Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon has abruptly quit as resources minister, the latest escalation in an internal ALP war over climate and energy, claiming the party was losing its “traditional” base.
The pro-coal MP, from NSW’s mining region of Hunter, claimed the party was “drifting” and had “lost touch with the traditional working class”. The veteran MP blamed Labor’s calls for stronger action on climate change, saying the party spent “too much time” on it, instead of more basic issues like the economy and tax.
“We have to speak to, and be a voice for, all those who we seek to represent, whether they be in Surry Hills or Rockhampton. And that’s a difficult balance,” Mr Fitzgibbon told a packed press conference in Canberra on Tuesday.
He claimed he made only agreed to be a frontbencher for 18 months, after Labor’s 2019 election loss, and that now was the time to move out of the senior position. However, the timing of his announcement is interesting, coming after an escalating series of arguments with colleagues over energy.
Mr Fitzgibbon, the leader of Labor’s right faction, has been outspoken on issues raised by the party’s left faction in calling for stronger limits on mining and emissions. He has repeatedly claimed Labor was losing regional voters whose workforce relies on traditional energy sources.
On Monday, Mr Fitzgibbon claimed it was “delusional” to chalk up Joe Biden’s US election victory to climate policy, as some in the Labor left have done.
He said supports the Opposition’s target for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but is worried that being too ambitious in the short term will damage Labor’s electoral chances.
“We have a diverse range of membership and we must speak to them all,” he said.
“And I think somehow over the course of the last decade we forgot that and we lost touch with traditional working people.”
Despite the bitter criticisms levelled at the party’s direction, Mr Fitzgibbon said he was long-time “mates” with current leader Anthony Albanese, and ruled out challenging him for the role or even running for it.
Mr Fitzgibbon said he would run for his seat of Hunter at the next election, and that he believed Mr Albanese would be the leader at that time.
The former frontbencher said he was “strongly of the view” that candidates should be able to express the opinions and demands of their local communities.
“We cannot expect a candidate in what used to be called Batman [in Melbourne] … to be saying the same thing as a candidate in Flynn, in Central Queensland,” he said.
“I think a vibrant party is a one that has a contest of ideas, not just internally and externally… We do all represent different electorates and need to be a voice for them.”
More to come.