The NSW Opposition has asked what inducements were granted to make Labor MP Paul Gibson jump ship, saying his retirement is part of a chessboard of moves to make Transport Minister John Robertson the next party leader.
The outspoken Blacktown MP announced on Sydney radio on Wednesday that he will quit politics at the March 2011 state election, citing family reasons, AAP reported.
But afterwards, he hit out at the ALP’s direction.
“We’ve moved so far away from our platform and our policy, and we’ve become poll-driven”, the ABC reported him as saying.
“Whatever is popular in the polls today is the line that we seem to take.”
However, the announcement has reignited speculation that Transport Minister John Robertson will move to the lower house, to give him a shot at the Labor leadership after the election.
Nationals Leader Andrew Stoner said Mr Gibson’s decision to leave politics was a vote of no-confidence in Premier Kristina Keneally.But he questioned why Mr Gibson had suddenly decided to quit, after months of saying he would contest the election.
Mr Stoner alleged the ALP head office had offered him an inducement to clear the way for Mr Robertson.
“We’ve had Paul Gibson up to this point saying, effectively, he’ll die in a ditch for the people of Blacktown, he’ll contest that seat as an independent if need be,” Mr Stoner told reporters in Sydney.
“Now, all of a sudden, he’s going quietly, to make way for John Robertson.
“What inducements have the Labor Party offered Paul Gibson to go quietly to ensure that John Robertson will be the next state leader of the Labor Party?”
Blacktown, held by a margin of 22.4 per cent, is one of Labor’s safest seats in the state, making it a perfect fit for former union boss Mr Robertson.
He has reportedly been looking at seats in western Sydney, where he lives.
Comment is being sought from Mr Robertson.
MP leaves with parting shot
Mr Gibson is the 14th Labor MP to announce they will not recontest their seats, and the third this week after central coast backbenchers Grant McBride and Marie Andrews also said they would leave parliament.
The outspoken MP did not go without a spray at the NSW Labor Party, and the government’s chances at the 2011 poll, telling Macquarie Radio: “We’ve lost our credibility”.
“The worst part is that the people out there do not know what we stand for any more,” he said.
“If the polling … was to go through until March it would be absolutely disastrous.”
I’ve talked about public transport for probably 20 years. Free public transport: it’s nothing new, it’s in many cities of the world today, it’d be a winner here”, he said.
However, he said the government could get back in the race if it announced drastic policy changes, such as free public transport, the removal of unpopular speed cameras and the introduction of a ceiling on electricity prices.
Mr Gibson, who has been in NSW politics since 1988, said that, contrary to media speculation, he hadn’t been pushed out by ALP head office.But nobody within the party was listening to him anymore, he said. “You know when your time is up, and my time is up now because you feel that no matter what you say, nobody is listening (in the party).”
Mr Gibson has had a colourful and chequered career in politics, including allegations of domestic violence and accusations of trying to destroy a minister’s career.
He was appointed to the ministry after the 2007 election but was sacked the following month because of an allegation he had assaulted former sports minister Sandra Nori while they were having an affair in the 1990s. Police investigated the allegation but dropped the case after Ms Nori refused to give evidence, saying she wanted to avoid a messy court case.
Late in 2007, Phil Koperberg, the environment minister at the time, accused Mr Gibson of a smear campaign “bordering on evil” to destroy his political career.
Mr Gibson had a 10-year relationship with Mr Koperberg’s ex-wife after the break-up of the Koperbergs’ marriage.
In June this year, Mr Gibson said he was assaulted in a McDonald’s restaurant car park in Sydney’s northwest. American singer Mario Norman was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and has pleaded not guilty.