Australia’s Labor Party is in danger of being wiped out as a political force because it has lost touch with its base of blue-collar workers, Joel Fitzgibbon has warned.
The outspoken Labor MP, who has represented the federal division of Hunter since 1996, said the party’s loss in the NSW state seat of Upper-Hunter on Saturday was a huge ‘wake up call’.
Labor’s first preference vote plunged from 28 per cent to 22 per cent as the Nationals were returned with 32 per cent of primary votes, a small drop from 34 per cent in 2019.
Under-pressure NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay, who was hoping to win the marginal coal-mining seat following the resignation of Nationals MP Michael Johnsen due to allegations he raped a sex worker which he denies, admitted the result was ‘terrible’.
She has insisted she will not quit but is facing unrest in the ranks, with four MPs – Chris Minns, Paul Scully, Ryan Park and Michael Daley – touted as possible replacements.
Labor campaigned on a pro-coal message, even picking a former coalminer as its candidate, but Mr Fitzgibbon believes the party lost its base by ‘demonising’ resources workers in its fight against climate change over the past few years.
‘It’s a wake up call to all of us in the Labor Party and indeed the Labor movement,’ he told 2GB radio on Monday morning.
‘If we’re not careful it will go the way of the Kodak brand.’
Mr Fitzgibbon even threatened to retire from politics if Labor doesn’t start speaking up more strongly for blue-collar workers.
Mr Fitzgibbon said Labor needs to appeal to its working-class base. Pictured: Coalminers protest against a campaign to stop the Adani coalmine in Queensland in 2019
The Hunter MP, who almost lost his coal-mining seat at the 2019 election, believes resources workers are suspicious of Labor due to its ambitious climate change policies.
‘That suspicion is only fuelled by decisions made late or on the eve of the by-election to oppose the gas generator in the Hunter Valley, a $600 million investment, they just shake their heads and say, ”We thought so”,’ he said.
In November Mr Fitzgibbon quit the frontbench, furious that senior left-wingers – whom he branded the ‘cheesecloth brigade’ – were calling for an ‘even more ambitious climate change policy’ in the wake of Joe Biden’s US election win as federal leader Anthony Albanese attacked Scott Morrison for refusing to adopt a 2050 net zero emissions target.