Fitzgibbon: we can act on climate change, without costing coal miners their jobs

BALANCE: Joel Fitzgibbon says action on climate change can be taken, without costing coal miners' jobs.
BALANCE: Joel Fitzgibbon says action on climate change can be taken, without costing coal miners' jobs.

Joel Fitzgibbon has defended his comments foreshadowing a future split in the Australian Labor Party, saying he was speaking in the interest of his electorate.

The Member for Hunter made national headlines last week after telling the No Limitations podcast he feared the party may have to split in "20 or 30 years time" and form a coalition agreement to survive.

Mr Fitzgibbon said some Labor members had an "almost obsessive" focus on climate change policy, but the party needed to strike a balance between policy that would be attractive to those in cities and in regional electorates like the Hunter, where thousands of residents are employed in the coal mining industry.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he is determined for there to not be a split, but is concerned the party may be headed that way to cater to its working-class and progressive left bases.

"I am very fearful about how the Labor Party will manage to juggle these two electoral bases and I do fear that, it won't be in my time, but the party might end up splitting," he told the podcast.

"I don't want that to happen. I hope it is unlikely, but I just don't know how we reconcile the difficulty of being all things to people.

"We will have a coalition arrangement just like they have, with the future local members in Sydney and Melbourne pushing their agenda and leaving their mark.

"And the guy in central Queensland with the other Labor Party, it could be called New Labor or Old Labor or whatever you want to call them, doing something else and forming a coalition."

Mr Fitzgibbon's comments were roundly criticised by senior Labor figures including party leader Anthony Albanese, who said the issue of climate change is not as simple as where people lived.

"Wherever people live, they're impacted by climate change," Mr Albanese said.

Mr Fitzgibbon told The Advertiser he was "fully aware" that his comments may attract attention, but said it did not mean the party was divided.

"It's a good thing for a major political party - there's nothing wrong with a contest of ideas," he said.

But he said the Labor Party needs to be more flexible, and take on a broader cross-section of views, if it wants to survive and be voted back into office.

"Perfect policies are worth nothing if you're never in government," he said.

"I support a cleaner economy, I believe in climate change, I believe humankind is making a contribution and has to do something about it."

Mr Fitzgibbon said he supports Labor's commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, and has voted for every Parliamentary attempt to put appropriate measures on climate change in place.

He said Labor has always supported the coal industry, and should continue to do so.

"Our commitment to the Paris Agreement does not require us to give up our annual $69 billion in export coal earnings or the jobs that go with it," he said.

"Not that long ago a Labor Government spent $1.2 billion on a dedicated rail track to move more Upper Hunter coal to the port more quickly and efficiently.

"I believe we can act (on climate change), without costing coal miners their jobs.

"We need to do something meaningful, but don't overreach."

The podcast was the second time in recent weeks Mr Fitzgibbon has spoken out about his concerns over Labor's environmental policy.

Last month, Mr Fitzgibbon declined to attend a Hunter event for the Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN), a group whose membership is open to people outside of the party.

In an interview with Sky News on July 28, he branded the group "fundamentalists" that have been infiltrated by the Greens.

While Mr Albanese publicly disagreed with his assessment of LEAN, Mr Fitzgibbon told The Advertiser he wouldn't be taking a more low-key approach.

"I'll continue to argue for sensible and balanced policies capable of securing broad community support," he said.

"These matters fall largely in my area of portfolio responsibility and I take my responsibilities very seriously."

When asked if he was risking his position in the party, Mr Fitzgibbon said he "can't afford the luxury of self-interest".

"My job is to promote economic growth and jobs in my own electorate and beyond," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon acknowledged the coal industry's years are numbered, and said now's the time to start investing in new forms of energy.

"As coal-fired generators are coming to the end of their lives, we need to attract new forms of energy including hydro, battery storage and gas," he said.

"And we have to continue to leverage the wealth the coal mining industry generates to diversify the economy."