PENNY Sharpe, one of NSW’s most high-profile openly-gay politicians, is on the verge of re-entering State Parliament despite her recent ballot box loss in the LGBTI-centric electorate of Newtown.
This afternoon, the former shadow transport minister announced she would nominate for the Labor vacancy she created in the Legislative Council in order to contest the lower house seat at last month’s state election.
“If I don’t win Labor will look to fill the upper house seat but that won’t be me,” she said.
However, today Sharpe said she would now seek the endorsement of the Labor Party to return to her previous upper house seat.
“This decision was not my original intention nor my intention after the disappointing result in Newtown,” she said.
“On election night I informed Labor leader Luke Foley that I would not be returning to the NSW Parliament.”
Rather than accept the decision, Sharpe said Foley asked her to rethink that position.
“In the past week I have been overwhelmed by the number of calls and messages I have received from members of the community, members of the Labor Party and many Labor colleagues asking me to return to the Legislative Council,” she said.
“I am grateful for this support and the faith placed in me to be able to contribute as part of a revitalised Labor opposition and as an MP able to work across the parliament on other issues.”
If her nomination proves successful, Sharpe – who was instrumental in persuading the NSW party to adopt marriage equality as an official policy platform – said she would help Labor “hold the Government to account every single day between now and March 2019″.
University of Sydney politics lecturer Dr Stewart Jackson said the vacant upper house seat may not be a shoo-in for Sharpe as other high-profile Labor names had also failed at the recent election.
“There will be a number of people saying I need a place to hang out for the next four years, people who may have been promised [a seat] in the past so it will be a juggling act,” he said.
Jackson said the final decision of who takes Sharpe’s old seat would be made by Labor’s head office taking into account the party factions and who is “going to be most helpful to Luke Foley”.
Sharpe’s campaign is seen to have been affected by Foley’s late embrace of same-sex marriage as well the WestConnex motorway project that has proved unpopular in the inner west.
“It’s a plan B that’s been used before,” noted Jackson, pointing to Fred Nile.
The bête noire of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was unsuccessful in his campaign to win a Senate spot at the 2004 federal election but was able to return to his NSW upper house seat just months later.
Former Mardi Gras co-chair Steph Sands, who has worked with Sharpe on the Women Say Something events, said the politician had a long list of achievements and could affect change from within.
“Having Penny in parliament is good for our community and NSW as a whole,” Sands said.
She also praised Sharpe’s work on marriage equality: “She may belong to Labor but she’s bipartisan and she’s bought a heap of different parties together and that’s just Penny.”