SUBJECTS: Anthony Albanese’s Speech; Job Creation and Energy Policy; FHA Confusion.
DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Agriculture and Resources Minister, a very good afternoon to you and thanks for ducking out of the speech to join us. Look, is this a different direction from Labor than the one we saw under Bill Shorten at the last two elections?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Certainly, David. Anthony Albanese made a very, very good speech here in Perth today. Home, of course, to a significant part of our recourses and agriculture sectors and, therefore, a great place to do it for me and my colleagues. Look, Albo made something very, very clear today in this value statement that is that his priority is jobs. And he talked about committing himself to both growing jobs, meaningful, skilled jobs, and investing in people to ensure every Australian has an opportunity it can to secure meaningful work. He talked about the challenges and the disruption happening in the global economy and how we need to look at them. Sure as a challenge, but to take opportunity from it. He talked about investing in people, of course, and very, very importantly, he said that we can build a modern and clean economy without forsaking blue-collar jobs in areas like mining and the manufacturing sector. That will be very, very good news to our working-class base.
SPEERS: Well, let me ask you about that because I must admit I haven’t met a politician yet who hasn’t wanted to create jobs and see jobs growth. How will Labor be able to deliver this clean energy future and all these jobs in the future, including in the coal mining sector?
FITZGIBBON: Well, first of all, it’s not just talking about jobs, it’s about ensuring that we maximise jobs growth and we have the skilled workforce to fill those jobs. See, in many regions of Australia, David, people don’t appreciate this, the problem is not so much that jobs aren’t available, in areas like meat manufacturing for example – our abattoirs – the real challenge is getting the skilled people we need to fill those jobs. So, he has laid down a roadmap…
SPEERS: How do you do that?
FITZGIBBON: - ensuring the government plays a major role with all those various stakeholders he was talking about business, unions, etcetera to ensure that people are getting the skills they need, but also we are matching the skills with jobs which are available. Not just traditional jobs, but the emerging jobs in the economy of the 21st century.
SPEERS: But you’ve identified the problem there, you know, some people don’t want to work in an abattoir. I know I am sure in your electorate that is the situation, so what will you do to solve that?
FITZGIBBON: Well, again it is doing the work needed and getting the coordinated effort required amongst all the stakeholders – right down to Kindergarten by the way. He didn’t speak about that today, David, but we got to make sure people have the best opportunity from at that Kindergarten level of schooling. But beyond that, of course, the best school education, and being able to access the tertiary education they require to fulfil their own aspirations. Whether that be in the TAFE sector; he put a lot of emphasis in the traditional trades today, getting government more interested in ensuring we have the people who want to be in a trade, have that opportunity, and can fill those skills gaps in the economy, and of course opportunity for people in the high tech sector. He talked about the creative arts sector; this is a broad ranging view today but the construction he was talking today that he has promised in government will ensure that we invest in our people, have the skills necessary, and people have the opportunity to be matched with those opportunities, whether they be in traditional industries or the new emerging industries.
SPEERS: Ok, so we are – it’s right to interpret this as a lot more investment in skills training?
FITZGIBBON: Investment in skills training and people, but government playing a role in guiding the economy. Look, we aren’t the party of heavy government intervention. But, we do believe there is a role for government in coordinating and giving guidance in education and training and matching those skills sets to the opportunities that are out there in the economy. So, this is a very good thing to be doing. I am delighted by, and I am particularly by, the talk of traditional skills, trades and of course that commitment to the resources sector, including the coal mining sector.
SPEERS: Let me ask you about the resources sector because he has spoken a fair bit about lithium in particular. You know, there is, I think that he noted, seven lithium mines in WA, two processing facilities, a third being planned. What would Labor do to really ramp that up?
FITZGIBBON: Well, he was talking in particular about rare earths and Australia is well endowed with these mineral products heavily available in China, but also heavily available under our surface here in Australia. But not just digging them up, but ensuring we add value to them here in Australia rather than export the rare earths only to import them back into this country, whether it be as a battery or some other…
SPEERS: How do you do that? What would government do to make that happen?
FITZGIBBON: Well, you need to provide the environment and give business incentives to do these things on shore, rather than go seeking lower cost jurisdictions overseas. He didn’t talk about…
SPEERS: Subsidies? Import taxes?
FITZGIBBON: Well, obviously it’s a value statement today. He didn’t talk about how Labor intends to do that but it’s important that we start talking about that now almost three years out from an election and that gives us a considerable period of time to consult with business, talk with business about how they believe Labor could best achieve that very, very good objective.
SPEERS: Bottom line, you might have heard Angus Taylor make the point, we need lower energy costs for any of this manufacturing or mining to have a future in Australia. Can Labor stick with the sort of emission and carbon reduction policy that it took to the election?
FITZGIBBON: Well he’s a bit sad and try-hard Angus, isn’t he? I mean, we saw the big blow up today between Matt Canavan and the Prime Minister about the coal generation industry; this is the exactly the sort of dust-up you can expect, David, when the government doesn’t have an energy policy. We do believe, and Anthony Albanese made it clear today…
SPEERS: But with respect, Joel Fitzgibbon, you are odds with a lot of your colleagues on this very issue to.
FITZGIBBON: Well, I don’t think that’s true, David. Me and all of my colleagues want the same thing. We want to build a modern and clean economy, but the point Albo was making today is there is opportunity in that for us. He made the point that it takes 200 tonnes of coking coal to build one turbine. Imagine providing that coal to a growing Asia, as we already do. But those opportunities will grow and that’s just one example of how we can use our natural resources gas, and it’s linked to hydrogen for example, to grow these new opportunities in this the Asian century.
SPEERS: Does thermal coal have a future in places like your backyard in the Hunter Valley?
FITZGIBBON: Well, thermal coal will continue to feed our coal fired generators here in Australia until those coal generators come to the end of their physical and economic lives. In some cases, like Liddell in the Hunter valley that’s just a few years, and then many decades ahead for some of the newer generators. So, coal will continue to play a role in electricity generation in Australia for decades to come. But internationally, where coal still accounts for 60 per cent of electricity generation, we will be exporting thermal coal for a long, long time. And remember, David, if for example, you have 50 per cent of you economy running on renewables, you’ll have 50 per cent still running on fossil fuels or some other form. If it’s not nuclear, and it won’t be, then obviously it will be a fossil fuel source.
SPEERS: Can I just play you this, Kim Carr on radio today, one of your colleagues not – seemed a little nonplussed with what Anthony Albanese has announcement – have a look:
*Audio of Kim Carr, Senator for Victoria*
KIM CARR: Well, the policy hasn’t changed. I haven’t seen the – I’ve made similar comments around our policy on industry policy for some time, about the importance of high quality, high skill, high wage blue-collar jobs and I’ve done so for some time.
SPEERS: Is Kim Carr right or is he missing something here?
FITZGIBBON: Well, Kim Carr is right. He has been talking about these things for many years. He’s been a strong advocate on industry policy, he’s been a strong advocate for manufacturing, he’s been a strong advocate for blue-collar jobs, and what Anthony Albanese said today is so am I, and I’m not just going to talk about it. I’m going to do something about it not just in the next three years as we develop policy but if he becomes the Prime Minister of Australia.
SPEERS: Alright, let’s turn to the drought. You were there on Q and A last night with David Littleproud. Just to bring viewers up to speed, here’s what the Drought Minister said about the Farm Household Allowance which at the moment, to be clear, you get for four years and then at the end of that, as recently announced, you get a six month lump sum payment, but here’s what the Minister said last night:
*Audio from Q and A*
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: The Prime Minister said that. Even Farm Household Assistance – those that come off it after four years, they will continue to stay on it, under the supplementary payments, until this drought is over… It’s not correct to say people are being kicked off the Farm Household Allowance. No-one will be. And even the Prime Minister has made that clear… they will still get a supplementary payment. We’re not taking the money out of their pocket.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, one. A one-off, Minister. A one-off payment.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, no. Joel, with due respect, you heard it, it’s in Hansard. The Prime Minister made it clear that no-one...no-one will come off these payments.
SPEERS: Well, the Prime Minister to be clear hasn’t said you’re never coming off the payment. We have gone through the Hansard on that. The Minister’s office has told me this afternoon our drought policy is not a set and forget situation, we will continue to adjust our policies as required and in the current legislation there is a clear rule in place for the Minister to deliver further lump sum payments if there is a need. Where do you think that leaves it?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I’ve also checked the Hansard – not that I needed to David. David Littleproud misled the Australian people last night when he told them, more particularly our farmers, that they’ll just keep getting this cash payment in the future. It’s just not true. You will see I issued a statement today which included quotes from the actual portfolio Minister, Bridgette McKenzie, who has made it clear that this is a one off payment on the way out. Another words, this is the government’s exit payment that Barnaby Joyce and the National Farmers’ Federation were talking about this week. Prior to last night, no one anywhere in the government ever suggested to anyone that there would be a second, or even third, payment and of course, David, this is about one thing; kicking any commitments they might make in the future beyond the budget year because they are so obsessed with this trophy budget surplus they have been pursuing. But think about this: what would be the rationale of cutting people off a fortnightly payment and then to give them one $13,000 cash payment, or seven and a half if it’s a single, and then somewhere beyond June next year giving them another cash payment. There is no logical rationale in that. David Littleproud was making it up on the run last night and sadly that’s what Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull have been doing now for six years on drought policy.
SPEERS: Would you welcome the second lump sum payment for them? Or do you think the fortnightly payment should just continue while ever they are in a drought declared area?
FITZGIBBON: We should never had had an exit payment, David. They’ve now cut 600 desperate farming families off Farm Household Allowance and another 1,100 by Christmas and they are just giving them this cash payment on the way out again, I believe, to encourage them to leave the land. And I keep saying, David, being able to survive into the eighth year of drought is not a reasonable test of viability. Many of these people could stay on the land, but just haven’t been able to make it through the sixth and seventh year of the worst drought in our history.
SPEERS: Joel Fitzgibbon live from Perth. Appreciate your time this afternoon, thank you.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure David.