Joel Fitzgibbon warns Labor Party could split over inner-city, regional divide

Joel Fitzgibbon has warned the Labor Party could split if it fails to reconcile the views of inner-city progressives and workers in traditional industries.

Joel Fitzgibbon has warned the Labor Party could split if it fails to reconcile the views of inner-city progressives and workers in traditional industries. Photo: AAP

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon has warned the party could eventually split in two unless it can reconcile the views of inner-city and regional voters.

Mr Fitzgibbon has been extremely outspoken since the party lost the last federal election.

The right-faction frontbencher, from coal country in NSW, is a vocal critic of Labor’s climate policies.

Mr Fitzgibbon has accused Labor of sending mixed messages on mining and ostracising working-class people.

In his latest public intervention, Mr Fitzgibbon again challenged Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to drag the party back to the ‘centre’.

“Labor needs to develop a middle-ground message for a broad and diverse community in order to win government,” he told ABC News on Thursday.

His comments come at an awkward time for the Opposition.

Labor was beginning to gain momentum as it highlighted flaws in the Morrison government’s response to coronavirus outbreaks in aged care.

Now, the uncomfortable internal debate threatens to overshadow the next fortnight’s sitting of federal Parliament.

Speaking to the media outside a NSW nursing home, Mr Albanese was not overly enthusiastic about being dragged back into the climate debate.

However, the Opposition leader said it was not as simple as where people lived.

“It is not an issue of where people live because wherever people live, they’re impacted by climate change,” Mr Albanese told reporters.

He pointed to the National Farmers’ Federation calling for Australia to set a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050: “The same policy that I announced for the Labor Party.”

“The National Farmers’ Federation is in step with Labor’s position,” Mr Albanese said.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, often touted as a future Labor leader, also dipped into the climate debate during a speech in regional Queensland on Thursday.

Dr Chalmers argued climate change “isn’t some inner-city preoccupation”.

“Climate change is a big part of the story here as well,” he told the Warwick Chamber of Commerce.

“Communities like this one and growers in particular are already among the most affected.

“We need to mitigate risks by ensuring that we continue to proactively work on both adaptation and climate change mitigation strategies.”

Mr Fitzgibbon, a convenor of Labor’s right faction, has recently spoken out against environmental campaigners within the party and encouraged a shift back towards traditional industries.

Some have viewed his latest intervention as inflammatory and potentially destabilising, given his long track record of making waves.

But Labor MP Stephen Jones, a Left faction member who represents a regional seat in the NSW Illawarra region, pointed out the city-country divide was nothing new.

“We’ve been dealing with it since the Whitlam reforms of the late 1960s,” he said.

“We do best when we focus on the issues that unite these groups; income, cost of living, and a plan to bring the whole country forward.”


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