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The time’s right: Fitzgibbon

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After much toing and froing in recent months, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon feels now’s the time to start a new phase in his life.

It’s why he announced today that he would retire from politics, after almost three decades, at the next federal election.

But, I don’t think those who know him well would be too surprised by his decision.

In fact, he’s even hinted at that call on several occasions.

“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,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“I called her to say I did not plan to be a candidate at the next federal election.

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

“On the evening of 18 May 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 its 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 I’d 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.”

The Cessnock-based politician admits that tenet has been his “mission” for the past 28 months.

“I’ve constantly urged Labor to take back the centre ground and to focus on the things that matter most to the majority of Australians,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“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.”

Although a strong advocate for the mining industry, which enveloped his federal seat of Hunter, Mr Fitzgibbon said climate change was 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,” he stated.

“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 the Right and the Left continue to see opportunity in perpetuating the climate wars.

“This political game must end.”

Mr Fitzgibbon secured Hunter after being elected to the lower house in 1996, when Liberal John Howard became Prime Minister.

He said it had been a “great honour and privilege” to represent those residents in his electorate for the past 25 years.

“Over that period the Hunter’s economy has modernised and grown both stronger and more diverse,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“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, among 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 period 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.”

Mr Fitzgibbon expressed his gratitude to those he dealt with as well.

“I thank all those who I have served with – parliamentary colleagues, party officials and trade union leaders – many have become lifelong friends,” he said.

“That is also true of many members of the Press Gallery.

“I thank those who have served as members of my staff – in my electorate office, during my time as Chief Government Whip and 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, which I appreciate.”

However, he does have one great sorrow.

“I look back with regret that I spent only six years in government,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“Every year Labor serves in Opposition is a year of lost opportunity for our country.

“That’s why Labor Senators and members need to be realists, not idealists. 

“At 59 years of age, I’ve spent 60% of my adult life in the Parliament and 80% 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 also thank the people of Hunter for their support over such a long period of time.”

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