Former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh is in negotiations with NSW Labor to run as the ALP candidate in the state seat of Sydney, City News understands.
State Labor officials are reportedly in talks with the Queenslander – who moved to Sydney yesterday – about running in the Sydney by-election once the seat is vacated by present Member, Clover Moore.
Ms Moore, who currently holds the positions of Member for Sydney and Lord Mayor of Sydney, will have to give up one of her dual roles if she wins this weekend’s local government elections, due to NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s so-called ‘Get Clover Bill’.
The Bill, which passed the Upper House in April with the assent of Fred Nile and the Shooters & Fishers Party, has made it illegal for NSW parliamentarians to sit on local councils.
This will force a by-election in the seat of Sydney if Ms Moore wins another term as Lord Mayor on Saturday, as expected.
An ALP source told City News on condition of confidentiality that senior Labor figures were determined to run “political star” Anna Bligh in Sydney to ensure the seat returned to Labor after almost a quarter of a century in the hands of Ms Moore, a political Independent.
“The party feels she has a good chance of winning the seat for Labor, and can then be shoe-horned into a prominent shadow ministry position,” he said.
“It’s felt she can play a great part in revitalising NSW Labor.”
Ms Bligh was first reported to be moving to Sydney last month, after her husband Greg Withers accepted a posting with Arts NSW.
While Ms Bligh is an electoral liability in Queensland, where she led Labor to a crushing defeat in the March state election, she has an excellent public profile in NSW.
“Here in Sydney she’s known as that strong, gutsy woman who guided Queensland through the floods and Cyclone Yasi,” said the source.
“She was on TV 24/7 for days on end and impressed herself on the NSW public as a very capable, empathic and genuine person.
“The things that destroyed her in Queensland – the Queensland Health pay debacles; the accusations of misleading the public over asset sell-offs – never got much of a run here.”
But a Queensland Labor source said he would be surprised if Ms Bligh took up the opportunity: “I’d have to say I’d be quite surprised if she went back to politics. She took the electoral loss in Queensland quite personally.
“I would have thought she’d be more inclined to go for a high-paying position in the private sector, say at Macquarie Bank.”
However, City News understands Ms Bligh is seriously considering the prospect of a political comeback, despite all but swearing off politics when she resigned as Queensland Labor Leader in March.
“The size of the loss and the loudness and clarity of the message sent by the people of Queensland is unmistakable,” she said at the time.
“Queensland has voted to close my era in Queensland politics.”
Reaction to reports of a Bligh comeback south of the border has been mixed.
Ms Moore said she wanted the seat to remain in the hands of an Independent Member.
“I would not like to see the seat of Sydney just go back to the major parties,” she said.
“I would like to see the seat of Sydney continue to have an Independent champion.”
As exclusively reported by City News last month, it’s believed Ms Moore will publicly endorse rising political Independent and Australian Marriage Equality convenor, Alex Greenwich as her successor in Sydney.
Greens candidate for the Sydney by-election, Chris Harris, said he wasn’t fazed by the prospect of running against Anna Bligh.
“I would welcome it. There will obviously be a Labor candidate and it doesn’t matter to me who it is,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want to comment further at this stage, except to say we’re going to put forward a very strong campaign and provide a genuine alternative to the major political parties.”
Shayne Mallard, who has been preselected as the Liberal candidate, did not return calls to City News.
Linda Scott, who is running as the ALP’s Lord Mayoral candidate against Ms Moore on Saturday, was non-committal on NSW Labor’s plans for Ms Bligh.
“It’s not something I can confirm or deny,” she said. “All I can say is that Labor hasn’t selected a candidate yet and we’re focused on this weekend’s elections. We won’t be putting forward a candidate until after the local government elections.”
NSW Labor Leader John Robertson refused to comment.
The seat of Sydney has been held by Clover Moore since 1988.
Ironically, the seat was known as Bligh until 2007, when the NSW Electoral Commission amended its boundaries and renamed it Sydney.