Transcript - Radio Interview - ABC RN - Monday, 13 September 2021

By Joel Fitzgibbon

13 September 2021

FRAN KELLY, HOST: And as we were just discussing there with Barnaby Joyce, Labor will lose, perhaps its strongest supporter of the mining industry when Joel Fitzgibbon quits Parliament at the next election, he quits his seat of Hunter. I spoke with Joel Fitzgibbon earlier.


JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Nice to be with you, Fran.


KELLY: Well, this is big news in your life, you've held the seat of Hunter for the past 25 years, your father held it before you. Why have you decided to quit at the next election?


FITZGIBBON: Of course, these decisions are never easy, but I do it quite comfortably. I'm very confident now that Labor is well placed to win the next federal election under Anthony Albanese. I'm enormously grateful for the opportunities that have been given me by the local community, by the Labor Party and, of course, by our very supportive family. And I'm proud of my work both here locally, nationally, and internationally. So, I go quite satisfied with what I've achieved over the course of some 25 years.


KELLY: You know, a lot of people will see this completely differently. They'll see this as a vote of no confidence in Anthony Albanese and Labor winning the next election because your seat is now marginal, your margin crashed by 14 points in the last election. Are you quitting Labor because you can't face another three years in Opposition.


FITZGIBBON: Quite the contrary. Despite some public tensions, Anthony Albanese and I have worked very closely together for the last two and a half years. As you know, and as your listeners know, I've urged him back to the center ground. I've urged him to focus on the things that are really important to working people. He's been to a coal mine, he's expressed support for the coal mining industry and the gas sector, just to name a couple. I think his messaging has been very clear, while at the same time making it clear that Labor intends to be a government which takes meaningful action on climate change, and 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, which means I can now go, exit stage left confident that I'm not letting anyone down. I was also determined not to leave the party in a lurch, to ensure that I don't go if I don't believe we can hold the seat without me. And again, I'm confident that Albo has taken us sufficiently to the centre, put sufficient emphasis on hope and aspiration amongst working families, that I can go comfortably knowing that, you know, Hunter is safe, and we will be competitive at the next election.


KELLY: Hunter is safe, is that dependent on who the candidate is? I mean, you and your father Eric have held Hunter for almost 40 years, as you say. There's a fair bit of Fitzgibbon incumbency, perhaps built into the margin you had built up, much of it wiped away at the last election. Who should follow you in Hunter? How important do you think it is to get the right candidate and who is that?


FITZGIBBON: We have enormous talent in the local branches. I mean, I probably shouldn't name them because I'll leave someone out. But people like Jeff Drayton, who ran for us Upper Hunter, a coal miner, a trade union official, a young woman by the name of Emily Suvaal, a local nurse and union official, Stephen Ryan, a barrister from the southern end of the electorate, and Daniel Repacholi, three times Olympian, former coal miner, now managing a very large mining services business, just to name a few. There are plenty of good people around who would make an outstanding contribution and will be very supportive of economic diversity in the region, but of course, our traditional base, base industries like the coal mining sector.


KELLY: How much though, is the coal mining sector and other mining sectors still Labor's traditional base? Because these days, the Nationals view the mining industry as their natural constituency too, miners arguably have more influence over Nat's policy than farmers do. Doesn't that make the Nationals cherry ripe to pick up not just Hunter, but the adjacent Labor seats of Shortland and Paterson? How endangered are they still at this moment, in your view?


FITZGIBBON: It will be Labor's base to the extent Labor wants it to be its base. It's up to the Labor Party to determine how much it wants the love and support of the coal mining industry, its workers and all those many, many industries that feed off it. Now, Albo has pledged strong support. But we will need to repeat that multiple times over the course of the period between now and the next election. When you lose people like our coal miners and those working in associated industries, you don't win them back easily. So, we have more work to do still.


KELLY: It's a hard path for a Labor leader these days to walk because as you've warned in the past, the ALP could split into two separate parties, one for the inner city and one for the regions. I think you're indicated you don't think that is on the cards at the moment. But what it does indicate is the difficulty for a Labor leader to appeal to these constituencies. Today, Anthony Albanese is talking about making climate change a hallmark of the alliance with the United States. Have you made it easier for your rivals within Labor to push for stronger climate targets by quitting?


FITZGIBBON: I think, I genuinely believe I've made it easier for a political sentiment on climate change. You know, we have to end the climate wars, Fran. And the reason it's been so difficult is because people on both the right and the left see political advantage in perpetuating the climate wars. We need to build, develop a consensus in this country, both of the major parties believe that climate change is doing harm. We both believe that meaningful action is required, there should be no impediment for us establishing a proportionate and reasonable policy that is meaningful, and which does no harm to our traditional industries or indeed, our economy generally.


KELLY: And that phrase does no harm. You know, we've had the, we've had the findings from the International Energy Agency, we've had the findings of the UN, all talking about the need to phase out, and the IPCC, to phase out fossil fuel production within quite a short timeframe. We're talking 10 to 15 years. I mean, does no harm. Labor needs to get behind that, doesn't it?


FITZGIBBON: I can cherry pick all of these international reports too, Fran, as people are prone to do. I thought the International Energy Agency...


KELLY: ... the IPCC and the UN. Pretty, you know, high grade list there.


FITZGIBBON: I thought the International Energy Agency report was a little bit tongue in cheek. I thought it was a wakeup call to us all. They were saying this is what you really need to do if you keep talking yourself up, but that doesn't change the fact that the international community needs to act. We need to act proportionally here in Australia. But let us not kid ourselves, Fran, that the developing countries of Asia will need our relatively clean and efficient coal for a long, long time to come. And if we deny them that coal, then they'll get something less efficient somewhere else and that will not be good for climate change action.


KELLY: Just Finally, Joel Fitzgibbon, can I ask you about the decision by Kristina Keneally to essentially push a strong local candidate aside, this is Labor's decision really and contest to let Lower House seat of Fowler. Should she have stayed and battled out for a seat in the Senate even though she'd been dropped down to the more virtually unwinnable number three spot? I mean, she's one of Labor's strongest performers. She was going to be dropped to an unwinnable spot on the ticket. What do you think she should have done and what does this say about, you know, the factions in Labor having too much control when that is the choice?


FITZGIBBON: Well, Fran, it's alright to argue that she should have stayed and fight, but obviously Kristina Keneally can count, that decision, you know, I mean that result was obviously only going one way. I always prefer the selection of local community candidates, but you can understand why the party is seeking to retain someone like Kristina Keneally. It is a shame that she couldn't be deployed to a marginal government held seat which we need to win to form government. But you know, these are not matters for me.


KELLY: What does it say about Labor's commitment to get more culturally diverse candidates in the parliament, though?


FITZGIBBON: Oh, look, I don't think anyone would challenge Labor's commitment to greater diversity in our party whether it's ethnicity or gender. I don't think that's the real issue. I think the real issue is a very good local candidate with strong local support, including the support of the outgoing local member is going to miss out. That's the real issue here.


KELLY: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks very much for joining us.


FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure, Fran.


KELLY: Joel Fitzgibbon, the outgoing Labor Member for Hunter. You're listening to RN Breakfast.