Anti-green campaign ‘just wrong’
By GREG BROWN and GEOFF CHAMBERS
1:43PM JULY 29, 2020
Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon and leader Anthony Albanese.
Anthony Albanese and senior Labor Left MPs have slapped down Joel Fitzgibbon, with the resources spokesman’s criticisms of the party’s environmental wing being labelled “conspiracy theories” and “just wrong”.
Amid internal divisions on environmental policy, the Opposition Leader dismissed Mr Fitzgibbon’s concerns that the “fundamentalist” positions of the Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN) were a barrier to the party’s electoral success.
“It’s just wrong. LEAN is made up of people who are committed to environmental action,” Mr Albanese said in Sydney on Wednesday.
“The Labor Party is the party that should be very proud and are proud of everything from the Daintree being saved, the Franklin being saved, the concern around climate change, concern around the Great Barrier Reef, the concern around Kakadu National Park.”
The comments are the biggest public rebuke Mr Albanese has given the outspoken Hunter MP, who is a leading figure from the powerful NSW Right.
Jagajaga MP Kate Thwaites declared on Twitter that Mr Fitzgibbon was peddling conspiracy theories over his claims that Greens voters were infiltrating the ALP.
Her tweet was liked by two Labor Left frontbenchers who are close supporters of Mr Albanese, Andrew Giles and Stephen Jones.
Labor Left frontbencher Pat Conroy, who represents the Hunter Valley electorate of Shortland, said “there was a definite role for environmentalists in the party”.
“In my experience LEAN is just as passionate about creating jobs as they are protecting the environment,” Mr Conroy said.
“Just as workers in traditional industries are also interested in protecting the environment.”
A Labor Left source said it was “about time” the Labor leader spoke out against Mr Fitzgibbon’s freelancing on climate change and environmental policy.
The source said Labor Left and some right-wing MPs were growing frustrated by the “deafening silence” from Mr Albanese and climate change spokesman Mark Butler in response to Mr Fitzgibbon’s policy freelancing.
“It is a shame the leadership had to by dragged into speaking out,” a source said.
But another Left MP said the process had to be managed carefully to avoid destabilisation, with Mr Fitzgibbon’s “bizarre” and “deluded” attack on LEAN being the right time for the Labor leader to speak out against him.
After the 2019 election, Mr Fitzgibbon voiced his ambition to put “labour back into the Labor Party” and has called on the party to adopt the Coalition’s 2030 emissions targets and to strongly support the coal and gas sectors.
A Labor Right MP described the internal debate as a “fight for the soul of the Labor Party”.
“Joel is trying to stand up for people who work in traditional industries but it is more than that,” the source said. “It about representing the traditional working Australian who is aspirational.”
The Australian on Monday revealed a leaked email from Mr Fitzgibbon to LEAN, in which he rejected an invitation to their conference in the Hunter Valley on Wednesday night.
Mr Fitzgibbon, who has been backed by the Australian Workers’ Union, told LEAN the group was putting blue collar jobs at risk and warned it against exaggerating the number of jobs in the renewable energy sector.
He said LEAN’s “fundamentalist” policies were out of step with ALP values and making the party unelectable, according to leaked emails obtained by The Australian.
Pushing back against Mr Fitzgibbon’s attack on LEAN, Sydney MP Tanya Plibersek on Tuesday night declared Labor had “always understood that supporting jobs and the environment aren’t mutually exclusive” and that “we can and should do both”.
The opposition education spokeswoman said “we need to build a strong economy with good jobs, including in our regions” and warned colleagues to not “separate Australia’s economic future from the protection of our environment”.
The former deputy leader — whose comments were endorsed by Labor MPs including Peta Murphy and Lisa Chesters — also invoked former Labor prime ministers, listing their records in driving economic growth and protecting the environment.
“We can and should do both. Gough Whitlam created tens of thousands of jobs in suburbs and regions with high unemployment – and made the Great Barrier Reef a National Park,” Ms Plibersek tweeted.
Leading Labor left-wing figures, including Mr Butler, Tim Ayres and Murray Watt, also spoke-out on Wednesday on climate emissions and global warming.
Mr Butler said it was time the Morrison government “listened to scientists about climate change and the risks it poses for communities all over Australia”.
“Especially since climate action (equals) more jobs and investment,” Mr Butler tweeted.