FEDERAL member for Newcastle Sharon Grierson has announced she will retire after 11 years in parliament, paving the way for her long-serving staffer and Newcastle councillor Sharon Claydon to contest the seat.
Cr Claydon confirmed she would nominate for Labor preselection yesterday afternoon, after Ms Grierson spoke at length about her decision to quit after four terms as Newcastle's federal representative.
Ms Grierson, who will continue in her role until the next election, said she was stepping down for family reasons.
Her parents were dealing with mesothelioma - an asbestos-related cancer. "For me, these are very personal decisions and very much based on my family's needs," she said.
The outgoing MP is a close friend and loyal supporter of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and spoke with the embattled leader at length before deciding to retire.
Ms Grierson sought assurances from NSW Labor that a rank-and-file preselection of party members would take place in Newcastle, and said she would not announce her decision until that was confirmed.
Charlton MP and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet was rumoured to be interested in the high-profile seat - the only electorate Labor has held continuously since Federation - but laughed off those suggestions as "nonsense" yesterday.
The controversial decision to parachute Jodi McKay into the state seat in 2007 is clearly still a sore point among some party faithful.
"It seems to me that in the past there have been manoeuvres and things done by the ALP that I don't think were in the best interests of Newcastle," Ms Grierson said.
A vote of party members would favour Cr Claydon, who has served on Newcastle City Council since 2007 and has long been considered Ms Grierson's likely successor.
She is a popular figure in the local branches, particularly in the party's left faction, and is well connected with the ALP hierarchy after serving for several years on the powerful NSW Labor administrative committee.
"My passion for Newcastle, my long standing commitment to community service and my solid background in federal matters has helped guide my decision to nominate," Cr Claydon said yesterday.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard paid tribute to Ms Grierson, describing her as "a diligent servant of the people of Newcastle and a passionate ambassador for the Hunter as a region of opportunity fuelled by research, innovation and urban renewal".
Ms Grierson was bullish about the government's prospects at the next election, and in her support for Ms Gillard.
She said she had "personal reactions" to recent comments by Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon that Ms Gillard could not stay on as leader if her poll ratings remained poor, but would "take that up with Joel".
Voters would see through "the hype, the headlines, the Tony Abbott slogans and negativity".
"I have great confidence that the people of Newcastle, when the election comes around, will judge us on our achievements."