Mining union backs Daniel Repacholi as Labor candidate in Hunter to replace Joel Fitzgibbon

The mining union has thrown its support behind the former Olympic shooter Daniel Repacholi to take over the seat of Hunter from outgoing Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union has also warned Labor is at risk of losing the regional New South Wales seat at the next federal election in the wake of the outspoken Fitzgibbon’s departure.

Repacholi, a former miner at Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley Warkworth coalmine and a competitive sports shooter who represented Australia in his fifth Olympics in Tokyo, has won the backing of Fitzgibbon, and has the institutional support of the CFMEU.

Peter Jordan, the president of the CFMEU’s mining and energy division in northern NSW, said the left-aligned union was backing Repacholi, but he was expecting a contest for the seat.

The Labor right is split, but is considering backing Emily Suvaal, who is linked with the nursing and midwifery union. The left is understood to have control of the branch numbers in Hunter in the event of a rank and file ballot and is considering backing Repacholi.

It is unclear which faction Repacholi is aligned with, but if he joined the left, the right faction in NSW would lose one of its numbers in parliament with Fitzgibbon’s departure.

Labor’s Cessnock branch president and former councillor, Morgan Campbell, and Jeff Drayton, the party’s candidate for the upper Hunter byelection, have also been named as potential candidates.

Jordan said the union wanted to see a pro-mining candidate in the seat who would continue Fitzgibbon’s advocacy for the sector.

“We have a good relationship with him and he is completely supportive of the industry, as you would expect, and the local mining communities, and he would be a great replacement for what Joel has been doing as a strong advocate,” Jordan told Guardian Australia.

“He doesn’t come with any baggage, he has a good profile and I think he has the potential to replace Joel and maintain the seat, because it is going to be very, very difficult.

“Based on the outcome of the last election you would have to say it is going to be a battle.”

Fitzgibbon has been the party’s most vocal internal critic since Labor’s unexpected loss at the last election, when he suffered a near 10% swing against him in the once-safe Labor seat.

The former resources spokesperson subsequently quit shadow cabinet during a protracted internal dispute over climate policy that Fitzgibbon believed was too ambitious and would alienate blue-collar workers.

But his frequent interventions have frustrated colleagues, with many viewing his constant criticism as a drag on the party’s standing in the region.

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In a statement announcing his resignation, Fitzgibbon said he believed Labor would win the next election under Anthony Albanese, provided it remained “pragmatic” and rejected the advocacy of “idealist” progressives.

Jordan said that without Fitzgibbon recontesting the seat, which he had held since 1996, Hunter would be vulnerable to a tilt by One Nation or the Nationals.

On Monday, the Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said the party would campaign on jobs in the seat, saying Fitzgibbon had been a popular member and “we knew that he actually had the nerve and had the vein of a lot of our people”.

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