The NSW Education Minister has been accused of deceiving voters and playing cheap gender politics in a desperate bid to stop the Greens claiming her marginal seat at the state election.
The ALP has paid for a mass mail-out of letters to voters in Verity Firth’s Balmain electorate written by feminist legend Anne Summers asking them to reelect Firth. Members of Firth’s campaign team have also been cold-calling Balmain residents, asking them to vote for the MP because she is a woman.
Firth is running against two men: the Greens’ Jamie Parker and Liberal James Falk. Summers, who does not live in the electorate, wrote the letter after a personal request by Firth.
Although Labor picked up the tab for the mail-out there is no authorisation on the letter or acknowledgement it was paid for by the ALP.
Tracy Pendergrast, a public relations consultant, said she found Summers’ letter patronising. “As if your vote’s going to be decided on gender. It’s quite insulting really,” she said. “I thought the whole point of the women’s movement was for women to think for themselves.”
Pendegrast, a self-described “former rusted on Labor voter” now considering voting Green, said the letter was “a desperate act from a woman [Firth] who sees the writing on the wall”.
Another female Balmain resident who received the letter told Crikey: “I don’t think that Anne Summers should be taking this step and using her influence in the women’s movement to imply that all women should vote for Verity Firth out of solidarity.
“I’m not political at all but I think there is something not quite right that constituents in Verity Firth’s electorate are mailed in this manner. I like Anne Summers, but still it doesn’t seem kosher.” The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, described herself as a “classic swinging voter” with no connection to Firth’s opponents.
Greens candidate Jamie Parker, the bookies’ favourite to win Balmain, said Labor should have disclosed that they had funded the mail-out.
“The only reason why you wouldn’t say that the Labor Party had funded it is because you knew that that would turn off voters,” he said. “If voters knew that Labor was funding this campaign it’s pretty clear people would see it for what it is: an attempt to mislead people to think that there’s an independent voice there when it’s paid for by Labor. It’s really a Labor voice.”
Summers told Crikey she’d received mixed feedback — some have said it swayed their vote while others argued it was inappropriate.
“Why shouldn’t someone express their opinion about the candidates?” she said. “If the person receiving the letter doesn’t agree with it they can throw it out. We should celebrate the face we live in a society where people can express their opinion.”
“There’s plenty of women running for office. I haven’t written letters for all of them… I didn’t say vote for her out of solidarity.”
The Damned Whores and God’s Police author, who advised Paul Keating on women’s affairs in the 1990s, said she supported Firth because of her policies on domestic violence, ethics education and Aboriginal education.
Balmain residents have also told Crikey they received phone calls from ALP campaigners saying Firth should be reelected because she is a woman. “It was so degrading to use feminism in that way,” said one woman who received the call. “It’s degrading to women to say vote for them because they have v-ginas not because of their policies.”
In an email statement, Firth said: “Third party endorsements are a normal part of election campaigns. Anne Summers is a well known women’s rights activist, author and policy commentator and I’m honoured to have her endorsement.” She said the topics volunteers raise when ringing voters was a personal issue for them.