Luke Foley Apologises For 'White Flight' Comments

The NSW Opposition Leader earlier lamented the decline of western Sydney suburbs, warning that we are seeing a "white flight" of Anglo families out of the area.

What you need to know
  • NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley has repeatedly apologised for using the term "white flight"
  • He has promised not to use the term again
  • He had used the migration of white families out of Sydney's western suburbs as proof of the decline of those suburbs
  • Greens NSW MP Mehreen Faruqi had slammed his comments as "disgraceful" and "absolutely disgusting"

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley has repeatedly apologised for his "white flight" comments, saying he's now aware that they're offensive and he won't be using them again.

Speaking to Ten Eyewitness News, he said:

"I won't use that term again. Some people find it offensive, so I apologise. I want the entire focus to be on growing jobs and building better schools and TAFEs in these suburbs.

"I meant no offence, but some people have told me today that they find the term pretty unpalatable, so I certainly won't use it again, and I apologise."

When pressed as to why he used the term in the first place, he said that he was simply referring to the "international phenomenon [where] older, established residents leave certain communities and new residents move in -- I was just reflecting on that."

He did not concede that his use of the term to the Daily Telegraph was dog whistling, and repeated that his aim is to grow jobs and educational opportunities within the area.

"I work within these communities all the time, this is my local community. We're proud to carry a big part of the load here, but we do need more support from governments, more intensive English education teaching, better schools, and a rebuilt TAFE to provide better trade training opportunities to these families.

"These people know I stand for greater opportunities for them. I've been a champion of taking the Syrian and Iraqi refugees. That was a controversial position, but I think we're a rich country. We can do more. These people are fleeing ISIS. But when we take them in, let's ensure there's the intensive English language support for their kids to learn English, there's good schools for their kids, and there's job opportunities. That's what I'm about."

Foley -- who earlier this year publicly backed Tony Abbott's call for a closer look at immigration cuts -- had angered people earlier this week by lamenting the relocation of "many Anglo families" out of Sydney's western suburbs, in a misfired attempt to draw attention to the lack of funding for resources in the area.

"I'm saying, what about that middle ring of suburbs that have experienced, if anything, just a slow decline? In terms of employment, in terms of white flight -- where many Anglo families have just moved out?" he told the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.

He doubled down on his comments Thursday morning, telling ABC Radio that the term was "academic".

"It's an identifiable phenomenon in many western cities that reflects the changing cultural mix of many suburbs. This is a class issue more than a race issue," he said.

"White flight" is a term that originated in the United States during the Civil Rights era of the 50s and 60s, and refers to the phenomenon that when people of colour move into a neighbourhood, white people move out.

Foley's comments were slammed by Greens NSW MP Mehreen Faruqi, who called them "disgraceful" and that he'd "sold out every person of colour and every migrant."

“NSW Labor used to have a proud tradition of standing up for migrants and multicultural communities but it seems they are now willing to join the race to the bottom on race-baiting," she said in a statement.

“We need to call out lack of investment in public transport, healthcare and education in South-West Sydney, but suggesting that only Anglo families are suffering is just ridiculous and offensive. It creates division and seeks to blame non-Anglo people for this, when it is the Government at fault.

“Language like this from politicians scapegoats refugees who are already amongst the most vulnerable in the community and it emboldens racism at the local level, further marginalising people."

NSW Question Time erupted today, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian calling Foley's comments “deeply divisive, offensive, dangerous and nasty”, with Nationals Leader (and Deputy Premier) John Barilaro describing them as being presented “in a framework of racism”.

Barilaro pointed out that both himself and Berejiklian were the children of migrants, and as someone who had to endure being taunted with racist names as a kid, “I thought we were past saying salami breath, dagoes or wogs.”

Multiple Labor MPs were ejected throughout proceedings, including Clayton Barr, Jodi McKay, Michael Daley, and Chris Minns -- the latter for the rest of the day.

Pauline Hanson’s support of Foley’s comments was thrown across the aisle over and over again, with Liberal Minister Andrew Constance even calling the last 12-hour cycle “a play for the One Nation primaries”.