Labor laments lack of leadership debate

Paul Osborne
·3-min read

Labor did itself lasting damage by not having a leadership ballot after the 2019 federal election.

By handing the leadership uncontested to the Left faction's Anthony Albanese there was no opportunity for all members of the party - who hold a wide range of views on everything from climate change to refugee policy - to vent their arguments.

To make matters worse, there still hasn't been an ALP national conference, given coronavirus has limited travel and big events.

At least some of the party's right faction regret not having a ballot.

Joel Fitzgibbon is among them.

The veteran NSW MP, who now sits on the backbench, is kicking himself he didn't have a tilt at the leadership last year.

"One of the regrets I have is not running for the leadership after the 2019 election," he told reporters in Canberra upon announcing his resignation from the Labor frontbench.

"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.

"And 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."

Fitzgibbon referred several times in his media conference to the party's "recently arrived base".

By this he means left-leaning younger supporters who want more ambition on cutting emissions than the government is proposing, social reform, a tax system which doesn't provide most of the benefit to the wealthy and a more welcoming approach to asylum seekers.

Representing the coal industry seat of Hunter, Fitzgibbon was most devastating when it came to climate, dismissing everything Labor has done to address the issue since Kevin Rudd was elected in 2007.

"After 14 years of trying, the Labor Party has made not one contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in this country."

This of course denies the fact much of the climate change infrastructure put in place by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard is the bedrock of Australia's action to cut emissions.

Albanese has a tough job on his hands to bring together the party's left and right and deliver a coherent message to voters at a poll which could come as early as August 2021.

Fitzgibbon says it's okay if Labor MPs say one thing in trendy inner-city Melbourne and another in central Queensland coal country - it's about standing up for their constituents.

"I think a vibrant party is a one that has a contest of ideas, not just internally but externally."

However, such a message will play into the coalition's hands.

Scott Morrison made a big deal of former Labor leader Bill Shorten's inconsistent story, especially over fossil fuel industry jobs and income tax breaks.

Even Labor's own 2019 election campaign review pointed out the folly of the party's ambiguous language and mixed messaging.

The historic month-long contest in 2013 between Shorten and Albanese left the party strong and united, following the bitterness of the Rudd-Gillard years.

Albanese at the time quoted Michael Corleone from Godfather III: "Real power cannot be given, it must be taken."

He was referring to taking the power from factional bosses and giving it to grass roots members.

But he could well have been foreshadowing the challenge of having been handed the reins by his party, but not the necessary democratic authority to lead a united party to victory.