Joel Fitzgibbon quits shadow ministry over climate change policy

By Matthew Elmas

November 10, 2020

Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon has quit the shadow ministry over his position on climate change, believing he’ll be in a better position to agitate over the party’s emissions policy from the backbench.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Tuesday, Fitzgibbon formally stepped down from his role as Labor’s Agriculture spokesperson, saying the opposition must refocus efforts on its “traditional base” of blue-collar workers in fossil fuel industries.

Fitzgibbon—a convenor of Labor’s right faction and member for NSW’s mining-intensive electorate, Hunter—has been a vocal opponent to calls for an expedited transition from fossil fuel industries to renewable energy, despite consensus among scientists about the urgency of the climate crisis.

Days after warning colleagues Joe Biden’s victory in the US election was ‘not all about climate change’, Fitzgibbon said he had ‘no intention’ of contesting the Labor leadership and supported Anthony Albanese, but would nevertheless continue to apply public pressure on party leaders.

“I will continue to call out policy, including Labor policy which I do not think is in their interests,” Fitzgibbon said.

Fitzgibbon supports net zero emissions by 2050 as an ‘ambition’ but does not believe Australia needs to be “halfway there at the halfway point”, arguing more ambitious emissions targets would amount to electoral carnage for the opposition.

“I told the caucus this morning that I’m very strongly of the view that we have to allow candidates and local members to express the aspirations of their local communities,” he said.

Fitzgibbon said he made the decision to vacate the frontbench 18-months ago after the 2019 election, but has stuck around to work on the party’s electability with blue collar workers.

“Labor can’t form a government without winning at least two Central and North Queensland electorates,” Fitzgibbon said. “If you begin demonising coal workers, coal generation workers, you’re immediately demonising oil and gas workers, power generation workers,  and by the time that message gets through, you’re demonising manufacturing workers, and it goes on and on.”

“So, you’ve gotta give voice to all of those people, and you can’t win those seats on the edge of Perth without reassuring the community that the Labor Party is heavily supportive of the resources sector.”

Fitzgibbon has widened a public rift with Labor’s left faction and party leadership in Canberra since the party’s crushing election loss last year, arguing confused voters within its traditional base have been put off by divergent messaging on emissions reductions.

“We cannot expect a candidate in what used to be called Batman [now Cooper], Ged Kearney’s seat, to be saying the same thing as a candidate in Flynn, in central Queensland,” he said.

“We have a diverse range of membership, and we must speak to them all. And I think somehow over the course of the last decade we forgot that, and we lost touch with traditional working people.”

Fitzgibbon reiterated he was not a climate change denier, but that Labor must be in a position to win government to enact its plans for Australia’s future.

“I’m a serious believer that the climate is changing and humankind is making a contribution. And government should act. But we are in opposition, and I believe we need to stop so often being government-in-exile,” he said.

More to come.

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