Monday, May 28, 2007

Some thoughts on Jackie Kelly's retirement ...

Jackie Kelly’s departure from the Parliament at the next election will mean more than just the loss of a genuinely decent and hard-working Western Sydney local member.

Kelly’s election and her defeat of former Hawke Minister Ross Free in the 1996 election was a surprise to everyone involved in that campaign (including no doubt Ms Kelly herself and her local branches). She then faced a by-election, managing to attract Liberal Party apparatchiks of all factions and from across the state to rally behind her.

Some friends and I stayed up all night the night before, guarding the polling booths to ensure our posters weren’t ripped down. In the end, the ALP chaps left our posters alone, though I did see a few “Australians Against Further Immigration” corflute signs lying around the road outside St Marys Primary School.

The following night, as the results came in, we cheered like nuts when the extent of increase in the swing toward her became apparent.

Ask any current or former Liberal Party member and they will agree with my assessment that Kelly was the most un-politician-like politician the Party has ever sent to Canberra. I hope it doesn’t sound too sentimental for me to say that she was one of those people who had little concern for political spin, who spoke her mind and simultaneously spoke from the heart. I think that quality of hers genuinely resonated with her electorate and with voters in general.

And it wasn’t as if she was incapable of spin. After all, before entering Parliament, ms Kelly was a highly accomplished military lawyer.

She was herself relatively conservative and a firm Howard loyalist. Yet she also was supportive of more women getting into Parliament, even if they were from the small “l” side of the party. She openly came out and supported the preselection and then election of the small “l” Gladys Berejiklian to the NSW State seat of Willoughby on Sydney’s North Shore.

Indeed, Kelly’s greatest achievement within the Liberal Party organisation was to remain aloof of all factionalism in the party. She refused to allow any of her staff to do factional work, and factional hacks who tried using a job in her office for this purpose were quickly shown the door. Kelly’s simple philosophy was that both wings were needed to fly the Liberal plane through the former Labor heartlands of Western Sydney. Many of the factional hacks I worked with were not impressed with Kelly’s blanket refusal to keep factionalism out of her office.

Parliament will soon lose a thoroughly decent individual who wasn’t interested in putting false gloss on her words. Kelly first got elected almost by "fluke". Yet by her hard work, Kelly turned a fluke into a safe Liberal seat. If it was indeed a fluke, I really do hope more electorates produce more such flukes!

© Irfan Yusuf 2007