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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 892

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (21:12): I rise to record and respond to the resignation of the Labor member of parliament for the seat of Gosford, Kathy Smith, a caring and determined advocate for the Central Coast. I first met Kathy Smith when she was chair of Cancer Voices New South Wales, at a time when I was the candidate for Robertson, in 2010. At that time, she was the head of a steering committee for a hard-fought campaign to build a radiotherapy treatment centre on the Central Coast.

Kathy had beaten cancer in 1996 and she knew what a valuable asset a radiotherapy centre would be for cancer patients on the Central Coast. At that time cancer patients had to travel to either Sydney or Newcastle for public treatment, or run up large debts for treatment at a private clinic locally. As she explained:

I had become aware of an elderly lady who had to travel from Wyong to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for radiotherapy treatment each day for six weeks. She travelled by bus and train, and what torture that must have been for her. I was living in Hornsby at the time of my diagnosis and I was fortunate enough to be able to afford private radiotherapy treatment only 10 minutes away from home and my place of work.   

Silly or not, I was left with a feeling of guilt knowing that this much older lady was having to struggle to travel for treatment while I could be driven for mine without any effort on my part.

Kathy and the former member for Gosford, Marie Andrews, rallied the community and secured tens of thousands of petitioners to create the political context in which I was able to fight very hard to secure $29 million from the Labor government under Kevin Rudd and $10 million from the state Labor government under Kristina Keneally. With that $39 million investment, the experience of people suffering cancer on the Central Coast was transformed. This cancer centre on the coast is a testament to Kathy Smith's drive and determination to get things done for the community. She is a natural campaigner and a down-to-earth straight talker, and it was these attributes, among others, that won her the seat of Gosford from the Liberals in 2015. Kathy touched on her motivation for the cancer centre campaign—and I think her comments are instructive of her motivation generally—in her maiden speech to the NSW Legislative Assembly. She said:

Being a person who always spoke up for the underdog and who took on the battles of those not able to fight for themselves, it was inevitable that I would do something to draw attention to this dreadful situation.

And she did. Although she has not been successful in keeping good health and finishing her term, in her service for the community as the member for Gosford, Kathy has continued to take up the fight for the underdog in parliament.

She helped expose the dangerous condition of the Hawkesbury River railway bridge, a line that carries 600 train services and 11,000 commuters between Sydney and the coast every day. A report in 2013 discovered one of the bridge's pylons was severely corroded, but repairs had not been made by 2015—a potentially disastrous state of affairs for such a train journey. Kathy's work on that issue alone led to an inquiry by the Office of Transport Safety Investigations, and she forced the government to make repairs. She led the fight against the closure of the Roads and Maritime Services office in Woy Woy by collecting a petition with more than 15,000 signatures and forcing a debate in the New South Wales parliament. The out-of-touch Liberals did not listen; they shut it and the community is all the poorer.

Kathy also stopped the proposed increase in train fares, which would have almost doubled fares for seniors by 2018 and would have cost daily commuters from Woy Woy to Tuggerah an extra $386 per year. She fought to keep our public hospitals in public hands, because patients should always come before profit. She campaigned to fix the $12 million maintenance backlog at Gosford schools, with Brisbane Water Secondary College Umina Campus alone requiring $1.1 million worth of repairs and maintenance. She supported the residents of Spencer to bring an end to the illegal landfill that was occurring locally on a large scale. She championed Brisbane Water oyster growers in their continuing efforts to re-establish a viable local industry. She worked with Peat Island and Mooney Mooney residents to save this gateway to the Hawkesbury from over-development, and she campaigned to secure a safer community environment by supporting residents and lobbying for more effective crime prevention and Neighbourhood Watch centres.

In fact, despite her recent ill health and leave from parliament, Kathy has fought just as tirelessly and fervently for the community as she always has. Her staff should also be congratulated for maintaining the vital functions of Kathy's electorate office during such a demanding and stressful time. Unfortunately, Kathy's most recent diagnosis means she will be unable to maintain her workload. She has decided her resignation would be the best course of action for the benefit of her constituents, and that will bring on a by-election. The airwaves on the Central Coast today were full of gracious wishes and praise for Kathy's work, as parliamentarians from both sides of the political divide called in, as I did this morning, to offer support and recognise her powerful advocacy. Her boss, NSW Labor leader, Luke Foley, acknowledged Kathy Smith's spirit and outlook, saying:

With her resignation we are losing a remarkable, resilient and admirable woman, mother and colleague. Her spirit and outlook will be missed around Parliament and important though her work here was she has a much bigger battle ahead. Please give her your best thoughts, and prayers. She and her family will get strength from that.

I can only concur with Mr Foley's sentiments.

I also want to put on the record a very important event that happened on Friday evening. I know that people think of St Patrick's Day as the big day of Irish celebration, but the Irish have a second patron saint: a woman, St Brigid, whose feast day is 1 February. This event on Friday evening recognised 12 remarkable Irish-Australian women from the community who are also very active in the Labor movement and the union movement. We were very pleased to receive notification of support for that event from Sabina Higgins—the equivalent of the first lady of Ireland, as the wife of Michael D Higgins—who wrote about the important place that St Brigid holds in terms of women who take action with compassion and practical action to support the community. This is what all these women that we awarded really demonstrated.

I would like to particularly acknowledge the lifetime achievement award, which this year went to Janice Currie-Henderson. She was a founding member of the Australian Irish Dancing Association Incorporated, which celebrates 50 years this year. She has taught Irish dancing for 57 years and was instrumental in establishing the Australian Irish Dancing Association. She has been the president of the Australian Irish Dancing Association many times and she has danced with her students all over Sydney and New South Wales, bringing joy to so many and sharing Irish culture right across that 57-year career.

We also awarded, posthumously, a remarkable Australian by the name of Bridget Whelan OAM. Bridget was a senior adviser to a number of Labor state and federal ministers and made a profound contribution, shifting from her work as a lawyer in the private sphere to serving the public through the Labor Party. When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, Bridget turned her incredible skillset to advocacy for the cause of ovarian cancer. Her award was received by John Whelan.

We had a community hero category and, for the first time, we were able to acknowledge people who may or may not be members of the Labor Party but certainly make a fantastic civic contribution. I want to acknowledge and put on the record the contribution of Una Champion, from the Macarthur area, a nurse and midwife who not only contributed to Irish culture in the area but was also a significant investigator in research projects to identify the needs of young people in custody. Eileen Donaghey, the famous owner of the Irish restaurant in the middle of the city known as Mulligans, is a wonderful champion for Variety, having raised over $125,000 for that cause. Dr Marie Leech was awarded for her contribution to the Aisling Society of Sydney. She has made a great contribution to the academic life of this country and to the sharing of literature. And Louise Nealon, a founding member of Irish YesEquality Australia, was awarded for her significant contribution.

I also acknowledge other awardees at the evening, including Maura Chambers, who comes from Lismore and made a tremendous contribution and who has a great interest in Indigenous affairs; Carmel Cook, who joined in 1986 and has been a passionate and powerful advocate for community benefit; Deirdre Grusovin AM, a former member of the NSW Legislative Council, who held several significant offices and ministries; Coral Levett, a registered nurse for 33 years and a very significant leader of the union movement and former president of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation; Sheila Nolan from the SDA for organising and supporting workers; and Celine Smullen. (Time expired)