NSW Parliament Pays Tribute to John Kaye

Today NSW Parliament paid tribute to the late John Kaye. You can read our contribution here. 


Ms JENNY LEONG ( Newtown ) ( 16:36 :22 ): As a matter of protocol and a mark of respect I acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and the traditional owners of the land on which this Parliament sits. I pay my respects to their elders past and present. That is how John Kaye began his inaugural speech to the Parliament in the other place. Over many years since, I too have delivered that phrase of acknowledgment to country whenever I have spoken at public events. It is one of the small ways in which John Kaye has influenced and impacted on my political being. In fact, I have never known politics or The Greens without John Kaye.

The night of The Greens 2003 State election party at our Eaves Street warehouse is the first time I remember encountering the incredibly passionate and highly intelligent John. It was the first time I had volunteered with the party to hand out how-to-vote cards. I must admit I was so nervous that I would not get out of the car because I was worried someone would ask me a policy question that I did not know how to answer. It took a little bit of encouragement, but eventually I stood at the polling booth. That night Sylvia Hale was elected to the New South Wales Parliament and Ian Cohen was re-elected. John was the campaign coordinator.

Over a decade later, in the weeks leading up to the 2015 State election, John Kaye, MLC, was at "The Greens for Newtown" campaign office multiple times, joining teams of doorknockers on the street. I remember watching the face of one exhausted volunteer who was trailing 50 metres behind John when they returned to the office. John said, "I have done this folder. Give me another folder." The volunteer looked completely exhausted and a little bit petrified that he had to doorknock on the streets of Newtown with John again. John also worked the phones with a level of commitment that I have not seen from any other person. At times we were a little worried that he would start telling people off if they said they were not going to vote for us. From the beginning, it was wonderful to see John's commitment to making the seat of Newtown green. I will never forget his dedication and passion for making that a reality.

I will also never forget the overwhelming feeling I had sitting in my first meeting after being elected to this Parliament and realising that I was now a parliamentary colleague of John Kaye. That feeling will sit with me forever. I also feel I had too short a time with John to learn the things he could have shared with me about how better to do my job in this place. From our first encounter in 2003, John was ever present in my political journey, whether we were campaigning on the streets or debating internal party matters. It is hard to accept the reality that he is no longer with us. On Friday, as we put in our submissions on the strata regulations, I thought to myself, "I will give John a quick call and check that", and realised I could not.

Last night, as I spoke at a forum on the lockout laws and the need to review and amend the liquor laws, I thought, "I will check that with John", and realised I could not. Beyond the personal loss that is no doubt felt hardest by John's partner, Lynne—who is here today—and his family and friends, those of us who are the Left, who are part of a progressive party and continue to be part of a movement for social change have lost an elder. We have lost so much knowledge, so much history, so much experience and so much dedication that I am not quite sure how we will ever fill the gap.

Jamie Parker recounted the day in this place when we heard of the news of John's passing, and the breakfast I had with John Kaye when I was preselected for the seat of Newtown. I feel I need to tell it again for the record. We were in Surry Hills and John could tell that I was feeling a little bit daunted about what lay ahead. He gave me some solid advice, albeit intense, on being a candidate in a potentially winnable seat. He said that it is like running at a solid brick wall as fast and fearlessly and with as much determination and energy as you can, while convincing as many people as possible to join you, knowing that there are two possible outcomes. Either you will gather enough momentum and support that you will knock the wall down and on election day you will have succeeded and won, or, alternatively, you and your supporters will have hit the wall very hard. You will be very sore and then your job is to help pick everyone up again so they are ready to take on another campaign or struggle.

John said that the only way I would ever gain enough momentum and success in knocking over that wall was if I gave it everything I had and convinced everyone else who joined me to give it everything they had. He said, "That is the only way you will ever have a chance of succeeding." Smashing myself into a brick wall was not perhaps the most reassuring analogy, but I totally get what John was telling me. He knew from experience that holding back and not giving it your all was never going to work. He knew we would never achieve the goals we set out to achieve if we did not give it our all. He gave it everything and I still consider that to be the most valuable advice that I received from him during that campaign.

There is a picture of John and me holding a "Free the refugees" sign while standing at a refugee action on Macquarie Street in 2004. I will always remember the actions and rallies, The Greens meetings and the community events that I attended with John over many years. He was always there. We would always run into him talking to 400 people who knew him and who all wanted to talk to him. I will never forget how happy John looked at our end-of-year drinks when I announced that my partner, Christian, and I were having a baby. I am sad that he will never get to see the baby.

To Lynne, John's family, his team, and to those who are feeling the enormous loss of this incredible man, I offer our love, strength and solidarity to you. It is hard to believe we are standing in this place doing this. John would expect us to come back to the issues that he cared about. He would be disappointed if we spoke without mentioning them. What better way to do that than to highlight the issues that he raised in his inaugural speech. On climate change and renewable energy, which is still relevant today, John said:

This State faces two distinct choices: we can either work together and prepare for a future that takes us beyond fossil fuels, or we can put our heads in the sand and hope that something will turn up. If we ignore the warnings we are risking economic and environmental devastation.

John, I give you our commitment that we will continue to work for a transition to 100 per cent renewables in New South Wales and ensure that we will continue to call out the hypocrisy of those who continue to be in bed with the polluting fossil fuel industry. On equality and discrimination, John said:

We must reverse the trends towards greater social, ethnic and economic divisions not only in Australia but globally. We have to undo the growth in inequality of economic outcomes.

He continued:

We have to surrender the luxury of allowing prejudice, greed and ignorance to infect debates and decision-making, not just within this Parliament but throughout society.

John, we will continue to call out for systemic issues that further entrench inequality and prejudices that perpetuate discrimination.

With respect to public education he said:

Our great public school system and TAFE colleges knock some of the rough edges off socioeconomic disadvantage and create a celebration of diversity. More importantly, they are central to a culturally, economically and politically successful society that can innovate and thrive in the greenhouse century.

John, I can promise you that we will continue to campaign for public education to highlight the damage that successive governments have done to our TAFE system and to speak out against the privatisation of our education system and the directing of public funds to private schools. There were so many other issues that John campaigned on. He continued to highlight the corrupting influences of donations and powerful lobby groups on our community and our society. Some young people have said that John inspired them to get involved in political change.

Activists, unionists, education campaigners, political allies and friends of John may feel that they have lost their connection to this place. I say to them today—I put it on the public record—that my door and the doors of all my Greens parliamentary colleagues are open to them. I do not want them to feel that with the loss of John they have lost their connection to this place. That would be a bad way for us to continue his legacy. Instead, friends of John and those who campaigned with him should know that they can always get in touch with us. We will continue to fight the campaigns that he fought.

The member for Balmain spoke about the commemoration and celebration of John's life, which took place on Friday. It was a remarkable event and showed the impact that John had on so many people. A short while ago we were debating in the Chamber whether we would move an amendment to an amendment on a WestConnex motion, knowing that this condolence motion was coming before the House. We had a bit of a discussion about the timing and figured that John would be very disappointed if we missed the opportunity to raise a political issue just because we were talking to his condolence motion. I say to those in the gallery who had to wait that we considered his interests because we figured that John would be very annoyed if we put that opportunity aside to speak on the condolence motion.

John Kaye was there for so many of us. There are so many more Greens members in this Parliament now than were here when he first was elected. Our movement is growing but we have still suffered a great loss. I am not sure how we will be without him, but I can commit that we will do everything to continue the work that he started and we will do it with the determination, drive, passion, intellect and commitment that he always demonstrated. John achieved so much, he taught us so much, and he gave so much. There was so much more that we could have learned from him. If I say that John will be greatly missed it would be the biggest understatement I could ever make.


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