Australian Coat of Arms

Member for Blaxland

Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment

Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia 

Doorstop - Canberra - Wednesday, 13 September 2017















SUBJECTS: Government failing blueberry farmers, energy crisis, Liddell power station.


JASON CLARE:There are lots of blues here in Parliament House, but these are the berry best.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That’s a very good line.

CLARE: I’m a Dad, I can say that.

CLARE: These are the best blueberries in the world. Australia grows the best blueberries in the world and this is a product which is the fastest growing fresh food product in the world. China is one of the biggest markets for blueberries. The biggest problem we have got is that we can’t sell them to China yet. If you go to a shop in China and look to buy blueberries, you will find you are buying them from Chile or Peru, Argentina or Canada. I just got told by David from Costas that at a conference last week they were told there are 120 shipping containers on their way across the Pacific right now from Chile and Peru, full of blueberries headed for China. The Chinese love blueberries, they want to get their hands on Australian blueberries but can’t at the moment because the Australian Government needs to sign up to an export protocol with the Chinese Government. Despite all the acknowledgement by government that this is a great idea and we should get out there and export to China, nothing has happened yet. We are calling on the Australian Government today to hurry up, sign this export protocol so we can get these blueberries in the gobs of Chinese consumers. If we get them in the gobs of Chinese customers then we create more jobs back here in Australia. Joel do you want to add to that?

FITZGIBBON: Yes I do Jason. Obviously we have the best blueberries in the world, we have the best blueberry growers in the world and that is true for so many of our fruit and vegetable products. What we want to do in the agriculture sector is push people up the value curve, improve profitability and putting people into premium markets where we get a big margin on our quality products. We have such a reputation as a producer of clean, green and quality products. But of course to capitalise we have to have access and we simply don’t have access for blueberries and there are many other examples. Jason knows better than me that Labor began the free trade agreement with China but we didn’t conclude the agreement before we lost government in 2013 but we were very close. Now the government likes to take credit for that agreement but I will set that aside. What is important is what has happened since the final signing of the agreement. I don’t expect you to read this chart, but these are various countries and various commodities down the vertical axis and I will read it to you in a moment. The dark red area demonstrates there is no access to any of these countries so when we look at China there is no access following produce; beans, broccoli, cabbage, capsicum, carrots, celery, cucumbers, garlic, leeks, lettuce, onions, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoe and tomatoes. So next time Barnaby Joyce gets up and in Question Time, when he’s not claiming credit for high cattle prices that he can claim no credit for at all and he starts rabbiting on about free trade agreements and what a wonderful thing it has been for our agriculture sector - remind him of this dark red section down here which indicates clearly that none of these products have access into the China market because this Government hasn’t been prepared to give them a priority and on that basis hasn’t been able to secure or sign a protocol agreement.

CLARE: Before we take questions I might get Justine to give a Tasmanian’s perspective.

SENATOR JUSTINE KEAY: Thank you. I come from an area in Tasmania where berry growth has seen an exponential growth in my region. For Barnaby Joyce to be sitting on his hands and not taking this seriously is denying regional communities like mine from seeing further growth. There are significant capacity in Tasmania to grow more blueberries and to export them into China. I think it very critical he sees this as an urgent, urgent need for our growers across the country in regional communities, which we think is who he stands for, regional Australia? He needs to get on board and get the action to make sure that we can export these to China as soon as possible.

CLARE: We are happy to take questions on blueberries and then anything else.

JOURNALIST: Joel do you mind if I ask you about energy?

FITZGIBBON: Not at all.

JOURNALIST: You had a bit of a scuffle with Josh in the corridors yesterday. Do you feel like your concerns were discussed or did you follow up on anything you were speaking to him about?

FITZGIBBON: I would describe it more as a friendly encounter all though Josh did draw first blood as John Rambo would say. I did issue an open invitation to both Josh Frydenberg and the Prime Minister to come to the Upper Hunter to talk to my power station workers and indeed my coal miners to fully understand their view and what is the real situation on the ground there. Obviously given the way they announced their intention to attempt to extend the life of Liddell demonstrates they haven’t done their homework. They knew nothing about the generator itself. Malcolm Turnbull should visit Liddell and he would get a sense immediately of the age of that generator and the difficulties it faces. Coal contracts, shared infrastructure, shared workforce, rail access which hasn’t been a priority over export coal for example. All these issues are unknown to the Prime Minister, they are unknown to Josh Frydenberg and I really would appreciate them doing their research and homework before they desperately attempt to save themselves politically. Now Malcolm Turnbull promised pre-election, well Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull by his side pre-2013 election they would reduced energy prices to households by $550 a year. Well they have gone up a $1000 a year. That’s a $1500 difference in comparison to what they promised. Energy security has never been so bad. We are facing potentially blackouts this summer which is not very far away and Malcolm Turnbull has a plan to do something in five years. It is a bad plan but in any case, it is five years away. He should come to the Upper Hunter and learn something about how the Upper Hunter economy operates.

JOURNALIST: The AEMO Report does say that if the Liddell coal fired power station closes in 2022, there will be a 1 gigawatt shortage in energy. Can you really justify closing that plan and causing potential…

FITZGIBBON: The AEMO Report has identified there will be a capacity gap, a volatility gap to that point. AGL did something I don’t think any company has ever done before. When they purchased the generator in 2015 they said this will close in seven years. So in 2015 when Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull were in Government, AGL said we’ve bought this generator and it can only operate for another seven years. And you know what Malcolm Turnbull did? Nothing, nothing. Until a week or so ago when he suddenly realised he had a political and came up with this loopy idea of extending Liddell from fifty years to fifty-five years. It’s physically not feasibly and it’s certainly not financially feasible.

JOURNALIST: But Bill Shorten has left the door open and has said he’s open for discussions to potentially extend the life of the Liddell plant. Are you saying that shouldn’t happen?

FITZGIBBON: I’m saying as the local member that no one would be more pleased than me if Liddell could be extended. But as the local member I have to show leadership and my real concern is that every day Malcolm Turnbull further confuses the investor community is a day when we don’t have the opportunity to move on with our plans to build that additional capacity we have through gas, through hydro, through large scale solar, through battery storage. We have the opportunity in the Hunter to do all of these things if Malcolm Turnbull would come with us and start sending out confident signals to investors that the government is ready to fix this problem.

JOURNALIST: And if there are no investors would you support the government picking up the bill? Do you justify taxpayers footing the bill to keep it open?

FITZGIBBON: If Malcolm Turnbull has tax payers’ money to spend on generator infrastructure I appeal to him to put it into the next generation. Help us build gas generation in the Upper Hunter. Large scale solar. Pumped hydro. Those are the things that are going to create jobs and produce reliable and affordable power for the next fifty years. Malcolm Turnbull has a plan to do something in five years which will last for five years.

CLARE: Can I just add to that. There are two things that the Government needs to do right now if we’re going to make sure energy prices drop and we give companies the certainty to invest in the generation technology that they’re going to need to make sure we’ve got enough energy for the future. The first is pull the gas trigger. Malcolm Turnbull can pull the gas trigger today. That’s why I’m saying today pull your finger out Malcolm and pull the gas trigger. There’s no reason why he needs to delay. He’s got the AEMO report on that. He should do that straight away.

The other thing is companies need the certainty to invest. Whether it’s in coal or it’s in gas or it’s in hydro or renewables and that’s been missing in this place for a decade. Partly because the Liberals have been at war with themselves on this issue for a decade. If you open up the newspapers today you can see the Liberal Party is still at war and Tony Abbott is still winning that fight. Malcolm Turnbull comes into the Parliament and attacks us but what he forgets to tell his own troops is eight or nine years ago he crossed the floor and voted with us. So he attacks our policies but he voted for them.

Now he’s got Tony Abbott doing what he does best – wrecking. He wrecked the Republic, he wrecked Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership the first time. He’s trying to wreck the same sex marriage changes. He’s trying to wreck the clean energy target. Ultimately what he’s trying to do is wreck Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. What we’ve got here now is a weak, weak, hollow, husk of a man who occupies the Prime Minister’s office. A Prime Minister in name only. Being led around like a prized bull at the Easter Show by the far Right of the Liberal Party. Having to play to their tune. Malcolm Turnbull now is a bit like a bean bag. He’s impressed by the last person who sat on him. The person sitting on him today is Tony Abbott.

So you can bet your life that what comes out of this process in the Liberal Party is not Finkel’s plan but Finkelstein’s Monster. Some sort of policy to appeal to the people in the Liberal Party who don’t even think climate change is real. If that happens, well we’re all going to be worse off so we really need the sensible people to come together here to forge a plan that will last for more than one government and more than one Parliament and give industry out there that is crying out for a solution the certainty to invest in the sort of generation technology that is going to fill that gap.

FITZGIBBON: I’m just going to add, Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce are trying desperately to make this link between coal fire generation and coal. In the Hunter we export about 94 per cent of everything we produce. The coal that goes to Liddell goes there by obligation. The companies are required to supply it. They do so at a significantly discounted price. They would get much more for their coal on the export market. Any less coal burnt in the Upper Hunter will go to the export market. There is no link. Coal miners don’t lose their jobs if Liddell closes in five years’ time. But we do need to talk about a just transition for workers. Now Malcolm Turnbull feigns concern for coal miners and power generation workers. The next one he meets will be the first.

He drives his Mercedes Benz past those two power stations every time he goes to visit his cattle station in the Upper Hunter. But he’s never pulled into a power station and he’s never talked to a power station operator. Now those who work at Liddell, some will be hoping for their redundancy when Liddell closes. That’s gone now under Malcolm Turnbull’s plan. They don’t know if someone else is going to own them, whether they’re going to have to keep going. All that certainty about their financial planning is gone.

But there’s another point too and that’s work place safety. An engineer said last week, he made a very important point, at Liddell they’re putting patches on patches. On pipes that carry high pressure steam. Someone was almost killed there not all that long ago. The details I don’t choose to share now. So Malcolm Turnbull should not feign care for the workers. The next worker he meets will be the first.