Hunter federal Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon confirms 2021 decision to quit politics

Joel Fitzgibbon
Joel Fitzgibbon

Hunter federal MP Joel Fitzgibbon has confirmed he will quit Parliament having led a campaign against Labor's climate change policies.

The former defence and agriculture minister resigned from the shadow cabinet in November last year, claiming Labor risked losing its blue-collar base while appealing to more progressive inner-city voters.

Labor sources told the Newcastle Herald on Sunday night that Mr Fitzgibbon planned to announce his decision not to contest the next election on Channel 7's Sunrise program on Monday morning.

The MP released a statement on Monday say that he had told Paterson MP Meryl Swanson in 2019 he would not re-contest the upcoming election.

"While I have changed my mind on a number of occasions since that night, today I confirm I will not re-contest the next election," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he at that time believed Labor "was as far from forming a government than at any time in my 25 years in the House of Representatives".

On Monday he said he now thought their fortunes had improved after he waged a campaign for them to "take back the centre ground and to focus on the things that matter most to the majority of Australians".

"I feel I can now leave the Parliament knowing Labor can win the next election under the leadership of Anthony Albanese," he said.

"Australia's major political parties have a responsibility to build a community consensus on climate change policy. Neither Party denies it's a problem. Both say we should act. Yet neither has demonstrated a willingness to take the issue outside the political contest.

"That's because both the Right and the Left continue to see political opportunity in perpetuating the climate wars. This political game must end."

The Newcastle Herald understands several unions are backing registered nurse Emily Suvaal, the wife of Cessnock councillor Jay Suvaal, for pre-selection.

Mr Fitzgibbon, the convener of Labor's Right faction, and his father, Eric, have held the electorate of Hunter since 1984.

But the 59-year-old almost lost the once safe Labor seat after shedding 14 per cent of his primary vote in the 2019 election.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he was confident his electorate would support a Labor candidate to succeed him.

"I look back with great regret that in more than 25 years in the Parliament I spent only six years in government," he said.

"At 59 years of age, I've spent 60 per cent of my adult life in the Parliament and 80 per cent of it in elected office. I thank my wife Dianne and our children for their patience and sacrifice. I look forward to spending more time with them."

The Nationals won 23 per cent of the count in 2019's ballot and One Nation coalminer Stuart Bonds 21 per cent.

Mr Fitzgibbon said after quitting cabinet 10 months ago that Labor would struggle to win the next election unless it started following his advice to set more modest emissions targets.

"The Labor Party, since the 2013 election, has had, I suppose, at least two energy policies and two climate change policies," he said at the time.

"And I note that both of them had been rejected by the Australian people."

He said after quitting the front bench that he would run again in 2022, and moving to the back bench would give him more time to focus on his electorate.

Mr Fitzgibbon's continued agitating over climate and energy issues this year prompted Shortland MP Pat Conroy to tell him to "shut up" in May, after Labor performed poorly in the Upper Hunter state by-election.