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Greens silent over Newtown battle

Candidates Jenny Leong and Fiona Byrne

A high stakes Greens preselection campaign is underway for the newly-created electorate of Newtown, with former Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne battling serial candidate Jenny Leong in the notionally Greens seat.

Nominations opened on Tuesday, and so high is the pressure surrounding the vote that candidates will not speak to media. Greens members elected to have NSW MLC Mehreen Faruqi appointed as spokesperson for the preselection.

But Ms Faruqi declined to answer specific questions about the campaign because the preselection process had already commenced. In an email, she stated: “The new state seat of Newtown is one of the most environmentally aware and socially progressive areas in NSW.”

“The community here have demonstrated their passion for marriage equality, environmental protection, workers rights, stopping coal seam gas mining, integrated public transport and public education,” Ms Faruqi said.

“The Greens have consistently demonstrated their commitment to these issues including investing in TAFE and opposing the $12 billion Westconnex toll road and diverting these funds to efficient and affordable public transport. We look forward to standing with the community and continue to do so in the future.”

Ms Byrne was mayor of Marrickville for 12 months in 2010 and 2011, and narrowly lost the 2011 state election for the seat of Marrickville to Labor’s Carmel Tebbutt. There was speculation at the time that Ms Byrne’s advocacy of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel had cost her some support.

Ms Leong unsuccessfully ran for the federal seat of Sydney in 2004 and 2007. She was also a candidate for the 2004 City of Sydney council election, and unsuccessfully sought preselection again in 2008.

More recently, she was campaign co-ordinator for Cate Faehrmann’s failed senate bid in 2013. Ms Faehrmann is seen as on the more conservative side of the party’s spectrum, and Ms Leong’s closeness to her could be a weakness in the Newtown area’s more radical branches.

The newly-created electorate takes in parts of four existing Greens constituencies; Inner Sydney, South Sydney, Petersham/Newtown and Marrickville. A well-placed source within the party told the Independent there was “tension in the mix” because of the strong likelihood that the winner will enter state parliament.

Ms Faehrmann is a member of Petersham/Newtown but the branch failed to endorse her when she unsuccessfully ran for the position of convenor of the NSW Greens.

“She does not have that much support in that area,” the source said.

And the decision by Labor MLC Penny Sharpe to throw her hat in the ring for Newtown was a “kick up the bum” for the Greens, he said. Ms Sharpe is a popular figure in the community and has been at the forefront of the marriage equality movement within the ALP.

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