Interview with Nat Barr and Joel Fitzgibbons

NAT BARR: Veteran Labor MP and Sunrise Joel Fitzgibbon will retire from Federal Parliament at the next election. Joel quit the frontbench last year after an internal dispute over climate policy. He joins us now, along with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Good morning to you both. Joel, why are you quitting?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Good morning team. It’s always a difficult decision, but I'm very comfortable with that. I will not be a candidate at the next federal election. I depart very happy and satisfied, I'm very proud of my work over the course of the last 25 years locally, nationally and internationally. I leave feeling very confident now that Labor can win the next election under the leadership of Anthony Albanese see, and I'm enormously grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me, both by my electorate, the Australian Labor Party and by a very supportive family.

NAT BARR: Happy and satisfied? It doesn't sound like you have been in recent times. You said you wanted to put labour back in the Labor Party, there seem to be tensions within the party, are you abandoning ship right now?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, not at all. I feel I can now depart. I, in part, made the decision on election night in 2019, I've changed my mind a couple of times over the course of the last two and a half or so years, but I now feel very confident that Labor has come back to the centre ground, has learned from the mistakes of 2019, and if it focuses on the things that are really important to people – they are the health and safety of their families, the economic security of their family and the hopes and aspirations of their family, including their children – then Labor will do very, very well.

NAT BARR: Barnaby, what do you think? Do you think Joel succeeded in putting Labor back to the centre?

BARNABY JOYCE: He did a gallant attempt at it and I wish Joel all the very best. It’s a bit like a requiem, isn’t it? To die, obviously you're going to get him back working in the garden, to the cats. I don't know why any person has cats, but he’s got them. To the Cyprus Lakes Golf Club, he'll almost wear a track around the joint. What he tried to do – I'll give Joel a plug. When I'm on the hustings and I want to move the crowd and get them going boo-hiss, boo-hiss, I’ll always throw in a name of someone from the Labor Party I know they won’t like, if it’s not working for me. I’ll say, “What about Mr Boom-Boom, if Mr Boom-Boom was prime minister”, and they go boo-hiss, boo-hiss. “Or what about if Mrs Bam was the prime minister?”, and they go boo-hiss, boo-hiss. But in my crowd, I don’t say Joel because they say, “Oh, yeah – that could work”. We always had to keep a really close eye on Joel because we knew that he actually had the nerve and had the vein of a lot of our people. Now, it’s back to sparring again. I know I can fix up a problem for the Labor Party now. It's all fixed. We’ve got the problem with Fowler. Fowler already had an endorsed candidate, so we can move Kristina Keneally to the Hunter Valley, that would work.

NAT BARR: Yes, Joel – let’s get your view on that because the Labor Party apparently parachuting Kristina Keneally out to Cabramatta, a lot of people not happy about that, maybe there is a role for her there in your old seat.

BARNABY JOYCE: Muswellbrook.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: It’s so obvious that Barnaby is here to help and I thank him for all of his comments. We have some outstanding local members here in the Hunter electorate, so it’s a little bit early to talk about who succeeds me. It’s not surprising that…

BARNABY JOYCE: Kristina’s great…

[LAUGHTER]

NAT BARR: Joel, did you think of going as an independent? You seemed to be pretty unhappy with how Labor has been going, particularly in the last couple of years. Did you think, “Forget this, I’ll go out on my own”?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Never cede the ground to your internal opponents, Nat. I knew that if I worked hard at it Labor would see some common sense and come back to the people its traditionally represented, recognise the important role the resources sector, for example, plays in our national economy, earning significant export income and the rest. Anthony Albanese has dispensed with all those crazy tax policies we took to the last election, he’s committed to leaving in place the legislated tax cuts for all Australians, he’s been to a coal mine and talked about our support for the coal and gas sectors, just to name a couple. We are well placed. And look, it’s not as if we’re up against a good Government.

NAT BARR: Okay…

BARNABY JOYCE: You could leave it. Joel, I wish you all the very best, you represent what the Labor Party should be about – the Labor Party that my old man used to vote for. I wish you all the best. You gave it your best shot.

NAT BARR: There you go. That’s a nice spot to finish.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thank you, Barnaby. I'll buy you a beer in Canberra when we’re there next, if they ever let us back in.

NAT BARR: And as you say, Joel, you're not dead yet – we’ve still got to get to an election. Thank you very much, we’ll see you next week.