Embattled Labor MP Emma Husar says she has decided not to recontest her crucial seat of Lindsay in order to give her federal colleagues the best chance of winning the next election.
She denied she had been forced to surrender the seat by NSW Labor. “I have not spoken to anyone in NSW Labor since last Thursday. They have played no part in my decision,” she told Fairfax Media yesterday.
Asked if she had been urged to give up the seat by the federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, who has been one of her political champions, Ms Husar said simply that the decision had been entirely her own.
A source close to Mr Shorten said the pair had been in regular contact in recent weeks but backed Ms Husar’s claim that it was her own decision.
Mr Shorten has faced criticism that he was aware of allegations that Ms Husar’s office had become dysfunctional but had failed to act.
One former staff member, Angela Hadchiti, told News Corp of a "brutal" and "bizarre" working environment that had been reported to Mr Shorten’s office, NSW Labor and the United Services Union months ago.
"I don’t believe that," the Mr Shorten said. "I’ve made my own inquiries. None of my staff have confirmed that."
Asked what the office had known, one senior Labor source said there was an important distinction between hearing rumours about an MP and receiving formal complaints or reports.
Ms Husar’s decision not to recontest the seat saves Labor from the political difficulties it might have faced if she had decided either to quit immediately and force a byelection or to run again as a disendorsed independent.
The seat remains a crucial prize for both parties, though it is not yet clear who will run for the Labor Party.
Several sources have suggested that Penrith councillor and Labor candidate for the state seat of Penrith, Karen McKeown, could run in Lindsay. Penrith mayor John Thain said he was not interested. "I can honestly say we haven’t been circling and we will actually have to go out and find someone," a Labor source said.
... there are some people on the NSW right [of the Labor Party] that are more powerful than me who are not going to stop
Ms Husar has been the subject of an internal investigation by the NSW Labor Party into claims by members of her staff of bullying, sexual harassment and misuse of allowances.
Ms Husar denies the allegations, which she said were part of an attempt to force her out of the seat by former staff and a bloc of local members of the Labor right, who she said had not accepted her since she wrested the seat from the Liberal Party’s Fiona Scott.
“It is pretty clear there are some people on the NSW right [of the Labor Party] that are more powerful than me who are not going to stop,” she said. “I think this is the best way to regain some control.”
The 44 allegations being investigated by the Labor Party include claims she verbally abused staff, had them run menial errands and chores and used her electoral allowance for personal expenses.
According to documents she prepared for her defence that were obtained by Fairfax Media, Ms Husar believes a bloc has sought to remove her.
Ms Husar said the allegation that had the most significant impact on her was that she had deliberately exposed herself to fellow MP Jason Clare as they sat in an office with his young son. “When I first read that I went outside and vomited,” she said.
She said the “faceless men” who she says are behind the claims were “not a true reflection of the Labor Party and what it can achieve".
Ms Husar accused the NSW Labor Party of mishandling the investigation.
“The last three weeks, it has been day after day. My kids have been trolled online, media have been camped outside of my house,” she said.
Nick O'Malley is a senior writer and a former US correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Fergus Hunter is a political reporter for Fairfax Media, based in Parliament House.