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Federal Labor’s stark divisions revealed

Federal ALP member for Hunter in NSW, Joel Fitzgibbon

A split in the federal Labor party emerged after the NSW state by-election for the seat of Upper Hunter. Earlier in the week, the federal member for the Hunter electorate, Joel Fitzgibbon said the by-election had implications for the federal party, something the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese denied.

On Sunday, Joel Fitzgibbon upped the ante, putting forward a manifesto on behalf of the right wing of the parliamentary Labor party. A key feature of this manifesto was a change in the rules for the election of the leader.

This festering sore began with a sally from Fitzgibbon earlier in the week. He called out Labor policy on tax and energy and said that the party should drop their opposition to the gas-fired power station in the Hunter and endorse the stage three tax cuts, which have been legislated and come into effect in 2024. He wrote for The Australia Financial Review:

“At its recent national conference, the Labor Party reaffirmed its support for the coal industry and the gas-fired generation sector.
“But few people know it because too few members of the federal Parliamentary Labor Party want to talk about it. That’s because they fear an adverse response from the party’s left wing and a backlash in city and coastal electorates.
“The excessive progressives think they can afford to cut the coal miners loose and still win. But they fail to understand the message that attitude also sends to blue-collar workers in other industries and in other regions.”

Mr Albanese called for a sense of perspective, saying Labor never had a chance of winning the state by-election.

“If Scott Morrison wants to argue that there are federal implications behind a by-election result in one seat in NSW, then he should apply that to Western Australia and to Queensland, which are the big two resources states in this country.
“[They] have seen Labor win seats in Queensland and become almost a one-party state in Western Australia.”

On Sunday, Mr Fitzgibbon gave an interview to Sky News Andrew Clennell, which appeared to be an orchestrated attempt by the right wing of the parliamentary caucus to change the direction of the Albanese led Labor party. As Clennell commented Fitzgibbon endorsed Albanese’s leadership but wanted to thwart any attempt by Tania Plibersek to take over the Opposition leader’s job if Labor lost the next election.

Fitzgibbon told Clennell he wanted the Rudd rules for the election of the leader repealed, so that rank and file members no longer had a vote. He said that the party had moved to the excessive end of the progressive movement, driven by “young graduates who poured out of universities and into the branches”. He said these members were not interested in issues of importance to the aspirational blue-collar class.

Fitzgibbon said that if the party was controlled by populist progressives, it would be fatal to its future. Voters in regional Queensland and Western Australia and outer metropolitan Sydney would never vote for a progressive Labor party and it would face the same fate that had decimated the Corbyn Labour party in Britain.

Anthony Albanese believes he can paper over these differences and win the next election. In government, he will be able to manage the progressive versus worker divisions.

On the other hand, the prime minister believes he can wedge Labor and force a split over the issues of taxation and energy.


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