Condolences: Hon Lynne Janice Kosky

It is my great yet sad honour to also stand here today to pay tribute to my predecessor, Lynne Kosky, who was not only my political friend but also my personal friend. Lynne would love the westie love that we have heard expressed in this chamber today, which brings me great joy. At her very essence she was a shiny, shiny girl. Her impact in Victoria, and particularly on Melbourne’s west, was as profound as it was wide and owed much not only to Lynne’s capabilities but also to the nature of her character.

Ultimately Lynne’s journey demonstrates how we are all defined by our choices — choices about how we spend our lives and about what really matters. Lynne was very passionate and committed to creating a more equal society, and through all the cut and thrust of politics and the glare of the media spotlight she remained, as many members on both sides of the house have reflected, a kind and decent person. She never lost her terrific sense of humour — in fact she could be quite a smart arse at times — which is why we are feeling her loss so keenly.

To understand Lynne and her motivations, her personality and her career choices, we need to understand the time and place from which she came, about which many other people have spoken. Growing up in the 1970s Lynne attended Footscray High School in the mighty western suburbs. When Lynne looked around her community, she was appalled, and she was motivated and engaged to achieve different educational outcomes to those occurring on the other side of town. Some say that we in the western suburbs of Melbourne carry chips on our shoulders but Lynne’s observations, particularly at that time, were correct.

Lynne understood that just jumping up and down would not change this situation. She realised that change required structural work, at both a collective and community level. After high school Lynne chose social work as her area of study, gaining a degree that would help shape her values and hone her beautiful knack for connecting with people, particularly when they were doing it tough. She quickly saw the crucial importance of building and protecting organisations and institutions, and she understood the importance of not only economic issues but also cultural issues that would enliven Melbourne’s west, so she joined the ALP. It is always a defining moment for someone to join the ALP, and they do so for a range of exciting reasons. Lynne was elected to the Footscray City Council. Subsequently she became its mayor, and she brought her own very special style and technique to that role.

It was during this period of her life that Lynne became integrally involved in many of the important watershed moments in Melbourne’s west, including the creation of Victoria University, the response to the Coode Island fire and the campaign to save the mighty Footscray Football Club. When the Victorian Football League (VFL) instigated a merger of the Footscray Football Club, Lynne joined the fight. I do not think the people at the VFL knew who they were messing with, because she considered this fight against the league critical to arresting the sense of powerlessness in the west and to restoring a sense that positive change and justice were possible.
Lynne also made a lifelong commitment to education, and many other speakers have spoken of her achievements. She began as a young campaigner and became a respected reforming minister. She was passionate about helping young people achieve their potential through education. She condemned the unsatisfactory situation where far fewer western suburbs students who completed year 12 gained admission to university. It was not enough for Lynne that she had been able to break through the glass ceiling; she wanted to make sure that she did work for those who came after her. We are so lucky that the west has had people such as Lynne who have dared to dream big for their community and who have worked hard to achieve such fundamental change.

As a minister Lynne was able to implement the educational reforms she had identified as being necessary. Many other speakers have spoken of these reforms, including what Lynne achieved through the introduction of the Victorian certificate of applied learning (VCAL), through the establishment of local learning and employment networks and through countless other reforms. I do not think a week goes by in which a teacher or a young person does not talk to me about how VCAL has fundamentally changed the landscape of their lives, has kept them engaged in the education system and has provided a whole range of other social networks around that. We are enormously proud of Lynne for this achievement.

I think the clearest choice that Lynne made was to retain her warmth and her human touch in the face of a political system that, as another speaker said, is often adversarial and restrictive in a whole range of ways and sometimes short on humility. I do remember hearing a story that at a community cabinet Lynne was attending in regional Victoria there was a protest outside — imagine that! The police had formed a ring to enable all the ministers to get in, but instead of going straight inside Lynne spent 10 minutes chatting to the protesters about the weather, about sewing patterns and about one lady’s necklace, while also touching on the issues that people had come to talk about. Lynne’s observation was, ‘These are polite people. Why make them yell when I can just go over and talk to them?’. It was specifically that approach which helped Lynne deal with the vicissitudes of life, particularly of public life.

In her first attempt at preselection in the seat of Footscray, Lynne was unsuccessful. I must say that it is my personal observation that it usually takes the really good ones a couple of goes — we are a bit slow in here today! But she did not waste time on recriminations and loathing. People say that politicians are good haters, but not Lynne. She remained strong friends with the eventual candidate, the lovely Bruce Mildenhall, and they were very close friends always. Lynne would later say that losing preselection was one of the great gifts she had been given in life because it gave her and the love of her life, the wonderful Jim, the opportunity to start a family and to give us Hana and Jackson.

Lynne did finally get preselection for the Altona district in 1996 and her immeasurable achievements both as a local member and as a minister have already been canvassed. One of the things that people sometimes do not know about Lynne is that she was a deeply creative person. She had a keen aesthetic eye and she loved beautiful things. Lynne had an incredible personal style and a charisma that meant that whenever she entered a room you always knew it.

Lynne was also proof positive that you can be not only a strong and committed feminist but also a whiz on the sewing machine, because she was very good at both. She would often tell stories about the long dark nights in Parliament, particularly when Parliament was sitting into the wee early hours, when she had secretly bought in her sewing machine and as she sat in her office the whirring sound of the sewing machine could be heard. Many speculated about what that sound might be, but Lynne kept her door locked and produced many beautiful things. Lynne designed her own clothes, sewed them and became a wonderful jewellery maker. I am delighted, as I know many members of this house, predominantly female, are also wearing some of the fabulous pieces that Lynne has made. Lynne did Moroccan plastering and was a fabulous cook. She made the best croquembouche you had ever seen. She was an incredibly rounded and renaissance woman. People often do not understand the depths of her talent. She was incredibly gifted.

It felt very unjust that after deciding to embrace a new life Lynne was diagnosed with cancer, because she had great ambitions to build a new life. But she did build a fabulous new life even with cancer, and cancer came not to define her. She had fabulous times travelling with Jim and the kids, painting, cooking, sending us sometimes unsolicited political advice by text message on the joys of opposition and why we needed to fight hard to change it. I am delighted that she saw our eventual success. Lynne Kosky was a woman with an enormous brain and an enormous heart. She lived a big life, and we are very grateful for that.