THE Greens’ Jenny Leong, who won the LGBTI-centric seat of Newtown in Saturday’s NSW Election, has told the Star Observer that she would work with returned Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich to amend legislation that allows schools to discriminate against gay students.
Thought to be a “too-close-to-call” contest between Leong and Labor’s openly-gay transport spokesperson Penny Sharpe, the Greens candidate romped home in the inner east seat with a six per cent swing and a 47 per cent primary vote.
The Coalition and Premier Mike Baird remain firmly in control of the lower house although an overall nine per cent swing saw Labor pick up at least 12 seats.
The Greens exceeded their own expectations adding the northern NSW electorates of Ballina and, potentially, Lismore to inner city Newtown and Balmain.
“I always thought we were in with a good shot but the overwhelming community support in Newtown is really inspiring,” Leong told the Star Observer.
She said the Greens’ success in the new seat was built on grassroots community support.
“Newtown is my neighbourhood and it’s an area that shaped my politics so I have an understanding of the vision and the values of people in the area,” Leong said.
Leong – who was previously a campaigner with Amnesty International – said LGBTI priorities included more support for the trans* community and amending exemptions in the anti-discrimination act which allow private schools and colleges to expel gay students.
“I don’t want to see any policy from any party to allow people to pick and choose who has equality,” she said.
“It’s something the Greens have been working on for years and we would work very closely with Alex [Greenwich] on.”
In a reference to Baird’s comment that the Coalition now had a “mandate” to privatise the state’s electricity infrastructure, Greenwich replied: “My mandate is to keep inner city issues on the government agenda and this includes anti-discrimination protections in schools.”
He said he was optimistic a bill to amend the act would pass the lower house – but only if Baird allowed a free vote.
A 10 per cent swing to Greenwich means the Sydney electorate – which includes Darlinghurst and Potts Point, suburbs that have a large number of gay residents – is likely to notch up three decades under independent control.
“People like having an independent member who cares for them not a political party,” he told the Star Observer.
Greenwich added that LGBTI voters had played a significant role in both his and the Greens’ victories.
“It’s really interesting that the parts of the state with the highest LGBTI communities are rejecting the major parties,” he said.
However, Greenwich lamented Sharpe’s exit from Macquarie St amid speculation she is being encouraged to fill the upper house seat she vacated to run for Newtown.
“Penny has been a strong and effective advocate for the community and I hope Labor finds a way for [her] to get back into Parliament,” he said.
Sharpe – who faced questions about Labor leader Luke Foley’s position on marriage equality during the campaign – didn’t answer calls but earlier this month she told the Star Observer she had no plans to return to the upper house.
“If I don’t win, Labor will look to fill the upper house seat but that won’t be me,” she said.
Two of Greenwich’s rivals, the Liberals’ Patrice Pandeleos and Labor’s Edwina Lloyd, said they had been heavily outspent in the campaign which had affected their chances.
However, Lloyd said she was proud that Labor had polled better than the Greens while Pandeleos said Greenwich needed to spend his next term “standing on his own two feet” and concentrate on being a strong member for his constituents.