New Greens MP Jenny Leong, who won the seat of Newtown in the March 28 NSW election, attributes the Greens’ high votes in several parts of NSW to its MPs standing up against corruption and over-development.
The Greens' support for community-led campaigns — in particular opposition to coal seam gas and the WestConnex road project — also won them a bigger hearing.
Leong told Green Left Weekly that the 10% swing received in Newtown and 6% swing to Jamie Parker MP in Balmain was the result of “strong support” for the Greens' focus on “re-activating and re-engaging people in politics”.
Tamara Smith won a 4.5% swing to the Greens in Ballina, while Adam Guise missed out on winning Lismore despite a 7% swing.
Leong said: “Those who say the Greens are only supported by the wealthy fail to look at the numbers. You don’t get the kind of primary vote we got unless you get the support from a cross-section of the community.
“We said we didn’t want Sydney to become a place of the uber-wealthy: we ran a campaign to protect renters’ rights. The Greens came in ahead at Redfern Town Hall; no one can say the most privileged live around there.”
Leong said she would prioritise stopping WestConnex and campaigning for affordable housing for Aboriginal people at the Redfern Block.
“We shouldn’t pretend we’re starting from scratch on the WestConnex campaign, but the result for Newtown is an extra boost,” she said.
“The strongest way to influence Macquarie Street is to have strong campaigns in our neighbourhoods — and we’ll support that through the new Newtown Electorate office by bringing local councils, residents' groups, public transport activists and progressive unionists together.
“We also need to continue to call for transparency in the NSW parliament as Senator Lee Rhiannon has been doing at a federal level and Mehreen Faruqi at the state level.
“But we cannot wait. Work is happening now on WestConnex. So I'll be supporting non-violent direct action tactics to halt the construction, as I have done with residents who locked on to the exploratory drills during the election campaign. The same tactic helped build the successful campaign to stop the East West Link in Melbourne, and we need to do the same here.”
Newtown is the first seat to include both sides and both ends of King Street, so Leong wants to bring the Newtown Business Precinct on board with the No WestConnex campaign in a bigger way.
Fighting for affordable housing for Aboriginal people is important, Leong said, because: “Self-determination and prior and informed consent is a pre-requisite to finding a solution.
“I'll be talking to all those involved, and I'm aware it will be a long and challenging campaign. The problem is the result of both major parties allowing overdevelopment and planning interests to come before the best interests of the communities.”
A major issue that the two big parties have tacitly agreed to mothball is abortion rights.
Abortion law varies between states and NSW is the only state where it is still governed by the 1900 Crimes Act.
Leong disagrees with Labor's view to not disturb the status quo, which depends on court rulings that have made abortion accessible.
“The time is right to get abortion out of the Crimes Act,” she said. “But it’s going to be tough because both houses of parliament have to agree if we're to get the bill through.”
MP Mehreen Faruqi has introduced a bill to the Legislative Council to repeal Sections 82-84 of the Crimes Act which govern abortion rights.
“This is a clear example of parliament lagging behind the community’s views – partly because of the undue influence of the religious right.
“It’s possible that Fred Nile's Christian Democratic Party will hold the balance of power in the next NSW Legislative Council. But this is only relevant if the ALP and Coalition have different views on a bill.”
Leong is also keen to stop the exemptions contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act for independent schools and religious organisations, and work with independent MP Alex Greenwich to introduce an Anti-Discrimination Bill.
She also wants the NSW parliament to adopt something similar to Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
“The charter has helped those vulnerable and at risk people including those with disabilities and who want access to education,” Leong said. “It will be a long campaign, but I think we could get cross-party support.”