BEN FORDHAM, HOST: … warning to so-called progressive politicians. He says the never-ending focus on gender identity and race is a vote killer, not just in the UK but across the western world. Well, a prominent Labor politician was listening in and he's not surprised at all. He's been saying the same thing for some time. He is Joel Fitzgibbon, the federal MP for the Hunter, where there is a state by-election this weekend. Joel Fitzgibbon, good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: G'day, Ben. Good to be with you.
FORDHAM: You were listening as I was reading some of the quotes from Tony Blair, and I'm guessing you were nodding furiously?
FITZGIBBON: I was Ben and, of course, I've read the whole contribution from Tony Blair and, of course, he's now joined a growing chorus of people warning Labor parties and their equivalents right around the world that we are in trouble. And just some recent examples in Australia, Ben, in North-West Tasmania recently, previously Labor heartland, we secured just 26 per cent of the vote. In Bowen, in Queensland, at the last federal election once upon a time Labor heartland, we secured just 20 per cent of the primary vote. Now the first, the first step to fixing a problem, Ben, is to recognise you have one. Tony Blair has done that, not with just respect to the Labour Party in the UK, but centre-left parties right around the world.
FORDHAM: He says left-wing parties face marginalisation, even extinction. He says social and cultural messages around extreme identity and anti-police politics is basically voter repellent. Now, this is part of the reason why you quit the Labor frontbench right?
FITZGIBBON: Well, frustration was certainly part of my decision, Ben. You know, progressive parties right around the world use to seek change. They sought change at a time when we had policy inertia and people were being left behind. But of course, in these times of rapid, indeed, revolutionary change brought upon mainly by technological change, the excessive progressives are looking for new things to do. And when they go looking, they find climate change, identity politics, culture wars, and the like, things that are eleventh order issues for most people, and indeed for some people, they see a threat to their jobs and income security, and this is a real challenge to the Labor Party. We are breeding votes both to the right and the left, as those on the left insist on us going further towards them. And of course, those on the right are reacting to the propensity of centre-left parties to go down this excessive progressive path.
FORDHAM: And when you've got people like you who sound the alarm bell it's not like people listen, and Tony Blair picks up on that he says the fact that it ensures continued right-wing victory doesn't deter them at all. On the contrary, it gives them a heightened sense of righteousness, like political Kamikaze. So, it's a crash-through kind of approach even when people like you were saying hang on a moment, this is a vote killer.
FITZGIBBON: I've described that a little bit differently, Ben. I call it institutionalised elitism. This confident view that we in our parties are smarter and know better than those in the other. I see all the time. We have to get back to basics. Remember, what – why we were formed, what we were born to do, and that is to focus more on working class people and spend less time on issues like climate change, which I acknowledge again is really important, Ben. But for most people, they wake up in the morning, they're worried about paying off the mortgage, getting their kids to school, paying the school fees, childcare fees, or whatever it might be, and of course, the health and safety of their families. They are their priorities and they are the things the Labor Party needs to spend more time talking about.
FORDHAM: Who's going to win the Upper Hunter by-election this weekend?
FITZGIBBON: Well, as you know, Ben, it's a Melbourne Cup field – 13 candidates so, you know, the primary votes going to be proliferated. I think the Nats are still entitled to be favourites. It's their seat. It always has been. The Labor Party has never held the seat. But, you know, we have an amazing candidate in Jeff Drayton here and he's campaigning hard. I think the government will be punished not only for, you know, causing the by-election and the reasons for it, but for some laziness, and the fact that it's taken the seat for granted for a long, long time. I think Labor is a bit of a rough chance.
FORDHAM: We'll see what happens. We'll talk to you soon. Thanks for jumping on the line.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you, Ben.