Inaugural Speech

I delivered my inaugural address to Victorian Legislative Assembly on Wednesday the 20th of February, 2019.


I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

As for family background.
I rejoice in the proclamation of Pope John 23rd that “half the world is Irish and the other half wished they were”! Indeed I am the great grandson of John Kennedy, born in 1833 in the small village of Dolla in County Tipperary. John was one of six children. Fairly typically one boy stayed home and over these last 50 years we have frequently exchanged visits from and to Dolla where my cousin John Anthony Kennedy and his family live. A second boy went to Boston and New York and contact with that branch has been maintained these last 160 years.

The third boy, John Kennedy, arrived at Port Melbourne in 1854 and commenced three years as a laborer in the construction of Yan Yean Reservoir. With the benefit of seminary education in Ireland and failure on the Victorian goldfields he moved to Mt Gambier, became tutor to the eight children of Anthony and Mary Sutton and married the eldest daughter Anne in 1865 at Mass celebrated by Julian Tenison Woods of Mary MacKillop fame. John became a successful pastoralist, local political activist, lay leader in the Catholic Church and father of 3 daughters and 8 sons! Descendants, following in his footsteps, included my grandfather who stood for the Liberal Union Party in two South Australian Elections and other Kennedys in leadership: a Bishop of Adelaide, National and South Australian leader of the Dominican Sisters, Melbourne solicitor Patricia Kennedy, better known as our much loved Aunty Pat, became Deputy Chancellor of La Trobe University and Leon Kennedy Bignell, South Australian Member for Mawson and former Cabinet Minister.

My father, John Thomas Kennedy left South Australia for Sydney, took up a Commonwealth cadetship in architecture and, after war service, married Mary Bourner. My mother always remained fond of the Sisters of Mercy who ran St Catherine’s Orphanage Brooklyn where she lived from birth to teenage years. My mother, by then into her 60s, finally met her own mother in Brisbane but only for just one hour, in secret because the lady had never been able to tell her husband or others about mum. How sad but how good that we have come such a long way since those darker times! Governments, like those of Daniel Andrews and Julia Gillard, have done much to lift stigmas and offer apology and redress.

As for education
In Sydney I attended Loreto Kirribilli and St Aloysius Milson’s Point and went on to Arts at Sydney University and teaching at the Teachers Guild of NSW.

As for religion
I have always been a practising, but questioning, Catholic! It has been a privilege to serve as President of the Association of Teachers in Victorian Catholic Secondary Schools, now part of the Independent Education Union; on the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria and as President of the Principals’ Association of Victorian Catholic Secondary Schools. Theological studies in Melbourne, Dublin, Leuven and Hua Hin have opened my mind to more of life’s possibilities. The Church has achieved much in its care and advocacy of those in need, not just Catholics. However there is still work to be done in addressing deep-seated problems arising from unhealthy male clericalism manifested, for example, in disgraceful cover ups of sexual abuse. An urgent and immediate priority is the participation of laity on Church boards when it comes to such key matters as assigning clergy and, in line with early history, ordaining women to the diaconate. The next step should be open and respectful consideration of the ordination of women to the priesthood.

My association with the Jesuits spans my entire life: as child and teenager at Aloysius, 7 years teaching at Riverview, Bachelor of Theology at the United Faculty of Theology in Parkville, as parishioner at Immaculate Conception in Hawthorn and Community Member of Jesuit Social Services. I will always be grateful for Jesuit education, friendship, Ignatian spirituality and inspiring leadership here and across the world, of Jesuits like the two Franks: Fr Frank Brennan and Pope Francis!

As for Career
Some have asked about me teaching one Anthony Abbott for 4 of my 7 years at Riverview! Notwithstanding, Speaker, my greatest achievement at Riverview was establishing One World Days throughout the school and the introduction of Asian Studies as a full year subject in Years 8 to 10. The Victorian Government’s strong international perspectives include cultural, educational and trade ties with China and a warm welcome to refugees. Recently it has been a delight to represent the Minister at Lunar New Year celebrations. Bronwyn and I are staunch advocates for increased Australian overseas aid and, along with many Victorians, subscribe monthly to Medecins Sans Frontieres and UN High Commission for Refugees. The world is desperate for leaders able and willing to address urgent issues facing our globe: climate change, poverty and violence are at the top. In this I am proud of the lead given by Daniel Andrews and his Government.

At age 28 I left Sydney as a teacher at Riverview and housemaster at Shore to be Vice Principal at St Columba’s College Essendon with part time roles as Dean of Studies at St Mary’s College Melbourne University and Flight Lieutenant in the RAAF’s 21- City of Melbourne – Squadron at Laverton. The Murdoch Press originally had me as a retired naval officer…bit of a worry since, as I later told them, I barely swim let alone command a warship across the Bay!

September 12th this year marks the 40th anniversary of appointment in 1979, at the tender age of 31 years, as Foundation Principal of Loyola College Watsonia. This was such a privilege and challenge. Much is owed to fantastic Loyola parents, staff and students who collaborated so well to lay the foundations for this great school. In particular I acknowledge such strong and loyal supporters as Jenny Macklin from Jaga Jaga, John Cain from Bundoora, Fr Myles Lynch from Our Lady of the Way Kingsbury and colleagues and friends including Margaret Crichton, Reg Elder, Maureen Philp and Paul Ryan. Governing clergy played a role though sadly it was clericalism, mentioned earlier, that sometimes frustrated progress and impeded growth. Loyola students have done well in service to others: academically and in satisfying employment and personal relationships. For example a Loyola girl is a Professor of History at Oxford and a Loyola boy is Dementia Research Leadership Fellow and Head of the Motor Neuron Disease Laboratory at Howard Florey and many others are in service roles including local councils, education, health, politics and welfare.

In January 2008 I concluded over 28 years at Loyola and spent 2008 as Interim Executive Principal at Trinity Anglican Colleges in Albury-Wodonga. At the end of 2008, at 61 years of age, I retired from full-time paid work.

What do I have to show for these last 10 years?
Until the last election in November there has been extensive travel and running an educational consultancy business with various assignments that included a 6-month stint as Executive Officer for the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia Victoria (AHISA). My pro bono service included: 5 years as a Board Director of Caroline Chisholm Society in Essendon and Caroline Springs supporting pregnant women and parents with young children, followed by 5 months in an honorary capacity, filling in as its CEO until the ongoing appointment of Helen Cooney; 10 years on the Board of Directors of Catholic Ladies’ College Eltham; and 5 on the Board of Management of ABC Friends.

A highlight of post Loyola life was joining the ALP in 2011 and standing for Kooyong in 2013 and Hawthorn last year. I joined Labor because it strikes the best balance in fairness, productivity and compassion. A particular satisfaction has been participation in the three branches that form Kooyong FEA – namely, Canterbury, Hawthorn and Kew. Charlie Murphy was the last Labor Member for Hawthorn, from 1952 until 1955 when things fell apart over the so called “split” with Charlie choosing to side with the Labor Anti Communist Party. With Labor now back in Box Hill, Burwood, Hawthorn and a strong swing in Kew we look forward to a return to good old days! A particular interest has been elected membership of the ALP’s Education and Youth Affairs Policy Committee and its work for the betterment of all schools without exception as well as tackling other youth issues.

And so to the lead up to that election last November!
We come to August/September last year when I travelled to El Salvador and several countries in South America. Here I pause to relate a premonition: in Lima we witnessed and experienced the fantastic sky rail with its release of lands beneath!

Upon return to Melbourne on 5 October a 7-week campaign for the Seat of Hawthorn commenced in earnest! I used that theme developed upon becoming President of the Kooyong FEA in 2014: namely, striving for an Australia that is fair, productive and compassionate. Each of these three commodities needs the other two. Proudly and unambiguously I made known in the campaign my active membership of ABC Friends (formerly Friends of the ABC), Labor 4 Refugees and Australian Republican Movement. Following campaign leadership and support from Danny Milincic and Lindsay Sparrow I found myself, at last, at home at 6.50pm on Saturday, 24 November in front of the TV to see Antony Green pull out a small booth in Glen Iris showing a 16% swing to Labor! An intended visit to the Box Hill/Burwood/Hawthorn/Kew combined election party suddenly took on urgency! Then, after nearly 2 weeks of waiting, just 330 voters finally made the big difference!

Initial shock soon turned into tremendous joy at this wonderful gift from the constituents of Hawthorn and all the volunteers and benefactors in the Campaign. How lucky am I to live and work in just 19 square kilometers of lively activity, restful beauty, history, Hawthorn Aquatic and Leisure Centre, loads of other sporting options, Swinburne University, multi-culturalism, quality schools, Camberwell Market, Glenferrie Road cafes and changing demographics! It is been a delight for staff and I to visit, get to know and support parents, staff and students of our government and non government schools, which, without exception we observe, do excellent work with and for young people.

In setting up office I was greatly assisted by Vicki Ward and Adele Alm from Eltham and Bob Stensholt formerly of Burwood. Since then I have appointed an outstanding Hawthorn Team composed of 4 future MPs: Anna Daniels, Anna Gay, James Carfax-Foster and Darcy White.

And what about my age? Speaker, let me ask who in this place, besides me, remembers where they were on Saturday, 23 November 1963 when the evening papers, in Sydney at least, appeared shortly after 8am with banner headline, “Kennedy Dead”? In Hawthorn of course such a headline would understandably have caused more confusion and mayhem!

I am so grateful to have been allotted more than the biblical “three score and ten”! Clearly I cannot lay claim to athletic triumphs of late but, just over 4 years ago, in 2014 at 67, graduated with a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership. In the same year Bronwyn and I purchased an off-the-plan lease (not a subsidized one as claimed in the Murdoch Press last Sunday!) in a Hawthorn retirement village and in June 2016 moved into our brand new unit. We continue to enjoy and value the friendship and stimulus of our new community. Some even told me they broke a lifetime habit and sent a vote in my direction! Other friends give me the credit of sole responsibility for the intended sky rail at the Toorak Road crossing!

As for this place, Speaker, I am grateful to the Member for Cranbourne on my left and Buninyong on my right for keeping me attentive and alert to the best speeches on offer! I also note, with appreciation, that the Member for Melton, alongside the Member for Cranbourne, is a retired ambulance paramedic!

Finally, my renewed thanks to pals of many years and new friends in Parliament and Hawthorn.

I thank siblings – Catherine, Anthony, Margaret, Mary and Tom (deceased) – for support and tolerance over many years and, in particular, for making today’s journey from Sydney. My children – Fionnuala and Patrick Kennedy together with their partners – for their love and good humour especially when putting up with a father older and possibly more eccentric than their friends’ fathers!

Above all I acknowledge and thank Bronwyn Lane, wife of 33 years and dearest friend for 37, for her love, loyalty, outgoing nature, independence and practical support despite inevitable “excitement” occasioned by a first-born being married to a first-born!

Thank you, Speaker.