Retiring Labor veteran Joel Fitzgibbon has backed Anthony Albanese to win the next federal election as he leaves politics confident in the party’s direction.
Mr Fitzgibbon confirmed on Monday he would not re-contest the NSW seat of Hunter that he has held for a quarter of a century.
“These decisions are never easy but I do it quite comfortably,” he told ABC radio.
He insisted he had worked closely with Mr Albanese for the past two-and-a-half years, despite public tensions on climate policy.
“I’ve urged him back to the centre ground. I’ve urged him to focus on the things that are really important to working people,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
He said the Opposition Leader had expressed support for coal mining – a key industry in Hunter – and the gas sector while also pledging meaningful climate action.
“I believe he has struck a very good balance and I think as a result he’s well placed to lead us to an election victory.”
The right faction heavyweight and Labor’s most senior regional MP was increasingly outspoken after suffering a major swing against him at the 2019 federal election.
Labor holds Hunter with a 3 per cent margin.
Before Mr Fitzgibbon held the seat, his father Eric was the MP between 1984-1996.
“Hunter is safe and we will be competitive at the next election,” he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon listed Olympic shooter and former coal miner Daniel Repacholi, barrister Stephen Ryan, nurse and union official Emily Suvaal, and state byelection candidate Jeff Drayton as potential replacements.
Asked whether the seat was winnable for the Nationals, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said: “Nothing’s a walk in the park, but yes”.
Mr Fitzgibbon held the agriculture and resources shadow portfolios in the Albanese opposition until quitting in November last year after a bust-up with the Labor leader.
He previously warned Labor could split into two parties because of a failure to balance the interests of inner-city progressives and working-class voters.
The 59-year-old was defence minister under Kevin Rudd from 2007 to 2009.
He resigned from cabinet after it emerged his office helped his brother Mark, the chief executive of a private health insurance fund, in efforts to lobby Defence over contracting.
Mr Fitzgibbon returned to the ministry when Mr Rudd regained the top job in 2013.