On behalf of my family I thank all those who have extended their sympathies and best wishes following the loss of my Dad. The following is a small part of my remarks at his farewell.
“Eric Fitzgibbon – he’s one of us”. It was the perfect campaign slogan for our father.
“He’s one of us” had previously been used by other candidates but along-side Dad’s name it seemed to magically capture who he was and what he stood for.
And it sent the message he wanted to send – that he knew what it was like to struggle. That he understood the lot of working class people and those on income support, and he was the bloke keen to give people a hand-up.
There can be no doubt that our father’s working class childhood both drew him to politics and shaped his political views. It also drew him to the Australian Labor Party. He loved his Party and all it stands for.
In 1983 his plan to sell the Cessnock Sportsground to make way for a retail complex – a proposal adopted 25 years later - cost him both his position as mayor and his seat on Council.
So after 18 years as an elected official, Dad’s political career appeared over.
But then came along the 1984 electoral re-distribution and with it, an additional parliamentary seat in need of a candidate.
A hotly contested pre-selection followed and it was not one without controversy with Dad being accused of – amongst other things - buying local Party votes by arriving at the homes of voters with a six-pack of beer under his arm.
It had a happy ending – for Eric Fitzgibbon anyway. He won the preselection and he did so without the support of the Party machine which was backing another candidate – although the Party machine’s boss at the time – Graham Richardson - was sympathetic and gave him an unofficial helping hand.
The result left him with a political margin of just 2.4 percent but by 1993 it had grown to almost 14 percent.
It’s important I highlight this point because he was very proud of it – over four elections his margin grew from 2.4% to 3.6%, then to 8.4% and finally to 13.9%.
Our father went to Canberra with no objectives other than to hold his seat and to improve the lot of those he represented - the people he loved, empathised with, and championed
He never held any ambition to be a minister, but didn’t mind telling them how to do their job and did so to further the interests of his electorate.
In any case his political margin demanded he give his full and undivided attention to his electorate – and he did so, with energy, enthusiasm, great skill and absolutely.
He attended every function and every meeting. Whenever someone had a problem he was there for them. Mum shares the credit for his success, more often than not she was by his side – they were a formidable team.
Eric Fitzgibbon – he was one of us, and we will miss him terribly.