Labor frontbencher Meryl Swanson has warned Anthony Albanese he is leading the opposition to an election defeat, telling a closed door caucus meeting in Canberra the party is “sleep walking off a cliff”.
Ms Swanson holds the Hunter Valley seat of Paterson and her blunt warning comes just days after NSW Labor lost the state seat of Upper Hunter in a by-election, amid concern in some parts of the caucus about the party’s direction and strategy.
That loss prompted Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon, who holds the neighbouring seat of Hunter, to threaten he could quit the party after it struggled to claim 20 per cent of the primary vote.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during Question Time at Parliament House in CanberraCredit:Alex Ellighausen
Ms Swanson told her colleagues “we sound like we are whinging and people don’t like it”, a reference to the fact that Labor had pushed for big companies such as Harvey Norman to repay their job keeper payments.
“I worry that we are sleep walking off a cliff,” she told the regular Parliamentary sitting week meeting of all Labor MPs, according to several sources in the room.
The MP, who is Labor’s shadow assistant minister for defence, also complained Labor’s message was not cutting through with voters, while in contrast the “clever and cashed-up” government was more effective in getting its message to voters.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age spoke to five MPs who attended the meeting and those MPs all confirmed details of Ms Swanson’s comments. The MPs said Mr Albanese’s response was “not hostile” to Ms Swanson’s concerns but nor did he directly address her concerns.
Instead, the Labor leader is said to have told Ms Swanson that he agreed the Coalition was disciplined and on message and the ALP needed to be too – rather than talking about its internal issues.
That comment was widely interpreted as a rebuke of Mr Fitzgibbon, who has been frequently publicly critical of the party’s policy approach and political strategy.
Labor MP Brian Mitchell, who holds the marginal Tasmanian seat of Lyons, defended the ALP’s strategy and said Labor’s message was getting through to voters.
Labor MP Meryl Swanson warned the party it was sleep walking to an electoral defeat.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
One MP, who asked not to be named so he could discuss private caucus meeting discussions, summed up Ms Swanson’s contribution like this: “she thinks we are headed off a cliff and a growing number of people agree, but if you don’t agree there is a problem then you’re not going to fix it”.
Another MP said the meeting had been difficult and that “a number of us are concerned issues aren’t being addressed”.
“I think everyone is feeling flat and morale is low. A bunch of people are flat because of what Joel is doing [publicly criticising the party] and a bunch of people are flat because he is making some good points that aren’t being addressed”.
Ms Swanson declined to comment on the internal party meeting. Labor currently holds 68 seats in Parliament and must win at least eight seats at the next election to win government.
Also during the meeting, Mr Fitzgibbon and climate spokesman Chris Bowen clashed over Labor’s plan to attempt to block a government proposal that would allow the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to invest in technologies such as carbon capture and storage and hydrogen made from gas.
Mr Fitzgibbon argued against Mr Bowen’s move and said the policy would be popular in the regions.
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