Obituary: John Kaye 1955-2016, Greens MP

John Kaye’s death has robbed the left of one of our most effective campaigners.

John worked tirelessly, especially for public education. John understood solidarity. As a pioneering electrical engineering academic at UNSW and a member of the NTEU he was a happy comrade on a picket line.

There isn’t a TAFE college in NSW that John hadn’t visited as Labor and Liberal governments defunded the public system and gave handouts to private colleges in order to undermine wages in the sector. The TAFE Teachers Association awarded John an honorary life membership before he died, the first time a non-teacher has been honoured.

John wasn’t dogmatic, but scientific, trying to understand problems and find the best way to solve them.

His recent bill proposing compulsory 100 per cent government project procurement of Illawarra steel to defend the Port Kembla workforce was underpinned by a policy approach that said nationalisation—in full or in part—would probably be necessary for investment in cleaner technology to help build the energy and transport transition the climate crisis demands.

John played a critical role in clarifying the direction of The Greens, especially in NSW, as a social democratic ecological party. He hated inequality, hypocrisy and bullshitters and disliked wowserism. For example, his work was critical to the party opposing the “lock-out” laws in total and rejecting any state funding to private schools.

An MP for nine years, John did not have illusions in parliament.

For him parliament was just one—and not the most important—arena to try to make social change. In a message to Greens members before he died, John warned:

The critical outcome for the Greens is to not be caught in parliamentarianism, to not be caught in the trappings of power, to not believe for one minute that just because you are in government you actually have control over the destiny of the economy.

This isn’t and never has been about changing government—that’s what Labor, that’s what the Liberals and Nats do—this is about changing what people expect from government, what they expect from the possibilities of working together for the common good and the collective outcome.

John would talk with anyone and enjoyed asking people what they thought.

He used his ability to master detail and his wit in the parliament and the media to build campaigns and skewer selfish governments.

When Mike Baird rang him after the news of his illness was announced, he asked if there was anything he could do. John didn’t miss the chance, telling Baird he could stop the sale of the electricity network’s poles and wires!

John was inspired by the expansion of public services and freedom of choice under the Whitlam government and located “neo-liberalism” and “marketism” as the enemies. His theoretical framework was a work in progress. He was always looking for evidence and was soberly optimistic. The unexpected rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the Sanders movement filled him with hope even as his own potential slipped away.

John Kaye is survived by his partner of 30 years, Lynne, and a left party that owes much to his very hard work, clear thinking and ethics.

By Bruce Knobloch
Greens member, Sydney


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