Wollongong MP Noreen Hay’s abrupt announcement that she will retire from the NSW parliament next month has left many questions swirling around the city.
“It has been an absolute honour and privilege to represent the people of Wollongong for the last thirteen years in the NSW Parliament, she said in a statement on Tuesday after reports surfaced. “Therefore it is with great regret that I announce my intention to retire.”
The first question: who will be the next Wollongong MP?
With a byelection now looming at the end of the year, the safe Labor seat could be in for a shake-up. Two independent heavyweights – Gordon Bradbery and Arthur Rorris – who tried to oust Ms Hay in 2011 and 2015, have not ruled out another run at parliament.
The MP’s very public foe, Wollongong Lord Mayor Cr Bradbery on Tuesday declared her resignation “a line in the sand for the city”.
“Wollongong now has a chance to seek representation that adequately represents the vitality of the city and this region,” he said.
“I’m seriously contemplating standing at a byelection. I’m yet to decide whether I can best represent the city in state parliament or by being in local government.”
Cr Bradbery came within 600 votes of Ms Hay after a bitterly fought campaign election campaign in 2011.
“I think the city has matured since then and is ready for a change of dramatic proportions,” he said.
“This is a chance for Wollongong to seek representation who is willing to go in and fight in the interests of Wollongong, in a way that represents a brighter future. I think I can carry that forward.”
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris didn’t come quite as close as Cr Bradbery when he ran against Ms Hay in 2015, gaining just over 41 per cent of the two-party preferred vote after a six week campaign.
Like Cr Bradbery, Mr Rorris on Tuesday said he was “considering his options” after the resignation announcement.
“Obviously, I was a candidate last time and clearly I understand people would expect that I at least consider throwing my hat in the ring.”
“But the fact is that I have a very important position as a voice for the working people of our region, steelworkers, teachers or nurses.”
A long time Labor Party member, Mr Rorris quit the party amid controversy over the Wollongong Labor preselection in 2014. Since the election, he has maintained a public presence campaigning to save the region’s steel industry.
In the 2015 election, the Liberal Party chose to preference Mr Rorris with the aim of ousting Ms Hay.
On Tuesday, Liberal sources questioned whether the party would bother running a byelection candidate with a strong independent candidate going up against Labor.
The question of why Ms Hay has chosen to retire a year and a half in to this term of parliament also remains. She has refused to speak further about the matter until she delivers a valedictory speech in parliament on Thursday. The Mercury has been told her retirement is due to health concerns.
Labor MPs in shock
Keira MP Ryan Park said he was “as shocked as anybody” over his Illawarra Labor colleague Noreen Hay’s resignation.
“[I found out] this morning, like most people, when I read it online,” Labor’s Illawarra spokesman said on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr Park had not spoken to Ms Hay and did not know why she had decided to retire. “Politics can be tough on families and I wish her well, but at the same time I look forward to working with a new candidate in this region.”
Ward thanks MP for ‘friendship, advocacy’
“I would genuinely like to thank Noreen for her friendship and advocacy for the region,” Kiama MP Gareth Ward said on Tuesday.
“People often see politicians at loggerheads but Noreen is someone with whom I have enjoyed a positive relationship working in the interests of our mutual constituents.
“She started at the grassroots, rose through the union movement and has had to fight enemies within and outside of her political party and she had left at a time of her choosing, which is a luxury afforded to very few people in politics.”
Calling quits on a colourful career
If there’s one thing that’s defined Noreen Hay in her 13 years as Wollongong’s state MP, it’s her ability to shake it off.
From the vicious internal rumours which surfaced before she was first elected, through four hard fought election campaigns and during the recent federal police raids on her office, Ms Hay has remained unflappable in the face of controversy.
Now, after many calls for her to stand down and attempts to oust her, she’s leaving on her own terms.
There have been many controversial moments during her time in parliament.
In 2008, when she was Parliamentary Secretary for Health, she was placed in the spotlight during the shocking Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings into Wollongong’s development scandal. Premier Morris Iemma asked her to stand down immediately, but reappointed her several days later when ICAC declared she was not a person of interest.
Six months later, she lost her position again when new Premier Nathan Rees called on her to stand down after Kiama MP Matt Brown allegedly straddled her breasts during budget celebrations. Both Ms Hay and Mr Brown have denied the allegations.
Fast-forward to December 2014 – just after Ms Hay was pre-selected amid allegations of branch stacking, doctored minutes and dodgy attendance books – and the AFP raided Ms Hay's office.
Since then, a staff member has been charged in relation to allegations of electoral fraud. The case remains before the courts.