My resignation speech to the NSW Parliament

This is my final contribution in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. In a career spanning 24 years, I have represented inner Sydney as an Independent, initially as the Member for Bligh and following the 2007 boundary changes, as the Member for Sydney. The seat in its various forms with the harbour as the northern boundary has extended as far east as Point Piper and Bellevue Hill, as far west as Ultimo/Pyrmont and as far south as Redfern and Darlington. During this time there have been seven Premiers of the State and five speakers of this House.

I am being forced out of Parliament because of legislation enacted by the O'Farrell Government with the support of the Shooters and Fishers Party and the Fred Nile group which bans the holding of elected positions in both state and local governments. I have held both positions since 2004 by majority popular vote, state and local, but my recent election as Lord Mayor of Sydney for a third term means I have to resign my state seat following the passage of the Government's legislation. This decision had previously and properly been the choice of the people since the beginning of representative government in this State in 1856. And I note that in the recent local government elections the people voted overwhelmingly for Joanna Gash as Mayor of Shoalhaven in the full knowledge that she is also a sitting member of Federal Parliament.

The negative implications of this legislation include the unchecked manipulation of our democratic rights by the Liberal/National Party Government using its parliamentary majority to further its own political interests at the expense of our democratic rights.

Worse still is the worrying precedent of the removal by Parliament of a sitting member elected by the people.

There was no referendum, the Government's intention was not flagged prior to the 2011 state election, and the vice regal office shockingly has no role in defending our basic democratic rights against predatory political parties, but it would seem is merely a rubber stamp for majority governments.

Independents and minor parties with progressive and reformist agendas are always going to be in the cross hairs of the major parties, vested interests and some elements of a cowardly and bullying media fighting to resist change in their efforts to maintain the status quo.

I came into politics as a mother with two small children who wanted improvements to my inner Sydney neighbourhood. Redfern was rundown with fast moving traffic in almost every street, few facilities, and neglected parks with rusty play equipment.

My only tenuous connection with politics was a great grandfather, James McInnerny, a farmer from Gundagai, who was appointed a country Labor Member of the Legislative Council, but died before taking up his seat.

I am independent. I have never belonged to or been associated with a political party, and in state elections I have never allocated preferences to any party or candidate.

My early dealings with local and state representatives were an eye opener, and I believed that their responses could and should have been much more helpful.

I wanted grass in my local park, but was told by my Ward Alderman that the existing asphalt made it easier to sweep up broken glass. I got equally unhelpful responses from state politicians when I moved on to tackle one way speeding traffic in Bourke and Crown Streets, I was told I needed 500 signatures on a petition. So I walked the streets, pushing the pram with my young daughter by the hand, and got the signatures.

I formed a community group, we met in our living room and, when local elections came round, I stood for council when I couldn't find anyone else to do it. I became an Alderman and finally got grass in that park! And in my first election after being amalgamated into the City of Sydney, I got two people out of three onto the City Council representing the once all Labor Redfern Ward.

I ran for State Parliament in 1988 after the Unsworth Labor Government sacked the City Council in 1987 out of fear of an independent majority and my then candidacy for Lord Mayor. I scraped in against the tide and I am still here 24 years later, now being ousted by Parliament, not the people.

Ironically 17 years later in 2004, similar circumstances sparked my unintended return to local government when the Carr Labor Government re-amalgamated the City with South Sydney in a cynical grab for power and my supporters encouraged me to run as Lord Mayor which I did successfully.

It is comforting to know that political skulduggery is most often sooner or later countered by voter retribution.

I took my grassroots principles to all levels of government based on direct and active representation, hard work and a free voice for peoples' aspirations and concerns. Using the Ted Mack model, I produced and distributed regular newsletters using fundraisers to fund them. The first ones were pretty amateur and were illustrated by my husband's sketches, but they established all important contacts with my constituents, which is still the case today.

In the early days press releases were delivered by hand to commissioners in Holt Street and at the Herald Offices in Broadway, and it was a break through when we got the after hours use of a fax machine owned by a designer in Cleveland Street.

I came to local and state Government with a number of issues and concerns which included:

  • equal rights and opportunities for all constituents
  • resident amenity including the reduction of through traffic in residential areas and a better deal for public housing tenants
  • defending the public estate especially the ongoing alienation of public land
  • development excellence and saving and renewing the best of our heritage
  • increasing facilities for a growing city population and
  • addressing the urban problems of homelessness and drug law reform.

I remember when I went to see John Hatton when I first considered contesting the seat of Bligh as an Independent and he told me "I have a good feeling about you". He became my mentor, pushing the importance of accountability and transparency in Government and always maintaining grassroots support.

I also acknowledge my independent colleague Peter McDonald, who together with John Hatton we held the Balance of Power between 1991 and 1995. Our groundbreaking Charter of Reform included the introduction of four year fixed Parliamentary terms and greater independence of the judiciary. We achieved the Royal Commission into police corruption, introduced whistleblower legislation, increased the independence of the Ombudsman and Auditor General and established a Legal Services Commissioner. These reforms were described as the most progressive in any Westminster System in the 20th Century.

And they are reforms that no major party will initiate without being forced to!

I'd also like to acknowledge the support over the years of a number of strong independents particularly Greg Piper, Richard Torbay, David Barr, Dawn Fardell, Peter Draper, Rob Oakeshott, and Peter Besseling. While we have not always voted together we share the desire to represent our electorates and be accountable to them without the intervention of a party machine or vested interests.

At a time when governments are afraid to lead and are increasingly focused on day-to-day polls in marginal seats, strong Independents are essential to pressure governments to do what is right for the wider public good and our future.

I have been an active member of this Parliament and I am proud of the achievements I have made with the support of my community.

When I came in to this Parliament, homophobia was rife, and homophobic slurs were common. My 1993 Homosexual Anti-Vilification Bill which became law made it illegal to incite hatred of gay men and lesbians. I remember the pathetic scene of Fred Nile leaving hospital in his pyjamas in a wheel chair so he could vote against the bill.

That bill stemmed from recommendations of the Anti-Discrimination Board report on HIV/AIDS related discrimination. I was a member of the committee established to oversee that report. The early to mid 90s were tough – I lost many close friends to AIDS. I held forums in Parliament to discuss discrimination and availability of drugs and lobbied during 1992 the Health Minister, St Vincent's Hospital Board and finally the Premier to achieve six new AIDS beds at St Vincents as patients were suffering in the overcrowded casualty ward.

I saw my friends die from AIDS and suffer discrimination even in death when family members failed to honour their wishes over their estate or their request to be buried with their partner.

I introduced my Significant Personal Relationships Bill in 1997 to protect all relationships. While it did not pass this Parliament, it became a model for Tasmanian and Victorian legislation, and was the basis for a register in New South Wales introduced by the former Government.

After funding cuts in the mid 90s saw bed numbers cut at a time when emergency admissions were increasing, I campaigned with the community to get the Government to maintain a minimum level of funding that saved St Vincent's from closure. In 2002 a new state-of-the-art hospital was opened with demand for its services increasing.

2010 saw the introduction my Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill having failed to get these changes passed in 2000. The bill passed in a nail biting conscience vote and now children can be adopted by both their parents if they are in a same sex relationship.

My 1993 Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust legislation guaranteed public ownership of the former Showground site by transferring control to the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust. With this Government withdrawing funding from the park complex, the Fox Studio lease of the site now provides vital Trust revenue.

My 1994 Boarding and Lodging Houses Bill defined boarding houses as residential instead of business which cut their council rates, and my Land Tax Legislation led to the Government extending boarding house land tax exemptions to low income rental properties.

I saw a dramatic and positive transformation in the Northcott public housing estate which was accredited as a safe community by the World Health Organisation. Northcott had experienced murders, suicides and high rates of violent crime and many tenants had suffered extreme isolation and were afraid to leave their units or speak to neighbours. I worked closely with dedicated tenants to improve safety and amenity and lobbied to get a community development worker who helped turn the situation around. Northcott had two shows in the 2006 Sydney Festival called Stickybricks, a collaboration between tenants, arts organisation Big hART and artists which greatly lifted the spirits of this often troubled community.

My 2007 Liquor Amendment (Small Bars and Restaurants) Bill provided for small bars and was supported overwhelmingly by the community and was included in the Government's Liquor Bill, and has led to the establishment of intimate and eclectic bars in Sydney and across the State.

Backpackers no longer use Victoria Street in Kings Cross as a de facto car sales yard following passage of my Local Government Amendment (Roadside Vehicle Sales) Bill last year. The Potts Point local community led by Jenny Green, now an Independent Councillor at the City, worked with the City of Sydney and helped lobby the State Government to get this outcome.

My Freedom of Information (Open Government – Disclosure of Contracts) legislation has made government contracts with private companies open to public scrutiny. The catalyst was the secrecy associated with the Cross City Tunnel contracts.

At the 1999 Drug Summit, it was my motion which led to the establishment of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in my electorate in Kings Cross, which after an exhaustive 10-year trial including public consultations was judged a success and made permanent in 2010. Also after years of advocacy, former Premier Iemma funded a Psychiatric Emergency Care Centre on St Vincent's Hospital campus providing integrated mental health and drug and alcohol care.

My 1993 South East Forests Bill, passed in the Legislative Assembly but was blocked in the Legislative Council again by Fred Nile, but was used by Premier Carr following a change in Government as a model for far-reaching forest protection legislation for important old growth forests. I want to acknowledge the brilliant contribution of Jeff Angel and the T.E.C. on this and many other environmental issues.

I led community campaigns that kept the former Sydney Showground in public hands; stopped the takeover of Moore Park by Sydney Cricket and Sport Ground Trust, and we're still fighting to get the last remnants of car parking off public parklands. I successfully campaigned with local communities to:

  • save the Woolloomooloo Bay Finger Wharf and maintain public access for half its length;
  • turn the Pyrmont Water Police site into the wonderful public park it is today;
  • provide public access to Seven Shillings Beach at Point Pioper;
  • open up former navy foreshore land at Rushcutters Bay;
  • and so far we have been successful in restricting excessive marina development at Elizabeth Bay which is also the subject of an ICAC Inquiry.

I leave as the longest serving woman and the longest serving independent in the New South Wales Parliament. And the one thing above all that I pride myself both in state and local politics is that after research and consultation, I have carried my convictions through to action and I have not been diverted or put off by bullying press and raving shockjocks, and I have been ultimately supported by the people.

I was a very early supporter of gay and lesbian rights and the first member of the Legislative Assembly to march in Mardi Gras.

I was the only MP willing to support the trial of the supervised safe injecting room in my electorate and I brought my community on the journey to understand why we needed it – to save lives, get users in to treatment and to take injecting off the street. I successfully promoted small bars legislation after years of intransigence by the major parties in the grip of the AHA, and I rode the disgraceful and manufactured opposition to separated cycle-ways to victory at the recent City election.

Governments need guts if they are to achieve reform that is needed now and for the future.

I would like to thank my staff who over the years have shared my dedication to the community and have supported my values. My special thanks to:

  • Tammie Nardone my Parliament Research Officer
  • Roy Bishop my senior electorate officer who has been with me for over 10 years
  • Leanne Abbott my electorate officer who has established close ties with public housing tenants.

Without their support I could never have achieved what I have, and they are so much a part of my electoral success over the years. They are also the collateral damage caused by this odious legislation, as are those in the community who have come to rely on the electorate office as a place of help and hope.

We are all very sad about what is happening.

I also want to thank the other dedicated staff members who have worked with me in the Electorate Office and Town Hall, especially James Zanotto, Bec Wilson and Larry Galbraith.

Thank you also to:

  • Frank Littlewood who worked as a relief staffer, and Anne Fraser and Tessa Whittle who have regularly volunteered in the Electorate Office over many years.
  • John Fraser and Robyn Attuell representing me on traffic committees.
  • Kay Vernon who worked extensively on animal welfare issues.
  • Richard d'Apice and Gerard Gooden for providing invaluable legal advice.
  • My wide pool of reliable volunteers who deliver newsletters, stuff envelopes, make phone calls, draft correspondence, conduct research, and file my work.
  • The many student interns especially from Boston University who I hope learnt from my busy inner city electorate office.

And special thanks to the army of volunteers who have come out and supported me at 12 successful elections with key roles played over many years by Leone Joy, Sheba Greenburg, Bruce Druery, Peter Morris, Dennis Halloran and Eleanor Sydney-Jones.

I thank the wonderful Parliament House staff: clerks: attendants; the Sergeant-At-Arms; Hansard; I.T., the Table Office and the many others who all contribute to our work as MPs. And I want to express my appreciation of Minister Hazzard's cooperation as Leader of the House during this term.

Most importantly I want to thank my family who have not only tolerated but supported my enthusiastic commitment to public office and serving the community – my work has dominated our lives. Peter took his long service leave and we mortgaged the house for the first Bligh campaign and it was probably difficult for Sophie and Tom growing up with a mother in the news – they probably found that no one else's mother was in the Mardi Gras or standing on a milk crate with a megaphone!

My work over 24 years has been archived thanks to Ann Pederson and Elaine Spicer who have sifted through extensive files. I hope their efforts provide worthwhile material for researchers down the track.

I am leaving Parliament with important things yet to be achieved. Despite my efforts this Parliament has failed to achieve the more humane treatment of animals, and I hope my Independent successor will continue the fight for a better life for both for companion and farm animals. The prevailing head in the sand attitude to climate change, threatens the very survival and the prosperity of future generations, as governments continue to put protection of what is left of our natural environment before short term profits, and there has to be a highest and best use test for land use.

I hope this Parliament achieves a modernised planning system that retains the principles of the 1979 Environmental Planning and Assessment Act of community involvement and environment protection. Sydney, the global city urgently needs a modern state-of-the-art efficient mass transit system. We need to address recidivism rates, homelessness, affordable housing, and marriage equality, as well as alcohol related violence and we urgently need to reform strata laws and enact container deposit legislation.

State Parliament must become a progressive place that works towards a vision of a better State which is sustainable and equitable.

In closing I thank my supporters and communities for sharing my view of progressive politics and choosing me to represent you for 24 years in State Parliament, and 15 years in local government including 8 and a half years ongoing as Lord Mayor of Sydney.

I look forward to a cooperative and productive relationship with the State Government for the good of our City and for its future.

I wish every success to my successor, and I conclude by saying I hope Sydney retains its independence.