JANE MARWICK, HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon will leave politics at the next election. This is a seat that he's held since 1996. Joel Fitzgibbon, it is with a heavy heart that I feel like I'm interviewing you for the last time. Hopefully not. Why are you leaving politics?
MARWICK: Do you really think so under Anthony Albanese? He just doesn't seem to have the cut through. Look, I would have really liked to have seen you as leader of the Labor Party, simply for those reasons that you've articulated. Getting Labor back to the centre and talking about the issues that affect every day working Australians, Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: You're very kind, Jane? Well, I've been there for 25 years, that's almost sufficient reason alone. And I actually made my decision election night 2019. I thought the deepness of the loss meant that Labor was highly unlikely to win in three years’ time. I took a decision initially to go to the backbencher and just bide my time and to get out. But by Sunday morning, I realized I owed the Labor Party more than that and needed to give something back. And I was determined to spend the three years ahead doing all I can to, what I say is putting labour back into the Labor Party, trying to pull the party back to the centre a bit, getting it focussed again on the people it was elected or formed to represent. And that's what I've been doing. And I think I can leave now knowing I've made a bit of a difference and knowing that I was wrong three years ago, that indeed, the Labor Party can win the next election.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, well you're very kind, but it's not really what I want to do as great an honour as that would be. I'll be 60 in January. I know that's not old but...
MARWICK: ... Just a baby, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: I want to leave enough space to go and see what is next for Joel Fitzgibbon. And can I say that, you know, you have a great Labor team in WA. I mean, just solid, universal support for the resources sector, for example, so I can leave them to their own devices, they'll do well up the next election.
MARWICK: Has Labor's climate change policies and the fact that your seat of Hunter is not aligned with some of those more radical left-wing climate policies, has that... those policies had an impact on your decision to leave?
FITZGIBBON: No, not really, because I do feel that I've helped people to see that they had crept too far from the centre and they had lost focus on the people we were formed to represent and have not been prepared to be energetic enough in their sort of support for the resources sector, including the coal mining sector. What worries me about Australian politics generally, and not just in the Labor Party is people have been, in a sense, unable to be local MPs or local candidates. I mean, the very nature of parliamentary democracy is that each one of us represents the interests of our own backyard. And that's really all I've been doing for the last two and a half years or so. And I think that party discipline has become so stringent these days that candidates and MPs haven't been able to be true representatives of their own electorates. For example, you know, candidates are expected to say the same thing in Central Queensland as the candidate in the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney and something doesn't compute there, Jane.
MARWICK: Yeah, we saw that with Bill Shorten, he'd say one thing in Melbourne and then go to Queensland and say something else, I don't know, not realizing that the media records things and plays them back and I get...
FITZGIBBON: ... Can I say, I think you're talking about Adani there and it was a huge mistake on our part, we were neither forward or against it. And as you know, on the fence is the most uncomfortable place you can be.
MARWICK: It is. So, for people who don't know the region of Hunter, of course, you have a lot of coal miners, in your electorate. What sorts of things have they been saying to you about Labor's policies, Joel, over the last say, 5 or 10 years?
FITZGIBBON: The biggest problem we face in electorates like Hunter is the perception we are too closely aligned with the Greens. There is no doubt about that. And it's been a bit of a problem ride back from the days when Graham Richardson cleverly won Hawke elections by focusing Labor on some pretty important environmental issues. But it grew really bad, I thought, it was real tipping point when Julia Gillard did the deal with the Greens to form government after the 2010 election. And you know, the LNP, the Liberal-National Parties on this side of the country have a wonderful bush telegraph. They are very good at telling people in the pubs and the supermarket how many times we've voted with the Greens in the Senate, you know, last year, for example. So, and you know, I have people, I worked on a state by-election here not that long ago, just, you know, handing out for the state candidate. And you know, people were coming past me in their hi-vis saying words to the effect: G'day Fitzy, how are you going, you're doing a good job, but what's going on with your party? Still convinced that we aren't properly focused on the needs of those coal miners and all those industries that feed off the coal mining industry. And we've pegged that back a bit now, but we've got a little bit more work to do yet.
MARWICK: You know, Troy Bramston says, and I'll take his word for it, that you were a candidate, an MP, under eight Labor leaders. Who was your favorite?
FITZGIBBON: Well, my favorite leader of all time is Paul Keating, but I just missed Paul. I came in 1996. That's the election in which John Howard beat Paul Keating. I'm not going to nominate a favorite leader because they all have different strengths. You know, Kim Beazley, great guy, very highly intelligent and good consensus guy. At the other extreme, Mark Latham, probably even the most intelligent of them all and the best strategist I've worked with. But you know, the wheels fell off there. Simon Crean was a great minister, but I don't think had... I think he was sort of, his position was contested from the beginning, made it difficult for him. Bill Shorten almost won the 2016 election.
FITZGIBBON: Which would have put him up there with Whitlam, Hawke, and Rudd as the only leaders to win an election from opposition since the Second World War. So he gets a bit of a wrap there. Kevin Rudd, of course, was the rock star. He was the most popular leader I've served under. And of course, Albo, you know, we've had our differences, but I think he's been... he's listened to the caucus and I think he has brought us back to the centre. He's rid us of all those crazy tax policies we took her last election, he's committed to the legislative tax cuts, he's talking up the resources sector regularly, which is important, and I hope I didn't miss any leaders, did I?
No, I don't think so. I wasn't really counting. I just...
FITZGIBBON: ... Oh, Julia Gillard. No, I missed out Julia Gillard.
MARWICK: Julia Gillard, of course. You know, Julia Gillard was fascinating. The TV did not like her, she didn't translate well but in person, so personable, wasn't she, isn't she?
FITZGIBBON: Highly personable, very intelligent. A pretty good strategist. But you know, she had to live with one, a hung parliament, which is very difficult and that alignment with the Greens. And, you know, I mean, an unhappy Caucus. I mean, from the day Kevin was taken out of the position, you know, she was always going to be, you know, have people under her not happy. So she...
MARWICK: Always going to be pulling knives out of her back...
FITZGIBBON: ...Yeah, well, I wouldn't put it that way.
MARWICK: They're my words, not yours. Couple of quick ones that I want to ask you about. Kristina Keneally being parachuted into the seat of Fowler when they've got a fantastic local candidate. I mean, surely this is just, you know, the meddling, the backroom deals, rather than great local candidates. This makes no sense to me.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, look, you know, I struggle with that one as do many people including rank and file members of the party, but you know, she's got great talent. And she obviously, had come to the conclusion, she wasn't going to win that senate contest with Deb O'Neill and it's unsurprising that the party wanted to keep her on the team. And with Chris Hayes retiring, there was an easy fix there. But look, that's politics. And we should never be surprised by that sort of maneuvering.
MARWICK: Alright. That's what people hate. That's the part people hate, right? Like the electors to go...
FITZGIBBON: ... Well, don't watch politics. Do something else. That is politics.
MARWICK: Yeah, who was it that said if you want a friend in politics, get a dog.
MARWICK: Hey, Joel, you were Defence Minister for a time. What do you think of the latest decision on the nuclear subs using that US technology and the Alliance now with the US and the UK? It's strategic, it's definitely about China, and the region. What's your take on it?
FITZGIBBON: Well, when you get over the 3 or 4 billion dollars, which has been wasted...
MARWICK: ... Wasted. Wasted.
FITZGIBBON: The of years of delay, the damage to our relationship with the French, and all those business people and workers who have now lost their jobs because of the change, when you get past all that, it's a very good outcome. A very good outcome in strategic terms, in capability terms. And it really is something that I'm surprised the Americans agreed to, so on that basis, it's a win for Australia.
MARWICK: Why are you surprised?
FITZGIBBON: Well, they're very reluctant to share certain technologies. Very, very reluctant. They only do it with their closest partners, and even with their process partners, they do it only in small select areas. The UK, obviously is the only country which has had access to their nuclear submarine technology. And now, they've added us to the list and that's going to give us a capability, the capacity to project force, huge deterrence impact in the regions, it's going to give us all of those things, and that can only be a good thing.
MARWICK: Yeah, I think that is in their interests. I think that's probably why. Well, that's my best guess. And having talked to Greg Sheridan about and reading the Wall Street Journal, I can see that the US has said that yes, we do need capability in that region. Final one for you, big news in Western Australia, Christian Porter over the weekend, resigning from the Ministry going to the backbench over this blind trust. We had the ABC story, then we had the defamation then we had the million, or so, dollars in the blind trust. He said, you know, he'd rather resign than out people or anything like that. To my mind, there was a bit of a witch hunt with the ABC, I wouldn't have gone ahead with the defamation. I think I would have taken my medicine and just let it all settle down. Barnaby Joyce says he can come back, what's your take on all of it?
FITZGIBBON: Well, you're right about the defamation. I suspect he can see that was a mistake. And surely he would concede that the blind trust was a mistake. It's not capable of being defended. And I thought his resignation was inevitable. Having said that, I feel for Christian Porter. He has been the subject of a pretty vicious campaign and I think it's a bit of a wakeup call to all MPs, if you like, that anyone can be the next victim. I mean, if Christian is guilty of historical allegations, he gets no sympathy from me and I'm sure anyone else. But Gee, Jane, if he's not guilty, he's paid a pretty heavy price and been hunted down pretty aggressively for no reason. So, we will probably never know that. That's the problem here. It's pretty hard to defend yourself against something you cannot prove otherwise. Can he come back? Look, I've seen greater miracles. Kevin Rudd coming back to the Prime Ministership was a bigger miracle than that. So, anything is possible.
MARWICK: Anything is possible and now you have possibilities that will unfold in front of you. Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for your service in public life. I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you, listening to you, watching you. I think you're a great loss to politics, but hopefully we'll see and hear more of you in the media and other exploits. And thank you for giving me some of your precious time this arvo.
FITZGIBBON: You're very kind, Jane. And I say to those in the Labor Party who don't necessarily like me all that much: I am not going anywhere.