Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon has quit the opposition front bench – saying his party is spending too much time on climate policy at the expense of regional issues.
The Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources announced his sudden move to the back bench on Tuesday morning following a long-running division within the party over climate policy.
Mr Fitzgibbon said he would step down immediately, but would continue advocating for regional voters from the back bench.
“I will continue to be a very strong voice on their behalf. And I’ll call out policy, including Labor policy, which I don’t think is in their interest,” he said.
“The Labor party has been spending too much time in recent years talking about issues like climate change.”
The outspoken right-faction MP has repeatedly urged his party to support gas and coal jobs while speaking out on climate change and energy policies over the past 18 months.
Mr Fitzgibbon said he does not intend to contest the party’s leadership against opposition leader Anthony Albanese.
“I have no intention of running for the leadership,” he said.
“I’d have to be drafted and in the current climate I’m not confident of that of that occurring.”
Mr Fitzgibbon supports the opposition’s net-zero emissions target by 2050, but has warned against adopting ambitious short-term targets that he thinks would deter voters in regional areas.
He has previously called on his party to consider adopting a “sensible settlement” with the federal government, rather than overreaching on climate policy.
“To become the government, you need to have a climate change and energy policy that can be embraced by a majority of the Australian people,” he said.
“That is something we have failed to do.”
Earlier this year, Labor committed to the net-zero emissions target by the middle of the century, following concerns being raised the party’s climate policy at the last election had deterred some voters in regional areas.
The Labor party is still developing a short-term target ahead of this goal, with Mr Albanese saying this will be “consistent” with reaching the target of net zero emissions by mid-century.
Some in Labor have put forward Joe Biden’s presidential election as evidence an ambitious climate change agenda can be successful at the polls, but Mr Fitzgibbon has sought to downplay these comparisons.
He said the pathway to net-zero emissions should be managed and not be consider a “linear” progression.
“As technology kicks in, the effort will reduce. You don’t have to be halfway there at the halfway point. ” he said.
“Let Scott Morrison govern it. Let’s hold him to account and let’s take some time to see whether he’s on track to meeting the commitment he makes.”
Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has committed to reducing its emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
But Australia has continued to resist adopting the 2050 emissions target.
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