Allan Hogan, Bulletin 9/2022, November 2022
There’s a faint smell of mould in the small conference room in Jamie Parker’s electorate office on Glebe Point Rd. It’s not glamorous, and the décor is very much government issue. Jamie says there are leaks in the ceiling and the building’s a nightmare for his disabled visitors. But the good news is he’ll have a new office before the end of the year, still on Glebe Point Rd. Not that he’ll have a lot of time to enjoy it, because he plans to stand down as the Member for Balmain at the election next March.
Parker has represented Balmain for nearly 12 years and sits on a margin of 10 percent. He was the first Greens MP to be elected to the lower house, and his career spans 23 years of service to the inner west, including Mayor of Leichhardt (2008-2011). He’s only 51, and it would be a safe bet that he would be re-elected next March. So why quit now?
‘Because people that hang on and hang on lose momentum, that’s when it’s hard to pass the seat on,’ he says. ‘There’s always a window when there’s a good candidate as well, and Kobi Shetty will be an amazing candidate’. Shetty, the Greens candidate for the seat, is an Inner West Councillor, a mother of three, and has spent her career working in the banking sector, specialising in fraud prevention and operations.
So, at 51, what’s Jamie’s plan? ‘Well, I don’t have any offers,’ he says. ‘Rio Tinto’s not calling, Goldman Sachs isn’t on the phone, there’s no parliamentary pension, so I’ll have to get a job. I just want to test myself to see if there are other things I can do.’ Parker says he’s attracted to the NGO, not-for-profit area – ‘they’re the ones that are doing the really interesting innovative things.’ And there are personal reasons for leaving politics – his daughter is three and a half and he believes there might be time for some travel before she goes to school.
Ask him what he’s proudest of and he says it’s advocating successfully for people who ‘don’t have a voice.’ ‘It’s not a big story, it doesn’t get on the front page of the Herald, but for that person it’s the biggest thing in their life.’ Another big win he claims is defending Callan Park from development, with every MP in the Parliament voting for his proposals. Defending his record against the criticism that as an independent he hasn’t had the clout of a government MP, he points to his successful campaigns for shore-to-ship power at White Bay, and the fleet of electric buses at Leichhardt Depot.
So, what does he leave undone? ‘The forces of darkness are strong, and no stronger than in the world of development,’ he says. ‘Our community is saying that affordable housing is absolutely critical and the market isn’t delivering it.’ Parker had a difference of opinion with the Glebe Society about the redevelopment of 17-31 Cowper St and 2A-D Wentworth Park Rd. The Society believed the buildings in the Heritage Conservation Area should be preserved but lost the battle when the Council rezoned it. ‘We would have preferred a different outcome,’ says Parker, ‘but what we did win is 100% social housing.’
Parker’s decision to stand down leaves Balmain as a possible Labor win in March. The endorsed Labor Candidate is Philippa Scott, an Inner West Councillor and President of Sydney Secondary College, Leichhardt P&C, with a background in law and governance.
Contacted by the Bulletin, Councillor Scott said she thanked Jamie Parker for his service to Balmain. ‘We are fortunate to have an incredibly engaged community and I know he has worked hard to listen to people.’ But she says Balmain has been overlooked: ‘the Bays West development is about to start with not a single unit guaranteed for affordable housing. Bus privatisation has left 437 commuters standing in the rain waiting 30 minutes for the next service from Barangaroo home to Lilyfield. Social housing in Glebe has been sold off left and right to private developers.’
There’s no doubt that Jamie enjoys a big personal following, which he might not bequeath to Kobi Shetty. Asked to predict the outcome of the March election Parker says the Liberals are confident they can win, while Labor is not so sure. ‘Labor needs to win ten seats to have a majority, and they’re going to find that difficult’. At the moment there are three Greens in the lower house, and if that remained the case after the election, Labor would have a chance of forming a minority government if it couldn’t get across the line by its own efforts. ‘So that’s why Labor are being so nice at the moment,’ Parker says, ‘it’s like a family reunion every time you see them.’