The Labor leader was forced to play down suggestions of rats within the Labor ranks on Thursday, following news a group of Right faction MPs were regularly caucusing to influence the party’s position on blue-collar industry.
Several MPs said they had been “chastised” by either Mr Albanese or his allies after Ten News revealed they had dined regularly with colleagues at Canberra’s Otis restaurant to discuss its climate and resources policy.
Mr Albanese met face-to-face with Mr Fitzgibbon, Labor’s resources spokesman, on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the revelations.
But members of the group hosed down any direct threat to Mr Albanese’s leadership, suggesting they were “trying to help him by pushing for a centrist policy”.
“Albo (Mr Albanese) has every right to be pissed off because the threat on his position is a massive beat up,” one senior member said.
“It is about forming a coherent policy to help us win an election, not to again tear us apart.”
Another MP said the group had been formed by Mr Fitzgibbon to help bring “frustrated conservatives into the tent”.
Members of the group have met regularly since last year, including after Labor caucus meetings, at cafes in Parliament House and at suburban restaurants following parliamentary sessions.
A Queensland MP, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said there were concerns among the group that Mr Albanese had often failed to support new domestic coal mines or privately funded coal-fired power stations when asked in interviews or at press conferences.
Leaked correspondence between members, revealed by Ten News, included expressions of frustration at questions submitted to the tactics committee for question time being ignored.
They had also expressed the strong desire that members of the group speak up to ensure they help the opposition be more competitive electorally.
Mr Albanese dismissed questions about the group on Thursday as the Morrison government seized on the divisions.
“I suspect that people went out to dinner last night too and they had dinner in a few restaurants. I did,” Mr Albanese told reporters.
“That’s what happens in Canberra. People go out and people chat about ideas. There is nothing unusual about this.”
He said Labor was “united” in its position that climate change was real and he had outlined a future work vision statement, which was “unanimously agreed to by the caucus”, to deliver more jobs, lower emissions and lower energy prices.
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, widely regarded as a future leader, said he was not a member of the group and was unaware of its existence.
“There’s nothing unusual about colleagues catching up for dinner, and there’s certainly nothing unusual about people getting together to talk about policy. So I think this is getting a bit more attention than it deserves,” Mr Chalmers told ABC.
He also said Labor’s policies towards new coal-fired power generators won’t make it harder for the party to win votes in Queensland.
“There’s also a recognition that we can find a way to do something about climate change without abandoning some of our traditional strengths and being cognisant of the impact on some of the communities particularly in Central and North Queensland. That is not beyond us.”
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra