Fitzgibbon's retirement intensifies Labor's coal question at next election

By Georgie Moore
Polling shows 34 per cent of Hunter voters support new coal and gas plants. (AAP)

Labor's electoral balancing act between the push for stronger climate action and votes in coal-rich parts of the country is set to become even trickier.

Retiring Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon could be replaced by Olympic shooter and former miner Daniel Repacholi in the NSW coal region's seat.

Mr Fitzgibbon has been an outspoken pro-coal voice within Labor and is calling time after 25 years in parliament.

He credits bringing Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to a "centre ground", balancing the Hunter's key industry with meaningful climate action.

"I believe he has struck a very good balance and I think as a result he's well placed to lead us to an election victory," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Labor holds Hunter with a three per cent margin after a swing against the party in the 2019 federal election.

It faces a tightrope walk between coal country votes and addressing demands to increase Australia's climate commitments ahead of the next poll.

Australian Conservation Foundation polling shows 34 per cent of Hunter voters support new coal and gas plants.

Mr Albanese has flagged a Labor government will work alongside the US, seeking to repair its own international reputation, to get Australia out of the climate "naughty corner".

The Labor leader considers the issue one of national security for Australia and Pacific nations amid rising competition between the US and China.

"It's an important part of our national security interests, not just for our own national security but throughout the region as well," Mr Albanese said.

The coalition is engaged in its own climate tussle over updated targets to bring to UN talks in Glasgow in November.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison remains locked in negotiations to secure his deputy Barnaby Joyce's support for a 2050 net zero emissions target as international pressure on Australia increases.

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