April 30, 2015  |  

VALE Lynne Kosky

I was hoping that the member for Altona could hold it together so that I could too. However, I will try. How do you sum up Lynne Janice Kosky? She was bright, intelligent, creative, artistic, stubborn and feisty. She was a woman of great compassion and conviction who believed in making a difference to the lives of people she cared about. She cared about the lives of Victorian children, and we are lucky she did because she has left an incredible mark.

Many members who have spoken about Lynne today have mentioned her record as Minister for Education and what she did for all Victorians. Lynne also leaves a legacy as an education minister in Footscray, with the creation of the Maribyrnong Sports Academy at Maribyrnong Secondary College. Lynne had to fight very hard to get that school. She had to fight very hard indeed to create an opportunity for those kids whose parents could not afford to encourage their children’s sporting prowess. She created a school that would be able to do that for them. That is the legacy she leaves in her local area.

Lynne was Footscray to her bootstraps. She was always checking up with me on how things were going in Footscray, asking what we were up to and what we were trying to achieve. I know she would be so proud to see the education precinct we will create. I talked to her at some length about our dream for an education precinct in Footscray. We will make education the no.1 priority in the western suburbs, which had been bereft of attention for a long time under the previous conservative government. We will meet that commitment to my electorate and its surrounds, and I know Lynne would be very proud of us.

The other thing Lynne did which may or may not get a mention was to oversee the establishment of the Melbourne Recital Centre when she was Minister for the Arts, which was a great achievement from the perspective of someone like me, who cares about and has a great passion for the arts. Building up our arts and education culture was a very important factor in Lynne’s life.

I am not going to talk too much about Lynne’s record as a minister; other people will do so at great length. Needless to say, it will be a long time before we see another minister leave the legacy that Lynne has in education.

Lynne also leaves a legacy in transport — and not just myki. Those who think about transport should think about the Victorian Transport Plan, which Lynne played a major role in developing. This was the greatest investment in public transport and transport infrastructure that had been seen for 50 years. We should remember Lynne for that.

I first met Lynne when we were both in youth affairs at the Department of Labour. She was the mayor of Footscray at the time, and I was the new kid on the block. I had just come in as the executive officer of the Youth Policy Development Council. Lynne had been there for quite some time when I walked in. Steve Bracks was there too, in the youth guarantee program — we were quite a little trio. But it was Lynne who first came up to me and said, ‘Hi. Welcome to the department. Let me introduce you around’. Everyone in this house knows Lynne’s smile; it was infectious. I know everyone who came into contact with Lynne both respected her — you could not help but respect her — and liked her. As far as I was concerned, Lynne was a really special person to me from that day on. It is not often that someone will take time out to make sure you get introduced to everyone on your floor, tell you about the ins and outs of what happens in the department and make you feel at home on your first day.

We lost contact for a bit; Lynne went off to do her thing and I went off to do mine. In the factional sense of things, Lynne and I were not on the same side, so our paths did not really cross. I kept to my lot, and Lynne kept to hers. But when we came back together as ministers in 1999, our shared interests instantly helped the friendship blossom once again.

Cabinet is a funny beast. You sit around and make very serious decisions and discuss the issues that are important to the state. We certainly did that for long periods of time during that first cabinet. There were some big issues to discuss and resolve. We managed to get through those cabinet meetings and minority government by supporting one another as ministers and as a caucus.

One of the beautiful things about that caucus was that no matter where you came from in the party, no matter what your background was geographically or educationally and no matter what walk of life you came from or experiences you might have had, we looked after one another. If someone had a bad news day, other ministers would be on the phone saying, ‘Hang in there; it’s okay. Everything’s fine; we’ll get through this’. We would look after one another quite a lot.

We also had a lot of fun, as you do when you are all roughly around the same age and you all have young kids. You discuss your kids, and you discuss how you did not get to go to that school parent-teacher night that you wanted to get to or how you did not pack your kids’ lunch that day for school and someone else had to do it. Lynne was very fortunate to have Jim there to make sure her kids were well and truly looked after. I know they were her greatest treasures.

We also had a shared interest in, as the member for Altona put it, the finer things in life. There was a very, shall we say, healthy competition around shoes. Often the talk of the caucus was about who had the best pair of shoes on any particular day, and it was certainly so within cabinet. She was a fabulous cook, and she was the most creative and artistic person I have ever met. She would come to cabinet in an amazing outfit. I would say to her, ‘Oh, God, that is so fantastic’, and she would say, ‘Yes, it’s Armani’. I would ask, ‘Armani?’, and she would say, ‘I saw it in a magazine so I decided to make it’. So she did, and she looked like she was wearing an Armani suit. When you asked how long it took for her to make it, she would say that she did it over the weekend. You would wonder how she could possibly have made it over the weekend with her schedule full of cabinet papers, briefing notes from departments, correspondence and things to tick off, and she would say that it was how she would wind down. I do not think Lynne ever, in any waking moment, sat quietly doing nothing. She was always doing something, and it was always first class.

I know she travelled to learn how to make mosaics from the experts. She wanted to make sure everything was absolutely perfect. She was a perfectionist in everything she did. She was also tough. She was a tough minister and an incredibly intelligent minister. She did not suffer fools kindly. She was incredibly feisty and could be quite stubborn — and I identify with both of those qualities — but she was the most compassionate person you could come across, and the example I want to give for this is the Kerang rail disaster. Lynne was determined not to cry. I believe the press probably would have loved to have seen Lynne in tears, but she refused. She was not going to break down in the public eye. She felt that she was there to support the families of the victims of that disaster and that it was not her place to show grief. But when she came back to this place, she sat down around the table with a few of us one night and burst into tears. She said to us, ‘This is the grief I wasn’t allowed to express while I was supporting the victims and their needs’.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, we all wanted her to mount the fight. We used to have these chicks lunches, which consisted of a few former MPs — one of whom, Janice Munt, is sitting in the chamber today — together with our token males, Craig Cook and Steve Herbert. If you are going to have a chicks lunch, you have got to have some token males. I can remember going out to one of our first dinners after Lynne was diagnosed. Lynne loved champagne, so I bought her a bottle of French champagne for her to drink when she got the all clear. I hope Lynne drank it even though she did not get the all clear.

When she got the prognosis she said to me that they gave her, at best, five years. I told her that I hoped she got much more than her five years, because she deserved to have more. She told me that she was determined not to do anything that she did not want to do and that she was going to fill whatever time she had left doing the things that made her happy. That meant assisting Victoria University with some of its projects. It meant working with the dairy industry on some of its projects. It was not all about her; it was about doing the things she felt were really important — although in some ways it was all about Lynne. There were those wonderful trips overseas with friends, and that wonderful trip overseas with Jim, during which they caught up with Hana and Jackson in Europe. Then there were the ski slopes. The number of times I would ring Lynne to try to catch up with her, only to get the beep of the overseas dial tone to tell me that she was off on another jaunt. She would ring me when she got back and say that she had been skiing with Hana in Japan or off doing this or doing that.

One of Lynne’s greatest talents was her jewellery making, which she only really discovered when she left Parliament in 2010. It is true to say that there are a few of us wearing her wares in the Parliament today. I have her earrings and her necklace on. I have quite a few bits of her jewellery, and it is truly beautiful. For those who have bits of Lynne’s jewellery — there were cufflinks for the blokes — I say hold on to them. They will become priceless pieces of jewellery in the future because there are not as many pieces as we know Lynne would have liked to have produced. She wanted to make sure that she was there for her last jewellery exhibition, and she certainly was. She wanted to make sure that she was there for Hana’s 21st, and she certainly was. She wanted to be there for Jackson as he got his drivers licence, and she was there for that too.

I got to catch up with her a few times during the election campaign, when I would take time out to see her. Janice Munt and I got to have an amazing last lunch with Lynne, and we talked about her amazing house in Daylesford, which had been a project in the making since she became a minister. Jim and Lynne had bought a property in Daylesford, and it was to be the French provincial home Lynne craved. When you are a minister, you do not have much time to put into other projects, but Lynne accelerated the program when she left Parliament for Daylesford. We have seen the photos of the house in Daylesford thanks to Jim and Lynne, and it is everything she wanted it to be.

I will tell a story. I was heading overseas to Europe when Lynne was after a particular French quilt for the house in Daylesford. She asked me to pick up a quilt in a little shop in Paris. It was the only place that had this quilt, and I had to go there to get it — though she was much more polite than that; it was a request more than anything else. I had to get it for Lynne, so I found the tiny little shop in the backstreets of Paris. It was full of all these soft furnishings. I went in and asked for that particular quilt, but it was not in stock. I thought, ‘My God, what will I tell Lynne?’. I had gone all that way and could not find it. In the end we were able to order it.

She was very particular about how the house would be fitted out, whether it be specific light fittings that had to be brought in or the work she did herself — the mosaics. Jim told me today about mosaic tiles that he found at the house the other day when he was cutting back the jasmine. She really did care about getting everything just right, and I am looking forward to seeing the finished house that Lynne and Jim have built.

Lynne was Labor to her bootstraps. There was nothing that drove Lynne more than changing the lives of people who did not have the ability to change them themselves. She was driven by her belief that the way out for children from a life of not meeting their full potential had to be education. That was the only way that young people who otherwise might have no chance could be given a chance. She was incredibly tenacious about seeing through the things that she believed in, making sure that everyone had the chance to lead a life that was completely fulfilling. Lynne had a completely fulfilling life. In the last four or five years of her life she packed in four of our lifetimes. She filled every moment with meaningful memories.

To her friends who were there right to the end and who nursed her every day, along with Jim, who made sure she was comfortable and who enabled her to stay at home right till the very end, I know that Lynne loves you all dearly and is grateful to have had you around her. That is the legacy of Lynne, not just in this chamber but for the people who loved her and who will always remember her. To Hana, Jackson and Jim, we say thank you for sharing Lynne with us.