House debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020


Member for Hunter: Shadow Cabinet

7:50 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Walking away from Labor's shadow cabinet was obviously not an easy decision for me. The reasons are many and obvious. The issue I want to speak to tonight is the impact on my staff. As a result of my decision, three people in my office lost the jobs they held with me. When I spoke at my press conference about my decision three weeks ago I had intended to speak about my shadow ministerial staff and pay tribute to them. Alas, the weight of the moment and the length of the press conference caused me to lose my way and I omitted to do so. So I want to do so tonight.

I'd like to thank and pay tribute to Mark Abernethy and Kate Boyd, who served me loyally, energetically and very effectively for the last 18 months. But I also want to talk about my former chief of staff, Natasa Sikman, who worked with me for more than 10 years—first when I was Chief Government Whip, then a minister—albeit for a short time—and then, for a long period of time, shadow minister for agriculture and later the shadow minister for both agriculture and resources. In opposition you need people with agility and flexibility. In the top job you need an all-rounder, and Natasa Sikman was certainly that. I'm sure she'll be certainly that in a new job in the future.

Over the course of that decade Natasa did media, administration, people management, stakeholder management, legislative management, policy development, parliamentary management and parliamentary tactics, and, of course, had to deal with the madness of her boss! Natasa built Labor's country caucus—one of her bigger achievements. She developed Labor's successful 2009 forestry policy—for the first time in many decades the industry rated Labor's forestry policy to be superior to that of those who now serve in the government—and she did so after extensive negotiation and consultation with industry and unions. It was a magnificent outcome for the party. In the Chief Government Whip's office, she managed to steer the Labor team—a minority government—through around two years without losing a single vote on the floor of the House of Representatives—again, no small achievement. I thank Natasa for her service, loyalty, guidance, advice, patience, skill and hard work. Natasa Sikman is a great loss to me and a great loss, I believe, to the Australian Labor Party. I wish her well and I wish her family well.

The other thing I failed to do three weeks ago was acknowledge and thank the many industry stakeholders I've been engaged with for seven years as the shadow minister for agriculture and for a while as the minister for agriculture but also over the course of the last 18 months as the shadow minister for agriculture and resources. In the agriculture space there are too many to name, but obviously there are the National Farmers Federation; the state based farm groups; industry leaders; the investors themselves; all those in the value chain; all those who produce our food and fibre; our growers and producers; those who work in areas like crop protection, which aren't always obvious, and in animals and medicines, which are always obvious to the casual observer of the agriculture sector; environmental groups who are important stakeholders; and, of course, the trade union movement. In the resources sector: investors and executives in oil, gas and mining companies; the Minerals Council of Australia; the NSW Minerals Council; all those councils and peak groups in every state right around the country; organisations like APPEA and many more; and, of course, again, our great trade union movement.

I've been very fortunate to have fantastic relationships with so many groups and so many people within those groups, and with so many people who work hard, both on the land and, of course, in our industries, like oil and gas and coal and in mining more generally. It's been a great journey for me. I thank them for their consultation and engagement, and I thank many of them, if not most of them—indeed, if not all of them—for their friendship. I make this commitment to both those in agriculture and in resources: Joel Fitzgibbon is going nowhere, and I will continue to be a very strong advocate on their behalf.