Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has rejected suggestions that blue-collar workers have turned their back on the party following a loss in the Upper Hunter byelection.
In contrast, fellow Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon, whose federal seat covers a similar area, argued that the sharp decline Labor saw in its primary vote over the weekend should act as a wake-up call.
“They [voters] say we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk,” he told reporters.
Fitzgibbon resigned from the shadow cabinet halfway through last year’s term due to opposing views on climate change.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison held similar views, saying the ALP had lost touch with blue-collar workers.
In response, Albanese said, “The evidence is there that is not the case.”
He told ABC radio that Labor’s recent state election victories in the resource-rich states of Queensland and Western Australia proved otherwise.
Albanese also pointed to the popularity of independent candidates and minor parties at the Upper Hunter byelection.
He also accused the Coalition government of presiding over an increasingly casualised coal-mining workforce and the use of labour-hire firms.
“The current government does not stand up for miners, doesn’t stand up for any workers, and is undermining the pay and conditions of those miners,” he said.
“I won’t cop this idea of Scott Morrison—the party of WorkChoices—somehow being the friend of the workers. It’s just nonsense.”
Despite the byelection being triggered by sexual assault allegations against former state Nationals MP Michael Johnson, his successor Dave Layzell managed to hold the seat with a two-party-preferred swing towards the Nationals.
To win the next federal election, the ALP must win back seats in resource-rich Queensland electorates while holding on to the Hunter Valley electorate, where it suffered major swings against it at the last election.