Maverick Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon has taken an almighty whack at his own party, claiming voters have “walked away” and warning the opposition will lose the next federal election.
“The Labor brand is in trouble and if you’re not careful, it will go the way of the Kodak brand,” he said on Monday.
“Working people walked away from us some time ago and clearly haven’t come back.”
Mr Fitzgibbon, the long-standing federal member for Hunter, came out swinging after the byelection in the NSW seat of Upper Hunter – which closely corresponds to his own seat. Labor suffered a crushing defeat in the weekend poll, winning only 21 per cent of first-preference votes.
Mr Fitzgibbon was on a media blitz on Monday morning, giving at least seven interviews and press conferences. He claimed the NSW loss – in a seat held by the Nationals for 90 years – should be a “wakeup call” for federal Labor.
— Chloe Bouras (@ChloeBouras) May 23, 2021
“We need to be able to appeal to a broad coalition of people,” Mr Fitzgibbon told Sky News, in one pitstop on his tour of the Parliament House press gallery corridors.
“Our brand is in trouble.”
NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay called Saturday’s vote a “terrible result” for her party, asking why “workers aren’t voting for us”. Mr Fitzgibbon went further, claiming the result was a warning for the federal opposition, under
He especially said Labor needed to talk more about “core” issues such as jobs and the economy.
“The Labor Party has to speak more about jobs and jobs security as it does about climate change,” he said.
However, Labor leader Anthony Albanese rubbished the idea the Upper Hunter result had any federal repercussions, saying recent state results in Queensland and Western Australia were far more positive for the Opposition.
“[Upper Hunter] is a seat Labor has not held in the last nine decades at any time. This is a seat whereby, frankly, a couple of elections ago we would have struggled to find people to hand out how to vote cards,” he said.
“If you want to allocate state results on federal seats, I’d ask you to have a look at Western Australia and have a look at Queensland. Because if you do that you will end up with a thumping majority of Labor people in the Federal Parliament.”
But Finance Minister Simon Birmingham downplayed the federal implications of the Coalition’s win in Upper Hunter, telling the ABC “it was a state byelection and I would treat it as such”.
“It had a range of different factors at play and certainly many of them were very much local, very much state politics,” he said.
Recent polling suggested Labor could lose several federal seats in the Hunter region, potentially including Mr Fitzgibbon’s own. He fobbed off questions about whether he might be booted at the next election, due within 12 months, claiming “they didn’t get me last time, they won’t get me next time”.
However, Mr Fitzgibbon hinted he might quit politics, rather than contest the next election and remain in opposition.
“I won’t stick around if the Labor Party doesn’t wake up to itself,” he said.
Most centrally, Mr Fitzgibbon claimed Labor should have more strongly supported the federal government’s recent announcement of a $600 million gas plant in the Hunter. The government says the proposed Kurri Kurri plant will lower power prices and ensure grid reliability, but energy policy experts say it’s not needed and might actually push up prices.
Mr Fitzgibbon also said Labor needed to talk about equality issues in a different way, saying it must be done “not in a way which threatens the rights of… the majority”.
.@fitzhunter says Labor needs to do more work to represent hard-working people.
"We need to tackle discrimination, racism, and bigotry and all those terrible ills but not in a way which threatens the rights of those, the overwhelming majority who do the right thing every day." pic.twitter.com/diXgbPCjVj
— News Breakfast (@BreakfastNews) May 23, 2021
In a follow-up to The New Daily, Mr Fitzgibbon claimed Labor was “incessantly talking about issues that are not central to their livelihoods, as important as they are”.
“People are feeling uneasy about the rapid change taking place in our society,” he said.
“We need to talk more to people about the things that go to the heart of their aspirations… health and safety of their families, and financial security.”
Asked if he thought Labor had become too “woke”, Mr Fitzgibbon declined to comment.
Mr Albanese shrugged off Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments, at a press conference later on Monday.
“We are standing up for the rights of workers, we respect the work that working people do wherever they do it,” he said.
“I think in terms of a step back, a little bit of perspective would be a good idea.”