John Kaye: a passionate ally of public education

Maurie Mulheron

John Kaye at a May Day rally in 2015

The death of Greens MLC John Kaye is a great loss to public education and other social justice campaigning.

While John Kaye was never a member of our union he was always our friend and ally, and as a member of the NSW parliament he was in that arena one of the strongest advocates for public education and TAFE that we’ve ever known.

If there’s one thing about John that is universally recognised it is the fact that he was a man of great principle who was absolutely committed to issues of social justice and who pursued those principles with tireless conviction.

If there was a rally on an issue of social justice, environmental conservation, public services and especially public education and TAFE, chances were that John would be there marching alongside activists from all walks of life.

Federation was proud to welcome John to many of our rallies and events, where he spoke with great passion not only for public education, but for the importance of public education to a fair and just society, and the importance of the public service that provided that education to children.

Upon entering NSW parliament in 2007, John said in a speech: “Our great public school system and TAFE colleges knock some of the rough edges off socio-economic disadvantage and create a celebration of diversity … If there is one achievement that I would like to meet …over the next eight years it would be to keep alive the debate over the funding of private schools and the idea that public education must be the first and foremost responsibility of every level of government, as it is written in the Education Act.”

John’s support of public services was particularly on display in 2011 when the recently-elected O’Farrell government was passing new regressive public sector wage reforms. As part of a filibustering effort, John spoke for five hours and 53 minutes to try and prevent a vote — and it is a reflection of his character and sense of humour that he stopped short of beating his colleague, David Shoebridge’s record-breaking speaking time of five hours and 58 minutes the previous day, saying the filibuster wasn’t a “pissing contest”.

One of John’s strongest areas of advocacy was in his opposition to the privatisation of TAFE — and one anecdote that’s been in the media shows the strength of John’s commitment. When he was hospitalised, Mike Baird allegedly called him to ask if he could assist in any way, and John’s replied with “Yeah mate, you can stop gutting TAFE”.

John Kaye passed away on May 2 at the age of 60. He is survived by his partner, Lynne, a public school teacher.