"I'll continue to be outspoken" says Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon regarding energy policy

BIG PLANS: Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon is planning an eventful 2020 at both a local and national level.
BIG PLANS: Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon is planning an eventful 2020 at both a local and national level.

EDUCATION, jobs, energy and a response to the bushfire and drought crisis will be the focus of Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon in 2020.

After being largely absent on the national media front prior to the federal election last year, the long-standing member spent the second half of 2019 reasserting himself as one of the main men within the Labor Party and became vocal on a variety of issues.

Most notable was his stance on the coal industry, which he remains an adamant supporter of despite the renewable energy-centric sentiment of many of his colleagues.

He is in favour of keeping coal mines and coal-fired power plants open for the foreseeable future, with the aim of preventing less developed countries from producing their own, dirtier form of the mineral.

In a true rarity, that's a view shared by state Upper Hunter member Michael Johnsen, who also has the advantage of watching much of the mines' royalties flow through to the NSW Government.

The NSW Budget 2019-20 Half-Yearly Review revealed the sector is set to provide just over $1.8 billion to the state this financial year, although that has been revised down by $185 million since June.

However, Mr Fitzgibbon's most immediate concern regards the bushfire crisis and gaining funding to help his constituents overcome it.

He has taken aim at Prime Minister Scott Morrison for acting too slowly on disaster relief efforts, as well as accusing him of overlooking the drought that was already wreaking havoc across the region.

"After a slow start the PM has finally got around to putting in place a response to the fires - and funded that response," he said while visiting Muswellbrook on Tuesday.

"My concern is that he describes it as a recovery plan, and while recovery is really important, it suggests that we were going just fine before the fires came along.

"But, the reality is that we remain in the grip of the worst drought in our history and the government is still without a comprehensive national drought plan."

Carbon mitigation and the better management of forest systems are two of the major challenges moving forward if the country is to avoid another horror fire season like the one we're currently seeing, according to the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources.

He's also proposing the coalition government adopt a "rural reconstruction plan", which would involve safeguarding the area from future droughts and building infrastructure to help diversify the local economy.

The cost of such a project would be large, but he claims people expect the government to spend money in times of need, and Mr Morrison must stop placing so much emphasis on delivering a surplus.

Not all of his concerns surround climate issues though - well, not directly - as jobs are at the front and centre of Mr Fitzgibbon's mind.

He claims that city-based critics of the resources and agriculture industry don't understand their importance to regional areas, and is intent on securing job safety for Hunter residents.

Ensuring a strong future for the coal mining industry is key to his 2020 plans, although in the long term he acknowledges a transition is needed.

Labor, having not been in power since the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era of 2007 to 2013, has hindered Mr Fitzgibbon's ability to gain meaningful funding, but he insists much investment is needed over the coming decades to keep the electorate thriving.

Addressing "stubborn unemployment" will also be a major challenge for the former Minister for Defence, and he said the solution stems from the education system.

"We'll work further on those people who for many reasons have difficulty accessing the workforce, and that starts with the very young and making sure people have access to child care, preschool and good public schools," he stated.

"The majority of our children are educated in our public school system, and therefore we need to make sure they get a good education within that system."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the candid shadow minister admitted he would continue to be just that - outspoken.

Whether it be in the face of his own party's views or a no-holds-barred assessment of somebody or something's failure in his eyes, Mr Fitzgibbon will be at the forefront of many media headlines this year.

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