As candidates in the Marrickville by-election scramble to secure votes this week ahead of Saturday’s poll, a lesbian mother-of-two has emerged as a frontrunner for the NSW upper house seat left vacant by Labor contender Carmel Tebbutt.

Penny Sharpe, a Marrickville councillor and policy adviser to Tebbutt, told Sydney Star Observer she would nominate for the Legislative Council seat and believed she had a pretty good chance of being successful.

Tebbutt left the position last month to contest the Marrickville lower house seat, formerly held by Andrew Refshauge.

Under NSW law, the Labor Party can choose a replacement for Tebbutt in the Legislative Council without a public vote.

What I can confirm is that the ALP has started the process of who will replace [Tebbutt] in the upper house, and that I will be nominating for that, Sharpe told the Star.

Sharpe, 34, expected the appointment process to be complete by mid-October at the very latest. The successful candidate would become a member of the Legislative Council soon afterwards.

Sharpe, who has had two children as an open lesbian, said gay and lesbian law reform would be a priority if she gained a seat in parliament.

One of the benefits of having me in the parliament [would be] that I do actually have the experience and can actually speak for many gay and lesbian families, Sharpe said.

Equal status for parents in same-sex relationships and their children would be a particular goal.

Before becoming a policy adviser to Tebbutt six years ago, Sharpe worked in the vocational education and training sector.

She won a position on Marrickville Council last year, and said she would see out her term there if she entered parliament.

Community activists have welcomed Sharpe’s decision to stand.

Julie McConnell, co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said Sharpe’s entry into parliament would be a positive step, although the effect it might have on broader reform efforts remained to be seen.

We view it as a positive if another progressive woman takes a position in the upper house, McConnell told the Star.

It’s having that voice and having that personal experience there that is going to be helpful for us, but whether that’s enough, that remains to be seen.

Rainbow Labor convenor Peter FitzPatrick said a parliamentary position for Sharpe would be absolutely amazing.

It would be a real boost for the community, FitzPatrick told the Star.

She’s a lesbian mother herself so you can’t get much better in terms of representing our community than someone who’s affected on a day-to-day basis, FitzPatrick said.

Meantime, the two leading candidates in the Marrickville by-election recruited gay and lesbian reinforcements during the campaign’s closing week.

Labor’s Carmel Tebbutt took to the electorate’s streets with openly lesbian WA Labor parliamentarian Louise Pratt.

Federal opposition leader Kim Beazley and NSW premier Morris Iemma also joined the state education minister on the hustings. 

Greens candidate Sam Byrne campaigned alongside his party’s federal leader, openly gay senator Bob Brown.

Byrne rejected suggestions by Labor he’d waged a dirty tricks campaign against Tebbutt by painting her as a homophobe.

Labor made the accusations in a story that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.

For the Labor Party to accuse us of dirty tricks is a bit of a joke I think, Byrne told the Star.

Byrne in turn accused the ALP of pulling down a number of Greens placards from telegraph poles.

He said he was thrilled with the positive response from residents to his campaign, but admitted winning the seat was a long shot.

It’s been a Labor seat since it’s ever been a seat, so I’m realistic about our chances, Byrne said.

But I think what we’ve said about a number of issues, including gay and lesbian rights issues, have certainly resonated. I think there’s a chance and that anything can happen.

Tebbutt said she was not assuming victory.

It’s up to the voters of Marrickville, she told the Star. I’ll be waiting to see what the outcome is on Saturday.

Democrats candidate Michelle Bleicher, who told the Star she was a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights, said she didn’t expect to win.

We’re not looking to win the seat but we are looking to send a signal that what the Democrats stand for is important, Bleicher said.

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