Foley apologises over 'white flight'

Opposition leader Luke Foley has apologised for using the term "white flight" while describing issues surrounding immigration in Sydney after a backlash that transcended party lines.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Foley used the term "white flight" to describe the many "Anglo families" forced to leave suburbs in western Sydney struggling with the "huge burden" of migration.

A livid Gladys Berejiklian blasted Labor leader Foley in parliament on Thursday, describing his words as "divisive, offensive, dangerous and nasty".

The NSW premier said Mr Foley had "crossed the line".

"The language used is desperate and inflammatory, it goes to the heart of the kind of person you are," she told Mr Foley during a heated question time.

Within an hour, Mr Foley issued an apology for his comments, citing "feedback".

"In the course of a 30 minute interview yesterday I used the phrase 'white flight,' that phrase is offensive to many," Mr Foley said in a statement.

"I apologise and I will not use that phrase again."

The Labor leader had earlier in the day defended his comments, arguing "white flight" was an academic term.

"It's an identifiable phenomenon in many western cities that reflects the changing cultural mix of many suburbs," Mr Foley told ABC radio.

"This is a class issue more than a race issue."

Mr Foley named Fairfield, Guildford, Yennora, Sefton, Granville and Regents Park as suburbs of concern, where there were large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

"I don't want anyone to think you have to move out of those suburbs to do well in life, that's what I'm fighting," he said.

NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi called Mr Foley's comments "disgraceful" and said Labor had joined the "race to the bottom on race-baiting".

"We need to call out lack of investment in public transport, healthcare and education in southwest Sydney, but suggesting that only Anglo families are suffering is just ridiculous and offensive," Ms Faruqi said in a statement.

"Language like this from politicians scapegoats refugees, who are already amongst the most vulnerable in the community, and it emboldens racism."

Australian Associated Press