Labor left MPs have lined up to blast outspoken frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon in a fiery meeting of the left caucus over the shadow resources minister constantly freelancing on policy.
Guardian Australia understands that about 15 MPs spoke during the discussion, which was triggered by a briefing from the shadow climate change minister, Mark Butler, about the party’s position on gas.
Butler on Monday night briefed MPs about an internal deliberation convened to try to settle an ongoing public battle between the leader, Anthony Albanese, Butler and Fitzgibbon over Labor’s language regarding gas – a process that ultimately produced talking points stating that Labor would support new gas projects, subject to environmental approvals and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
Butler’s briefing kicked off rolling frustration and anger from MPs about Fitzgibbon’s constant public campaigning since the election defeat in 2019 for Labor to lower its ambition on climate policy – a backlash that seems set to continue into Labor’s regular caucus meeting on Tuesday.
The veteran Labor leftwinger Warren Snowden told the gathering Labor’s factional structure was supposed to impose discipline around internal deliberations and the public communication of policy, and Fitzgibbon, as a convener of the right faction and a senior frontbencher, needed to be held accountable for his frequent public interventions at odds with collective agreements.
Sources at the meeting say senior frontbenchers Tanya Plibersek and Linda Burney were highly critical of their shadow cabinet colleague.
Other left MPs expressed frustration that Fitzgibbon’s interventions were, as one MP put it during the meeting, “doing Scott Morrison’s work for him”.
A number of left MPs had wanted to use the victory of Joe Biden in the US presidential contest to redouble public advocacy for Labor to stay the course on climate action, given the Democrat had prevailed in the contest against Donald Trump with significant commitments driving a national and global transformation to low emissions.
But Labor MPs expressed the view that Fitzgibbon’s sustained interventions, which persisted in media interviews throughout Monday, cut across the plan to frame Labor’s record positively and put pressure on the government.
There was particular fury about Fitzgibbon describing colleagues as “delusional” for taking comfort from the Biden victory’s positive signal about climate action.
The prime minister has faced sustained questions about the government’s climate commitments since Biden was projected as the winner of the US presidential election at the weekend. Biden says after his inauguration America will sign up to a net zero target by 2050 and the US will also rejoin the Paris climate agreement.
The government has an emissions reduction target for 2030 but thus far has rejected calls to sign up to the mid-century commitment.
On Monday, Morrison told parliament Australia would like to achieve a net zero emissions reduction ambition “as quickly as possible” – but one of his own backbenchers, the conservative MP Craig Kelly, later declared the Coalition signing up to net zero would be an act of “political suicide”.
Given Labor’s ongoing policy divisions, Albanese faced questions about how the opposition’s internal differences would be resolved.
Albanese said Labor had signed up to a net zero target, and he said voters would know before the next election “exactly our process of going up to net zero emissions by 2050”.
The Labor leader has previously said he would announce a medium term emissions reduction target consistent with climate change science before the next election – but Monday’s language was more open.
Butler has rejected an idea that Labor adopt the same 2030 target as the government, and Fitzgibbon has threatened to quit the shadow cabinet if the opposition adopts a medium-term emissions reduction target he cannot live with.