CHRIS KENNY, HOST: Let's catch up with Labor's front bencher, former front bencher. Got to catch up myself there. Joel Fitzgibbon now joining us from the Hunter. Of course, Joel, one time frontbencher, one time Defence Minister, now the conscience of the party on the back bench, of course.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: I heard my colleague Pat Conroy, in fact, my neighbour, call me Labor's most junior backbencher, Chris. I have no idea what that means, but...
KENNY: ... Must mean you're younger than you actually are. You look younger than you are.
FITZGIBBON: I've obviously said something to upset him.
KENNY: Now I want to come to matters in your local patch in just a moment. But first up, I'm kind of interested in a standing committee inquiry that's underway in Parliament that hasn't got a lot of attention. It's looking at the regulation of investment in Australia's export industry. So it sounds kind of arcane. But a lot of people are saying this should be focusing on the environmental and social corporate governance movement that is running rife through a lot of our big industries. It all sounds very grand. But a lot of people are using this movement to undermine the investment in industries like coal mining and export, even eventually, this will get into agriculture in a way. All of our big export industries and trying to curb them on these sort of environmental and social grounds. Are you worried about that movement and what it could do through shareholder activism and the like?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, of course I am, Chris. And it's been creeping up on us for some time. Right back in 2015, you know, Newcastle Council, not far from where I'm now sitting, decided to divest itself of any interest in fossil fuels. This is the city which hosts the biggest coal port in the world. Last year ANZ bank did the same thing to the port of Newcastle. In 2019, interestingly, the University of New South Wales, home to our biggest and proudest mining school in this country also decided to divest itself of interest in fossil fuels. But the ANZ bank has been the big one last year when it said it would be withdrawing from the coal mining industry. That's most disappointing. Obviously, it's playing to its shareholder activists, but the people it should be playing to are the quiet majority of its shareholders who have only interest in one thing, and that is getting a decent return on their investment. Now, the committee is a really interesting thing because it's only going to be about ANZ bank and coal mining, or at least that is where the focus will be. Its terms of reference is now a lot more like an essay, and it's more like an essay because left-wingers within the Liberal Party have been trying to run interference on the government reference for this committee. But don't worry, it will meet and it will focus on the ANZ bank in particular, but the big four banks and coal mining, but it will also hear from witnesses, I'm told, medium size contractors who may work, for example, for the Adani coal mine, who are being asked questions, not only from their bank, but also their insurance companies. In other words, they're saying, We are watching who you are working for.
KENNY: Yeah, it's a worry, isn't it? I mean, sure, we want shareholder, or sort of corporate democracy. Shareholder activism can be a good thing. But often you've got here shareholder activists in the big cities, running these sort of quasi-political campaigns and the people who pay the price are regional workers who could end up out of a job.
FITZGIBBON: Exactly right, Chris. A lot of coal miners in my electorate. You can be sure when ANZ bank holds its annual general meeting, the lights will be powered by coal coming out of the Hunter Valley. I mean, we need to show some common sense here. The environment is important. We are making commitments like zero-net emissions. But the overwhelming majority of our coal is exported to our Asian customers, some of whom still have hundreds of millions of people in the dark tonight, and are desperate to secure supplies of our relatively clean and efficient coal.
KENNY: Now, there's a lot of focus on the so-called gender wars in politics at the moment. Labor lawyer Josh Bornstein in Victoria apparently wants to get into the Senate. He's been caught out today tweeting about a woman, a female union official as a dog. You don't want those sort of people in Parliament, do you?
FITZGIBBON: I don't know, I know Josh Bornstein is a keyboard warrior on Twitter. I haven't seen any of that, nor do I know anything about his aspirations. But I think we should spend less time looking at people's Twitter feed - in fact, a few of my colleagues could do with a bit less time watching the Twitter feed - and focusing more on the things that are important to the people we represent. And they are first and foremost, the health and safety of their families, and of course, their financial security.
KENNY: Yes, you have got to call out hypocrisy, though, whenever you see it. Now...
FITZGIBBON: ... We saw a bit of that this week from Malcolm Turnbull actually.
KENNY: Well, you've preempted me. I wanted to ask you about that. I mean, that would have been looking like a gift for the Labor campaign in the state by-election for Upper Hunter with Malcolm Turnbull running energy policy. Obviously, the looming by-election made the New South Wales Government hypersensitive on this.
FITZGIBBON: Well, and John Barilaro effectively admitted as such on Peta Credlin's program here on Sky last night, when he said, when we made the decision on Malcolm, we didn't realise there was going to be a by-election in the Upper Hunter. but I told John Barilaro at the NRL on Sunday that I was going to put a Malcolm Turnbull poster on every telegraph pole in the Upper Hunter. I now regret saying that because I might have scared him off and made them too determined to dump poor old Malcolm...
KENNY: ... Now you just have to get hold of a whole lot of Matt Kean posters instead.
FITZGIBBON: That won't do us any harm.
KENNY: Alright, thanks for joining us Joel Fitzgibbon, I appreciate it.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure, Chris.
KENNY: Joel Fitzgibbon there. Of course, the Federal Labor Member in that area. But as he says, that Malcolm Turnbull controversy would have played into Labor's hands, and with that crucial by-election looming for the New South Wales Government in the Upper Hunter.