Joel Fitzgibbon refuses to rule out running for Anthony Albanese’s job after quitting Labor frontbench and savaging party for being too woke and out of touch with blue-collar workers
- Labor wants net zero emissions by 2050 and is pressuring the PM on climate
- Joel Fitzgibbon fears the party is becoming out of touch with traditional voters
- He has consistently supported fossil fuel industries, especially natural gas
- Mr Fitzgibbon will become backbencher and said he won’t challenge leadership
Joel Fitzgibbon pictured with daughter Grace
Joel Fitzgibbon has quit the Labor frontbench due to an ongoing disagreement over climate and energy policy.
The 58-year-old MP for the New South Wales coal-mining seat of Hunter said he has ‘no intention’ of trying to oust leader Anthony Albanese but would if enough colleagues asked him to.
‘I have no intention of running for the leadership. I would have to be drafted. And in the current climate, I’m not so sure I could be confident of that occurring,’ he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon quit after colleagues raised concerns he has been undermining Labor’s climate change policy by consistently backing fossil fuel industries, particularly gas and coal.
Since Bill Shorten’s election loss in 2019, he has argued that Labor should limit its climate change ambition to win back regional, working class voters.
‘The Labor Party has been spending too much time in recent years talking about issues like climate change, and not enough time talking about the needs of our traditional base,’ he said.
‘If you want to act on climate change, the first step is to become the government. And to become the government, you need to have a climate change and energy policy that can be embraced by a majority of the Australian people.
‘That is something we have failed to do for the last seven or eight years.’
Mr Fitzgibbon said he warned Mr Albanese that he would quiet the frontbench 18 months ago – and said he would not challenge for leadership.
‘Anthony Albanese has my support. He will lead us to the next election. I set myself a timetable 18 months ago and I was determined to stick with it,’ he said.
The 58-year-old MP (left) for the New South Wales coal-mining seat of Hunter said he has ‘no intention’ of trying to oust leader Anthony Albanese but would if enough colleagues asked him to
Since Bill Shorten’s election loss in 2019, Mr Fitzgibbon (pictured with his wife and) has argued that Labor should limit its climate change ambition to win back rural, working class voters
The 58-year-old, who suffered a large swing against him in the 2019 election, said Labor has effectively become too ‘woke’ and has alienated working class voters in order to win inner-city votes.
‘I think there has been a cultural shift and too much of an emphasis on our more newly arrived base, and not sufficient emphasis on our traditional base,’ he said.
The MP said he wanted to ‘take the Labor Party back to its traditional roots, back to the Labor Party I knew when I first became a member 36 years ago.’
He wants to the party to focus on ‘blue-collar workers, the people who have traditionally voted for us in very large number but somehow haven’t been voting for us in large number over the course of possibly the last decade.
‘I’ve seen them come up to the polling in high viz, carrying LNP how-to-vote cards, carrying One Nation cards and I ask myself how it all went so terribly wrong.’
Mr Fitzgibbon, who has previously threatened to quit if Labor adopts a 2030 emissions target that he finds too ambitious, will step down as shadow minister for agriculture and resources to become a backbench MP.
The move has sparked speculation he will try to oust Mr Albanese, who is trailing Scott Morrison in the polls, before the next election, due in May 2022.
Asked if Mr Albanese can win the next election, he said: ‘Albo can win if he listens to Joel Fitzgibbon more.’
The MP said he regrets not running for leadership in 2019.
‘I don’t believe I would have won that contest, but I think a contest would have been good for the rank-and-file and the industrial wing of the party,’ he said.
‘And it would have been an opportunity for me to develop a mandate for my determination to take the Labor Party back to its traditional roots.’
Mr Fitzgibbon said he warned Mr Albanese (pictured together) that he would quiet the frontbench 18 months ago – and said he would not challenge for leadership
Joel Fitzgibbon (pictured) has quit the Labor frontbench after months of going rogue on climate policy
Mr Fitzgibbon suffered a 14.2 per cent swing against him on primary votes at the May 2019 federal election.
His coal-mining seat of Hunter is now marginal, with a three per cent buffer after preferences, for an electorate Labor has held continuously since 1910.
Labor’s 45 per cent carbon emissions reduction target by 2030 was received badly in the Hunter and the regional Queensland seats of Dawson, Flynn and Capricornia.
‘If you begin demonising coal workers, coal generation workers, you’re immediately demonising oil and gas workers, power generation workers. And by the time that message gets through, you’re demonising manufacturing workers, and it goes on and on,’ he said.
It comes as the Opposition attempts to put pressure on Scott Morrison to adopt a net zero emissions target following Joe Biden‘s election as US President.
Mr Morrison has refused to follow others including China, South Korea, Japan, the UK, New Zealand and the European Union in setting a net-zero carbon emissions target to combat global warming.
Former Vice President Biden’s election victory means the US – the world’s second largest polluter after China – will in January have a leader that also favours a net zero 2050 goal, leaving Australia even more isolated on the issue.
Mr Albanese on Monday piled pressure on Mr Morrison and said a future Labor government would adopt a net zero 2050 target.
‘Australia is now isolated amongst our major trading partners,’ he said.
In a press conference on Monday morning, Mr Morrison said he would not bow to international pressure and that his government alone would decide Australia’s climate targets.
Joe Biden’s election victory means the US – the world’s second largest polluter after China – will in January have a leader that also favours a net zero 2050 goal, leaving Australia even more isolated on the issue. Pictured: President-elect Biden delivering his victory speech
‘Australia will always set its policies based on Australia’s interests,’ he said.
He said he wanted to achieve net zero emissions but feared a target could harm the economy and threaten thousands of jobs in fossil fuel industries.
‘I owe it to Australians that if we make such commitments, I have to be able to explain how we get there and what it would cost,’ he said.
‘Our goal is to achieve [net zero] as soon as you can, but we’ll do it on the basis of a technology roadmap.’
Mr Morrison slammed Labor for wanting to sign Australia up ‘unconditionally’ to a net-zero target without knowing the cost.
He doubled down in Question Time in Parliament, saying: ‘Until such time as we can be very clear with the Australian people about what the cost of that is… it would be very deceptive on the Australian people and not honest with them to make such commitments.’
Mr Albanese – who believes investment in renewable energy will create jobs and bring power bills down – said he would announce his costings closer to the next federal election, which is due in May 2022.
Climate change is a prickly issue for Mr Morrison who would face a rebellion from Nationals and right-wing Liberals in his government if he were seen to be harming fossil fuel industries.
Independent MP Zali Stegall on Monday introduced a bill to Parliament which legislates setting a net zero emissions target by 2050. It is unlikely to pass the Liberal-National controlled House.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese (pictured spruiking his childcare policy last month) on Monday piled pressure on Mr Morrison and said a future Labor government would adopt a net zero 2050 target