Vale John Kaye MLC

JK at May Day 2015I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of our party elder John Kaye MLC earlier this month. I was not able to attend the May meeting of Council due to health reasons, however, the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, moved a Lord Mayoral Minute to recognise John’s life and contributions in my absence. Below is the speech that the Lord Mayor delivered on behalf of both of us.

NSW has lost a great friend.

A champion for public education. An advocate for energy sustainability. A fighter against corruption. And a friend of creatures great and small.

John Kaye was elected to the NSW Legislative Council in 2007. Already known for his passion for education, John was a staunch defender of the highly politicised public education system. He understood that universal access to quality public education was our greatest chance to overcome problems of social disadvantage. John wanted to see a world where the social outcomes of a child’s life would not be determined by their fortunes in the lottery of birth. He abhorred the socio-economic segregation of Australian children within our school system.

He also understood how our social and economic success as a society was furthered by quality accessible vocational education and training. As a defender of TAFE John forewarned us about the consequences of privatisation and deregulation. The repeated collapse of opportunistic and unsustainable private collages who take government and student money before suddenly closing down is one such consequence. So too is the exclusion of those on low incomes from further education through the deregulation of fees. The casualisation of staff has also seen some of the system’s most dedicated teachers leave.

While ongoing degradation of the planet and the threat of run-away climate change is a cause for much pessimism, John’s belief in what he called ‘our collective right to determine our common future’ drove him in his advocacy for renewable energies. John’s belief in power of collective action to overcome the oligarchy of money and vested interests fuelled his relentless efforts to bring about a post-carbon jobs-rich future.  

His campaign for a 100% renewable energy sector demonstrated the vision and intellectual rigour needed in contemporary political debate to realise ambitious change. His background as an electrical engineering and sustainable energies lecturer at UNSW gave him a deep understanding, not only of the technology, but also the economics of the energy industry.

John strived to be a friend to those most vulnerable in our society. His work on the egg industry exposed how some industry players were passing off battery hen eggs as free range. He campaigned against the attempts to severely reduce the standard of what ‘free range’ should mean. This work in collaboration with Animal rights groups helped to elevate this issue amongst consumers and raise awareness about the accuracy of labelling laws. Similarly, his work exposed the practice of live-baiting and brought an end to the cruelties of the Greyhound Racing industry.

John’s belief in the promise of authentic democracy brought real passion to his work on political donations and transparency in Parliament.  He doggedly pursued of vested interests within the political system.

Many that knew John would say he had a ‘brain the size of a planet’ but his intellect was matched by a heartfelt determination for a better, more equal world. John had a genuine interest in people and connected with others from a diverse range of backgrounds and positions in life. He was always mindful that his position as a Member of Parliament was not a position of status but one of responsibility. He rejected the use of the title ‘The Honourable’ on the grounds that it placed an unnecessary distance between politicians and constituents. 

Despite the demands of holding multiple portfolios, John always had time for people. He took a genuine interest in people’s lives. John understood that his work as a Member of Parliament was meaningless if he did not bring the community with him. His work with communities across NSW claimed some great successes including the axing of a disastrous plan to dam the Williams River in the Hunter Valley. He wasn’t a photo-op politician but one with real grit and determination.

John’s values are shared with many of us here at the City of Sydney who understand that placing communities at the centre of decisions is vital to a healthy democracy. Our role as elected officials is not merely to make decisions on behalf of constituents but to engage them in every step of the process.

Irene tells me that The Greens relied on John’s wisdom and advice to guide them through the complexities of challenging issues. While they are poorer for the loss of John they remain rich with inspiration from having witnessed his unswerving commitment to his principles and to the collective good.

Irene said and I quote, “It was always a comfort to know that John was out in the world fighting the good fight. His passing leaves a great hole. Like many Greens members, activists and communities across New South Wales, I will miss him.”  

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