Come March 28, the new state seat of Newtown will form the jewel in the crown for either the ALP or the Greens. Both parties are competing furiously for the progressive heartland, putting up a pair of impressive candidates who explained to Ciao’s Nigel Bowen exactly what they stand for.
Destined to become the first openly lesbian member of the NSW lower house if she wins, Shadow Transport Minister Sharpe, Penny Sharpe, resigned from the Legislative Assembly to prevent what’s long been safe Labor territory from falling into Green hands.
What are the three big issues in this campaign?
People talk to me about the need for an inner city high school for the growing population. Labor just announced that it would be looking to open one in 2018 and that wouldn’t require a sell-off of our electricity assets to fund it.
The WestConnex has been a huge issue. Our commitment is that we will duplicate the M5 and take it where it should go, which is not to the bottom of Sydney Park. We’ll halt the acquisitions and make sure there are no more clearways on King Street.
The other issue is after-school care and childcare. We’re committed to looking at ways to expand the number of places and looking at working with the schools to expand before and after school care.
What is Luke Foley’s position on gay marriage?
The Labor Party supports gay marriage. Luke says that he supports marriage equality and I welcome that. In the last 10 years we’ve gone from 38 per cent of people supporting marriage equality to 72 per cent. That means that five million people have changed their minds and Luke is one of those. I welcome it and I’ll continue to work until we actually get it done.
The voters were waiting with baseball bats for Labor at the last election. Why should they forgive and forget now, especially given the corruption revelations?
Because Labor has done some very hard yards to reform itself. We’ve put in place a whole range of new measures in relation to checks and balances. In this electorate we went out to the community and said, “You help us select the candidate for this area.” Fifteen hundred people voted to give me the opportunity to be the candidate. That’s a really important measure that [reflects] reform that makes me more accountable to the community, which I think’s really important. What happened [with the corruption] was appalling and anyone who believes in Labor values was disgusted and I hope those people go to jail.
Many people in this area were put off by Bob Carr’s pandering to the likes of the Daily Telegraph and Alan Jones and cynical law and order campaigns – would things be different this time around?
Luke will be a very good leader for Labor. He understands the need to balance social justice, the environment and the economy and build consensus.
Why should local progressives vote for you?
Because I’m going to be a senior minister in the Labor Party in a government if we’re elected and I’ll actually be able to deliver. The difference is I can actually get things done rather than hope to lobby the government of the day and maybe get things done.
Given the current electoral volatility could Labor get back into government just one term after suffering such an epic defeat?
There was a 16 per cent swing last time, so it would be a fairly major turnaround but I think the electorate is genuinely much more volatile than it has been.
After going up against Tanya Plibersek in the federal Seat of Sydney a couple of times, former Amnesty International campaign co-ordinator Jenny Leong is determined to make sure Newtown is Green from the get-go
What are the three big issues in this campaign?
The main issue is WestConnex and the idea of plunging billions of dollars into a motorway. Businesses are worried about the risk of a clearway being imposed on King Street, [then there’s] the risk of loss of green space and the acquisition of people’s homes. We have the Liberal Baird government going along with an Abbott agenda to build roads and the Labor Party that, as an alleged Opposition, supports the idea of delivering Stage 1 and 2 of the project.
Another issue is housing affordability and the shift to more people becoming long-term renters. The Greens are proposing to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to to allow renters to put down roots in their community.
The third issue is renewables; the Greens’ position is to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.
Do you think it’s a tad cynical of Labor to run a lesbian candidate in Newtown?
It’s understandable that people would be feeling a little bit cynical around the idea of a sudden a shift in mind of the Labor leader. The bigger issue – and this is not about what I think about an issue or what another candidate thinks about an issue – is how we vote in parliament. The people of Newtown are electing someone to represent their views in the parliament not inside a party machine and they know where I stand and where the Greens stand when it comes to voting on equality.
What impact will you actually be able to have given the Greens won’t form government?
Clover Moore and Alex Greenwich have shown that strong progressive voices can have a real influence on the political agenda. People are seeing that having the Greens there with our strong progressive views is shifting and shaping the agenda.
If elected, would you prefer to be lobbying a Labor or Liberal Government?
We need to see this Liberal government gone. They’re going to privatise our electricity assets, they’re proposing to sell off Australian Technology Park and they’re proposing to deliver this WestConnex motorway.
Given the grief the Greens used to cop over its liberal drug policies are you bemused to see the likes of Alan Jones campaigning for medical cannabis?
That is a clear example of how the Greens can set the agenda. It might be now that people can have a reasonable conversation about the idea of medicinal cannabis use. I would hope that in years to come we can have those same reasoned conversations about a transition to one hundred per cent renewable energy.
You’ve long been involved been in issues that have a racial dimension – how have you found being the Eurasian face of the Greens in the Seat of Newtown?
My dad is Malaysian Chinese, my mum was born in Victoria from English parents. My background influences my commitment to speak out against any form of discrimination. I believe there is a need to have our public representatives never compromise when it comes to discrimination and equality because what you see when they do play the race card or gender card or sexuality card is a real impact on individual people’s lives.
How hipster are they?
Sure, our candidates tick plenty of the diversity boxes between them but are they really in touch with the day-to-day concerns of the average Newtownian? We administered this pop quiz to find out.
How much does a kilo of fair trade, organic quinoa cost?
Jenny: We were just saying the other night quinoa is soooo 2014.
Penny: I don’t know because I don’t eat quinoa.
What pubs on King St serve craft beers?
Jenny: So many! But I should do a special shout out to my favourite place to play trivia on Wednesday nights – the Union.
Penny: The Union does, the Botany View does, I’m sure the Marlborough does, I assume the Bank does. I’d say almost all of them; Young Henrys have been very successful!
How much money should one leave after a meal at Lentil as Anything?
Jenny: What you can afford to contribute, which is why it’s so great!
Penny: As much as you can afford but probably more than you think.
The Whitlams most Newtown-centric album is?
Jenny: I’d have to say the album that features the song about the Sando.
Penny: Aren’t they all about Newtown? I’d say Eternal Nightcap if I had to pick one.
Verdict: Despite a shameful ignorance of ethically sourced quinoa prices that makes Chris Bowen’s recent mental blank over tax thresholds fade into insignificance, a reasonable performance from both, earning them each three mason jars out of a possible four.
*Both candidates’ answers have been edited for space reasons.