ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for joining us.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: My pleasure, Andrew.
CLENNELL: Are you running at the next election?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, I think so. I've been doing my fundraising and working the electorate hard. The reality is, I might be stuck there regardless, Andrew. Because, you know, most people are saying Hunter is under pressure, the Prime Minister is going after it, and I might be the only one that is capable of hanging on.
CLENNELL: Is that why you'd run? Because you spoke earlier in the week and if the Labor Party didn't change, you wouldn't run.
FITZGIBBON: Look, I haven't made up my mind. I genuinely haven't. What I made clear earlier this week is that I wouldn't run if I didn't think the Labor Party gave the Labor Party an opportunity to win.
CLENNELL: Could you lose the seat?
FITZGIBBON: I don't think I could lose the seat. I'm not complacent about it in any sense. But I've been there a long time, I've worked hard, people know what I stand for, I always stand up for my community, and I believe they'd stick with me. And look, we had a perfect storm last time and I survived with still a 3 per cent margin. A lot of people around this place wouldn't mind 3 per cent.
CLENNELL: The talk around these corridors, I have to say, it's only corridor gossip, is that you're hanging around in the hope that Richard Marles will become leader.
FITZGIBBON: You know, that's just, that's just mischief, basically...
CLENNELL: ... It is mischief, I guess. But, is there anything to it?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah well, you know, what people don't understand is that I want Anthony Albanese to lead us to the next election. I think we've had enough revolving door. We've invested in him now. He's well known. He's had two years to make himself better known. My campaign, if you want to call it that, is about just persuading Anthony Albanese to adjust the narrative in a way - and adjust the policy settings and our policy responses to government legislation - which gives us, in a way which gives us a better chance of winning the next election, indeed, which gives him a better chance of becoming Prime Minister.
CLENNELL: Well, the view from the Albanese camp is you're going anyway. That you said you were going after the 2019 election. What do you say about that?
FITZGIBBON: So, are they hoping or wishing, Andrew? What sense do you get?
CLENNELL: I think it's genuine belief. They think that you're just sort of going for it on the way out.
FITZGIBBON: Well, if I am just going for it on the way out, why am I going for it? What is it I'm going for? Regardless of what I do at the next election, I'm only going for one thing. I'm going for the Labor Party.
CLENNELL: John Howard said division his death, right? So, there's clearly some in the opposition who think you're now part of the problem in the sense that you get up and you say Labor is not doing the right thing. And you say it enough, and people are going to believe, yeah, Labor is not doing - it reinforces the problem, if you like.
FITZGIBBON: Division can be death and I've seen that, but so too can excessive unity. So too can a situation where people are so obsessed with unity, that people no longer feel they are able to disagree. And you know, that parliamentary caucus is a forum now which is basically a public forum. And people feel unable to express their views. Now, if you're a backbencher - a humble backbencher just like me, I think someone said I'm the most junior backbencher - If you're a backbencher, that's your only forum. And people must be able to express a view, they must be able to shout loudly about the views, interests and aspirations and challenges of their local electorates. We are a representative democracy. And when people no longer feel able to talk about their electorates as I have been doing, then we are in real trouble.
CLENNELL: Are the left taking over the party? We've seen with the leadership rules. The Labor Party has more power, the Labor Party has more people from the left, the people in the caucus from the left seem to have more power than ever, is that what we're seeing?
FITZGIBBON: The Labor Party is becoming more progressive, there is no doubt. The country is becoming more progressive, the country is changing as we always have. But, it is also true that who I call the excessive progressives, are on the march within the party. What's happening in the branches is that in the region's people are either literally dying, or losing interest in the party because it's become so progressive. And of course, in the capital cities, they're flowing off the university campus into the city branches. Now, Kevin Rudd gave all those rank and file members a vote in the leadership. So if you want to be the leader of the Labor Party, you have to constantly be thinking about those people...
CLENNELL: ... Was that a mistake, in hindsight?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, I think it was a mistake. Look, you know, I, you know, you can't have, arguably you can't have too much democracy. We have to be a democratic party, we have to give the members a say, but I think that, you know, when thinking about leadership, you don't want a populist.
CLENNELL: Should those leadership rules apply in government, where it's always been a much more controversial thing rolling a Prime Minister than in, rather than in opposition as well?
FITZGIBBON: I just don't think they should apply, generally speaking. And I get the argument about giving members a say, but it also becomes subject - look what happened in the UK with the $3 memberships under Jeremy Corbyn's movement. Well, we saw the results.
CLENNELL: Yeah. So, you'd assume if Anthony Albanese lost, Tanya Plibersek would win the leadership vote. Is that a fair assumption?
FITZGIBBON: Well, that's inviting me to concede Anthony Albanese is going to lose. I, again, obviously, we have some fairly significant disagreements about policy. But I think there's an opportunity for us to all meet halfway. Not just me, but the very, not insignificant support I have both in the caucus and in the community about our disconnect between our traditional base. If we can get some middle ground there, get the party back to the center, I still think Anthony Albanese can win.
CLENNELL: What federal implications do you think Upper Hunter had?
FITZGIBBON: Significant. Look, you can crunch the numbers every way you like, Andrew, we're all capable of doing that. I saw Pat Conroy, my neighbor, say that he didn't hear any of the anti-worker sentiment on the booths that I heard. Pat Conroy was in Vacy. You know, Vacy is a little rural hamlet on the other side of the range. I was in the Upper Hunter, Singleton, where people - forget about the count, as bad as that was - where people were simply saying to me, G'day Fitzy, how are you going? You're doing a good job, but mate, what's going on with your party? And I see you're against gas now. You know, what's next?
CLENNELL: So they've been reports Labor will support stage 3 tax cuts, you've written a piece saying they just have to. Are you hopeful that'll happen? What if, what happens if they don't?
FITZGIBBON: It would be crazy not to. The Hawke-Keating era, the reforms of that time gave birth to a whole generation of aspirational voters who get up and work hard every day to provide for their kids, to build a better life. And they're not unsympathetic to those who want a hand up, or who need a hand up, not unsympathetic. And the Labor Party is still the best party to provide for those people who need a bit of a helping hand. But you have got to win. And you can't be taking tax cuts, legislated tax cuts, off those aspirational voters.
CLENNELL: And Madeleine King has written a piece attacking you, really, and saying that some of the things you represent aren't the way that global policy on climate change, etcetera, is going. What do you say to that?
FITZGIBBON: Well, Madeleine got one thing right, we are good friends. But she didn't really identify where we disagree, did she? I mean, I've always backed net-zero emissions. And yeah, the market globally is changing. And yes, that's outside our control. And I've never argued otherwise. What I've argued against is government action which accelerates the impacts of global change unnecessarily on our own industries. The question Western Australians, like Madeleine, have to ask themselves is what will they do next time there's an application for a new iron ore mine, or an extension, or an application for a new oil or gas province? Is she suggesting that as a Western Australian, we should not be supportive of those projects? I think not.
CLENNELL: Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for your time.
FITZGIBBON: My pleasure, Andrew.