NICOLA Roxon has thrown her support behind a former staffer, Katie Hall, to replace her in the federal seat of Gellibrand.

Eyes on Canberra: Katie Hall says she cares about the community, and wants to get involved and be heard. Picture: Darren Howe

The move appears to put her at odds with Labor Senate leader Stephen Conroy, who is understood to be backing his former adviser Tim Watts.

Ms Hall, who lives with her husband in West Footscray, is 30 — nearly the same age Ms Roxon was when elected.

The former attorney-general, who is quitting politics to spend more time with her young daughter, said it was healthy for two influential Labor figures to be backing different candidates for preselection.

“It won’t surprise anyone as a person who’s always encouraged women to run for office that I am supporting Katie Hall because she is a strong and capable woman. She’s a good campaigner and she’s local, and all of those things are very important for this region.

“I think it’s important, where we have the opportunity, to select women, and in this instance where we have a woman with enormous potential, a lot of talent, and is local, that’s going to be a combination that is difficult to beat.

“Of course, Stephen has influence within his community, as do I, and I think the fact that two senior Labor people can be backing different candidates is actually a healthy sign in the party that there are good choices to be made.”

Ms Hall, who works in corporate affairs for the City of Melbourne, said Ms Roxon had been a great mentor.

“I think, and I think a lot of people think, that it’s important that the next generation of female Labor activists step up and say, I care about my community, I’m committed to Labor values and I want to get involved and I want to be heard. When women in the Labor Party who I’ve always looked up to, like Nicola Roxon and Joan Kirner, are supporting you, that’s a really motivating thing.

“I think we need fierce campaigners. We need people who are going to be willing to get out there and give it a red-hot go . . . we need to be reaching out to the community and telling our story and telling the people why Labor values are good values and why Labor members of parliament are good for the west.”

Ms Hall’s stiffest challenge may prove to be a tight preselection battle, especially if Mr Conroy throws his support behind Mr Watts.

The Telstra executive, 31, lives in Fitzroy but plans to move to Footscray with his family before the September 14 poll.

Mr Watts moved to dispel concerns that he was not a local candidate and would be preselected only with the weight of Senator Conroy’s backing.

“I’m proud to have worked with Stephen in the past; I think people will see I have a good track record,” he said. Acknowledging the anointed Gellibrand candidate would be replacing a high-profile female member in the nation’s second-safest seat, Mr Watts said it was important that the ALP elevate more women into Parliament but noted they were replacing men in other seats.

He said the prospect of a Tony Abbott government was a threat to quality education, harmonious multiculturalism and job security in the western suburbs.

“They are my three major priorities.”

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