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Future Labor frontbencher Jodi McKay has backed the government's decision to halt rail services to Newcastle, breaking with her party's position on her first day in the role.
Opposition leader Luke Foley on Tuesday appointed Ms McKay, Labor's candidate for the inner-west seat of Strathfield, as the party's planning spokeswoman. She would take the portfolio if elected in March.
It emerged that Ms McKay, a former Newcastle MP, departs from her party colleagues on a key policy issue – the government's controversial decision to remove the rail line from Wickham to central Newcastle. The government plans to replace the standard rail line with light rail.
Labor fiercely opposes the move, and Mr Foley took to radio on Tuesday to reiterate the position. However in an interview with the Newcastle Herald in May last year, Ms McKay said securing light rail for the city was "fantastic".
"I think the fact that the government has committed to taking out the heavy rail is going to change the city and I think that's a very positive thing," she said, adding that the Liberal MP who replaced her, Tim Owen, should be "very proud" of the achievement.
The trains stopped running on Boxing Day, however a Supreme Court challenge has stalled plans to remove the rail tracks.
On Tuesday, Ms McKay said her view was a personal one and "I'm not walking away from that", however she respected her party's position.
She insisted her comments that heavy rail should be "removed" referred only to the train services. Ms McKay said the tracks could potentially be reused for light rail, and she did not have a position on their removal.
Planning Minister Pru Goward said she hoped Ms McKay "won't be bullied by her own party now into backtracking on her support for our positive plan for Newcastle".
Mr Foley was in Strathfield on Tuesday, making a running start to Labor's election bid the day after he was anointed leader.
He said Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings last year, which heard Ms McKay rebuffed an alleged bribe before the 2011 state election, showed she was "a person of the highest integrity".
"I want every fly-by-nighter and lurk merchant to know not to bother, because this incorruptible woman ... will be on the planning beat," Mr Foley said.
With about 80 days until polling day, Mr Foley must make himself known to voters and close the gap between himself and the popular Premier Mike Baird.
A Fairfax/Ipsos poll in November suggests he faces an uphill battle. Just 7 per cent of voters preferred him as Labor leader, compared with 21 per cent who favoured Ms McKay, a former television journalist.
Ms McKay insisted on Tuesday she was not a leadership threat. Mr Foley did not directly address the suggestion, but said the pair were "firm friends".
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au