions.
SPEERS: Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Resources Minister thanks very much for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure David.