Labor luminary lashes party ‘fundamentalists’
Joel Fitzgibbon says Labor’s focus must be on ‘immediate job creation
GEOFF CHAMBERS - FEDERAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
GREG BROWN - JOURNALIST
10:31PM JULY 27, 2020
Joel Fitzgibbon has accused Labor’s influential internal environment lobby of putting blue-collar jobs and lower energy prices at risk —– and warned them against exaggerating the number of jobs in the renewable energy sector — as the party’s split over climate and energy policy grows.
The opposition resources and agriculture spokesman said the Labor Environment Action Network’s “fundamentalist” policies were out of step with ALP values and making the party unelectable, according to leaked emails obtained by The Australian. LEAN, which invited Mr Fitzgibbon to a Wednesday forum, was founded by Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally and opposition cabinet secretary Jenny McAllister to push the party into stronger climate change action.
Mr Fitzgibbon told LEAN that Labor’s focus must be on “immediate job creation”.
“LEAN also needs to be cautious about overstating the number of job opportunities provided by capital-intensive and import-dependent renewable projects in the short to medium run,” he wrote in the Saturday email.
The forum, a town hall event held by LEAN’s Hunter branch, will hear from NSW Labor environment spokeswoman Kate Washington, Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union state secretary Steve Murphy, Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood and Beyond Zero Emissions researcher Dominique Hes.
Mr Fitzgibbon said, given the impact of COVID-19, Labor should be focused on “building on the strengths of those industries which have performed well during the crisis. They provide the best opportunity to deliver outcomes quickly. Immediate job creation cannot be achieved with a fixation on concepts like “green steel” which are decades away,” he wrote.
The flashpoint in the party’s climate wars comes after Labor MPs. including Alex Gallacher, Glenn Sterle, Anthony Chisholm, Shayne Neumann and Raff Ciccone, backed Mr Fitzgibbon on emissions targets, raised concerns about delayed approvals for the New Acland coal mine extension and supported streamlining environmental approvals through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act.
Mr Fitzgibbon told LEAN he would not participate in the group’s “Jobs & Steel: the Hunter’s Renewable Future” forum on Wednesday because it had “already made its position” clear on key environmental policy issues.
In the email, Mr Fitzgibbon criticised LEAN over its pre-emptive positions on environmental policies, including the Narrabri gas project and EPBC review.
“I note LEAN has accused others of pre-empting the final EPBC review report, but is guilty of doing exactly that itself,” he said.
“I also note LEAN has passed judgment on the Narrabri gas project before the IPC has completed processes and scientific analysis. This pre-emptive attack on a project which will deliver many blue-collar jobs and lower energy prices for households and industry is contrary to ideals on which Labor was formed.”
Mr Fitzgibbon is backed by Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Dan Walton, who said policy positions advocated by LEAN would be “devastating for the livelihoods of blue collar workers”.
“I think most senior Labor figures consider their advocacy as something to be treated with a fair degree of caution,” Mr Walton, who represents workers across the steel, mining, manufacturing and agriculture sectors, said.
Following the government’s proposed overhaul of the EPBC last week, which would set up a single touch approval system and devolve responsibilities to the states, LEAN warned Labor MPs they would oppose policies that did not reflect the ALP’s pre-election platform. Under the platform, Bill Shorten took a 45 per cent emissions reduction target and 50 per cent renewable energy target to last year’s election.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese, under pressure from Left colleagues to not abandon the ALP’s ambitious climate change policies, earlier this year committed to a net zero emissions target by 2050 but is yet to commit to a medium-term target.
In February, Mr Albanese said Australia should be a “clean energy superpower harnessing the wind and sun to spark a new manufacturing boom”.
Mr Walton said while “green steel” was an exciting proposition, the technology remained “a way off.” “Even its most enthusiastic proponent, Sanjeev Gupta, will tell you the technology is a way off and accessible, affordable natural gas is necessary in the immediate term if we are to maintain an Australian steel industry,’’ he said.