Joel Fitzgibbon says Labor will struggle to win the next election unless it starts following his advice.
The veteran Hunter MP quit shadow cabinet on Tuesday but showed no sign of ending his war on Labor's climate policies, which he says are alienating its working-class base.
"I think, if the party doesn't follow my guidance, then it will struggle to win the next election," Mr Fitzgibbon told the Newcastle Herald hours after handing in his resignation from the front bench.
The shadow agriculture and resources minister has been an increasingly vocal critic of Labor's climate stance since losing 14 per cent of his primary vote in the heart of Hunter mining country at the 2019 election.
Mr Fitzgibbon backs a zero net emissions target by 2050 but has publicly rubbished suggestions Labor should promote a more aggressive climate program in light of Joe Biden's electoral win in the US. His continued attacks have angered his colleagues, and those frustrations reportedly boiled over at a shadow cabinet meeting on Monday night.
Asked by the Herald if he had been asked to resign or given an ultimatum, he said: "Absolutely not."
Mr Fitzgibbon, the convenor of the party's Right faction, said he would continue what he terms "The Project" of pivoting the party's energy policies.
If the party doesn't follow my guidance, then it will struggle to win the next election.Joel Fitzgibbon
"I might be leaving the front bench, but I remain one of the most senior people in the parliamentary Labor party, and I don't believe my influence will diminish much by taking a seat on the back bench."
He said Labor had not struck the right balance between blue-collar workers and its more progressive inner-city supporters.
The former defence minister suffered a 9.5 per cent swing against him last year after One Nation newcomer Stuart Bonds, a coalminer, attracted 21 per cent of the vote and directed his preferences to the Nationals.
"I have been focusing on blue-collar workers, whether they be working in coalmining, coal generation, oil and gas, our manufacturing sectors, electricians and other tradespersons, the people who have traditionally voted for us in very large number but somehow haven't been voting for us in large number over the course of possibly the last decade," he told a media conference at Parliament House on Tuesday morning.
"I've seen them come up to the polling booths in their hi-vis, carrying LNP how-to-vote cards, One Nation cards, and I asked myself, 'How did it all go so terribly wrong?'"
He said he would run again in 2022, and moving to the back bench would give him more time to focus on his electorate.
Stepping down from the front bench is often a sign of leadership aspirations, but Mr Fitzgibbon said he had no plans to challenge Mr Albanese.
But he said he regretted not contesting the party leadership after Labor's dismal showing in 2019.
"I don't believe I would have won that contest, but I think a contest would have been good for the rank-and-file and the industrial wing of the party. It would have been an opportunity for me to develop a mandate for my determination to take the Labor Party back to its traditional roots.
"Not at the expense or the exclusion of our, what I call, our newer base, our more recently arrived base, because it's very important.
"But certainly to have us focus on our traditional base, more like the Labor Party I joined 36 years ago.
"Now, I know the world has changed somewhat in 36 years. But there are still hard-working Australians out there with huge aspirations for their family, and Labor somehow seems to have given them the impression, at least, that we haven't been backing them at recent elections."
He said Mr Albanese could win in 2022 "if he listens to Joel Fitzgibbon more" after the long-running climate debate had demonstrated Labor's impotence on the issue.
"The Labor Party, since the 2013 election, has had, I suppose, at least two energy policies and two climate change policies.
"And I note that both of them had been rejected by the Australian people.
"The Labor Party has had at least six climate change/energy policies since the 2006 election. Only one of them was ever adopted by a Labor government, and, of course, that policy, having been legislated, was repealed by Tony Abbott.
"So, the conclusion you can draw from that is that, after 14 years of trying, the Labor Party has made not one contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in this country.
"So, if you want to act on climate change, the first step is to become the government. And, to become the government, you need to have a climate change and energy policy that can be embraced by a majority of the Australian people. That is something we have failed to do for the last seven or eight years."
He said Labor should give the government a chance to demonstrate the effectiveness of its climate approach.
"Scott Morrison has used the pandemic now as a justification for spending a lot of money on the technology side of the climate change equation. In other words, driving it by initiating that technology rather than addressing the issue with a carbon constraint ... .
"Let him establish his next medium-term target. And I think, once he does so, the Labor Party should think about backing it.
"Let Scott Morrison govern it. Let's hold him to account. Let's see what he sets. And let's take some time to see whether he's on track to meeting the commitment he makes."
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