Statement - Decision Not To Re-contest Hunter - Monday, 13 September 2021

By Joel Fitzgibbon

13 September 2021

On the day of my resignation from the Shadow Cabinet last November, I publicly shared the story of my election night phone conversation with my friend and political neighbour Meryl Swanson. I called Meryl to say I did not plan to be a candidate at the next federal election.

While I have changed my mind on a number of occasions since that night, today I confirm I will not re-contest the next election.

On the night of May 18, 2019, I believed Labor was as far from forming a government than at any time in my 25 years in the House of Representatives. I felt the Party had crept too far to the political left, deserted many who had long been part of the Party’s traditional base, and had lost focus on the economic aspirations of the millions who benefited from the reforms of the Hawke and Keating Governments.

I told Meryl Swanson I would use the next three years to do everything in my power to turn around Labor’s political fortunes. I was determined to put the labour back into the Labor Party.

That has been my mission for the past 28 months: urging Labor to take back the centre ground and to focus on the things that matter most to the majority of Australians. To resist the urgings of the elitist and idealist excessive progressives who seem determined to consign Labor to perpetual opposition.

I feel I can now leave the Parliament knowing Labor can win the next election under the leadership of Anthony Albanese. Indeed, Labor will win, if it sells itself as a party of strong economic management and one with strong national security credentials. A party which encourages economic aspiration. A party committed to improving job security and lifting real wages. A party prepared to back our major export industries. A party committed to equality of opportunity for all, particularly our children.

Climate change is an important issue for the majority of Australians too. The threat posed by radically changing weather patterns is a real one and the global community must act collectively and Australia proportionately. But like national security, climate change should not be the subject of constant and shrill political debate.

Australia’s major political parties have a responsibility to build a community consensus on climate change policy. Neither Party denies it’s a problem. Both say we should act. Yet neither has demonstrated a willingness to take the issue outside the political contest.

That’s because both the Right and the Left continue to see political opportunity in perpetuating the climate wars. This political game must end.

It has been a great honour and privilege to represent the people of Hunter in the House of Representatives for the past 25 years. Over that period the Hunter region’s economy has modernised and grown both stronger and more diverse. It is a credit to the region’s political, business, and community leadership. I mention, too, those who lead our education and research institutions. I’m proud to have been part of that successful transformation.

I am grateful for the opportunity to twice serve in the Cabinet and to have been a member of the National Security Committee. My time as Defence Minister was an exciting, rewarding, and productive period. It was a time of high operational tempo and, amongst other things, produced the first Defence White Paper in more than 10 years and a Strategic Reform Program, which drove significant internal savings for reinvestment in the high-end capability our national security demands. My time with our amazing men and women in uniform remains an influence on my life and my thinking.

My short time as Agriculture Minister was also rewarding, as were the following years in the agriculture and resources portfolios. As was the case in earlier portfolios, I made many friends and worked with many outstanding stakeholders. I will maintain a strong interest in public policy and hope to make an ongoing contribution to the public debate.

I thank all those who I have served with – parliamentary colleagues, party officials and trade union leaders – many have become lifelong friends. That is also true of many members of the Press Gallery and I thank them for the important role they play in our democracy.

I thank the many people who have served as members of my staff – in my electorate office, during my time as Chief Government Whip, and during my stints as a Minister and Shadow Minister. I have been well served by some outstanding people.

I also thank all members of the Australian Labor Party. In particular, the many local branch members who supported me during nine election campaigns. Many family members and personal friends did so too, and I thank them. I hope we reward them with a Labor Government soon, the country certainly needs one.
I acknowledge the Parliament’s workforce and thank them for their service. We are blessed with great service from the public servants who support our democracy.

I look back with great regret that in more than 25 years in the Parliament I spent only six years in Government. Every year Labor serves in Opposition is a year of lost opportunity for our country. That’s why Labor Senators and Members should resist allowing the perfect to stand in the way of the possible. To be pragmatic. To be realists, not idealists.

At 59 years of age, I’ve spent 60 per cent of my adult life in the Parliament and 80 per cent of it in elected office. I thank my wife Dianne and our children for their patience and sacrifice. I look forward to spending more time with them.

I am confident Hunter will re-elect a Labor candidate.

It’s time to begin a new phase in my life. I thank the people of Hunter for their support over such a long period of time.

I will always remain a loyal member of the Australian Labor Party. The party my mother and father encouraged me to love and dedicate myself to. Australia’s oldest, largest, and most visionary political party.