By Lauren O’Connor
Luke Foley won the NSW Labor Leadership in a caucus meeting on the first Monday of the new year. He became opposition leader unopposed. A committed Catholic and family man who reportedly consulted his wife Edel McKenna, three children and mother before entering the ballot for opposition leader.
Foley was considered the best candidate by the Labor Party to lead the party into the March election.
The change followed the resignation of former opposition leader John Robertson over a DOCS letter he signed allowing Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis to visit his children.
Ministers Michael Daley and Steve Whan were both considered serious contenders for the position but withdrew from the race before the meeting.
Foley is a career politician with Trade Union roots. He started in student politics at the University of New South Wales where studied Arts, continuing as secretary to the NSW National Services Union and as assistant general secretary to the NSW Labor Party until five years ago.
His previous portfolios include minister for the environment, planning and infrastructure and he is considered to be of the left-leaning Labor faction, telling parliament in his 2010 inaugural speech ‘anti-totaliarianism is the heart of my politics.’
“Above all, I am Labor, committed to equality, solidarity and social justice,” he said. “I believe in the principles of the party and in a party of principle…I reject the pursuit of power,” he said.
Ironically, Foley now finds himself in a position of power, and considerable pressure facing an election and the task of handling a party that is coming unglued.
NSW Greens MP John Kaye points to Foley’s conservative stance on same-sex marriage to cast doubt on the legitimacy of his left-wing politics.
“We have now taken a step backwards from John Robertson, who for all his other failings at least acknowledged the rights of same sex couples to marriage equality, to a leader who voted against it on religious grounds,” Mr Kaye said.
In defense of his belief in marriage conventions Foley told the Sunday Telegraph growing up without a male role model effects his decisions on same-sex marriage.
Alex Greenwich the Independent Member for Sydney took issue with the justification and told City Hub many people will be disappointed that NSW is now the only state with a Labor leader that opposes marriage equality.
“I would also say that Luke Foley’s position on this is quite untenable. He supported same sex adoption so if you support same-sex adoption … how can you then oppose legislation that would give those children the possibility of having married parents?”
Greenwich has campaigned for marriage equality for over seven years and passed a bill in 2014 to ensure same-sex couples married overseas would be recognised in the NSW Relationships Register.
He said he hopes the appointment “will not change their position on anti-discrimination legislation” and that both Foley and Premier Baird would ‘evolve’ on the issue.
“I wouldn’t say the fact that they are people of faith would in any way impede their ability to support reform,” he said.
“I’ve seen people like Malcom Turnbull, Tanya Plibersek, Teresa Gambaro and Kelly O’Dwyer all go from positions of opposition to positions of support for reform.”
On Jan 4 the National Director of Australian Marriage Equality Rodney Croome joined Greenwich in encouraging the new opposition leader to consult openly with the LGBTI.
“We urge him to meet with same-sex couples and their children so he can hear for himself why marriage equality matters,” Croome said.
“Labor cannot whole-heartedly say it backs equality and dignity for all, while it installs leaders who oppose marriage equality.”
In 2010 the NSW Legislative Council passed a symbolic motion in favour of marriage equality touted as a ‘step forward toward equality for couples’ by openly gay Shadow Minister for Transport Penny Sharpe. Yesterday the member’s office declined to comment on the issue.
Marriage Equality is just one issue Foley will have to navigate with care, especially as it is a deviation from the accepted Labor party line. Though Federal marriage legislation is the target of much campaigning, members of the LGBTI community are watching this space.
Alex Greenwhich has warned that an opposition leader who does not support same sex marriage ultimately carries a potentially fatal flaw.
“I would say for Luke Foley in particular this issue will plague him just like it plagued Julia Gillard during her time as federal Labor Leader,” Greenwich said.