Olympian could replace Labor's Fitzgibbon

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An Olympic shooter and former coal miner has emerged as a leading candidate to replace retiring Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon in his NSW seat.

Daniel Repacholi, who represented Australia at his fifth Games in Tokyo, is being touted as a potential pre-selection pick for Hunter at the next federal election.

Mr Fitzgibbon on Monday announced he would quit politics after a quarter of a century in parliament.

"These decisions are never easy but I do it quite comfortably," he told ABC radio.

Anthony Albanese said Repacholi was in the Cessnock hall of fame and was employed in mining.

"He certainly would be very strong candidate," the Labor leader told Sky News.

"He's one of the candidates that will be given due consideration, but I'm very confident we will have a strong candidate to replace Joel in Hunter."

Mr Fitzgibbon insisted he worked closely with Mr Albanese over the past two-and-a-half years, despite public tensions on climate policy.

"I've urged him back to the centre ground. I've urged him to focus on the things that are really important to working people," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

He said the opposition leader had expressed support for coal mining - a key industry in Hunter - and the gas sector, while also pledging meaningful climate action.

"I believe he has struck a very good balance and I think as a result he's well placed to lead us to an election victory."

Mr Albanese said he remained close mates with Mr Fitzgibbon even after division on policy in recent years.

"We've had a few differences over the years, but we've had many more beers than we've had differences," he said.

The right faction heavyweight and Labor's most senior regional MP was increasingly outspoken after suffering a major swing against him at the 2019 federal election.

Labor holds Hunter with a three per cent margin.

Before Mr Fitzgibbon held the seat, his father Eric was the MP between 1984 and 1996.

"Hunter is safe and we will be competitive at the next election," he said.

He listed Repacholi, barrister Stephen Ryan, nurse and union official Emily Suvaal, and state by-election candidate Jeff Drayton as potential replacements.

Asked whether the seat was winnable for the Nationals, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said: "Nothing's a walk in the park, but yes."

Mr Fitzgibbon held the agriculture and resources shadow portfolios in the Albanese opposition until quitting in November last year after a bust-up with the Labor leader.

He previously warned Labor could split into two parties because of a failure to balance the interests of inner-city progressives and working-class voters.

The 59-year-old served as defence minister under Kevin Rudd from 2007 to 2009.

He resigned from cabinet after it emerged his office helped his brother Mark, the chief executive of a private health insurance fund, in efforts to lobby Defence over contracting.

Mr Fitzgibbon returned to the ministry when Mr Rudd regained the top job in 2013.

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