Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston

Co-publisher and editor-in-chief at No Fibs
Margo Kingston is a retired Australian journalist and climate change activist. She is best known for her stint as Phillip Adams’ ‘Canberra Babylon’ contributor and her work at The Sydney Morning Herald and #Webdiary. Since 2012, Kingston has been a citizen journalist, reporting and commenting on Australian politics via Twitter and No Fibs.
Margo Kingston

“If I could do one thing in my time in politics and parliament for however long that may be, I sincerely hope it is just encouraging more people to understand that the democracy is theirs. You know, we can take it and shape it and do with it what we wish, but we have to accept the responsibility that it is ours.”

Kylea Tink

DURING OUR INTERVIEW half way into her term, North Sydney’s #IndependentsDay MP Kylea Tink said she’s organising an experiment under the mentorship of New Democracy, an Australian Foundation which believes that:

“When given the authority, time, and information, everyday people take the tough questions, side-step party lines, and deliver sensible answers.”

Fifty voters in the seat of North Sydney will meet on October 29 for a ‘Deliberative Democracy’ people’s summit to determine what they think should be done to solve the housing crisis. 

The last I’d heard some #IndependentsDay cross benchers had called for a National People’s Summit on Housing, but a local version, wow!

“And so the plan for me is that in the back half of this term, what I actually do is make sure that whatever policy platform I’m taking to the next election is actually informed from the electorate of North Sydney. So they tell me what they wanna prioritize.” 

Kylea Tink

Here is the transcript (lightly edited for clarity and cross talk) of our conversation and Kylea’s plan to ask her voters to give her policies on housing, intergenerational equity, climate and tax to take to the next election. And you can listen to the podcast of the conversation here.


Margo: Hello folks. When Peter Clarke and I interviewed Kylea Tink in early November 2021 she was the first (new) #IndependentsDay candidate to announce, and as it turned out the only one to do it virtually, in lockdown, and the only one not to be a shade of blue – PINK was her campaign colour. 

Kylea is different in other ways too. She’s the only new candidate who was born and bred in the bush. She made a big success in the city as a PR and marketing executive. She’s the only candidate who had no interest in politics till she stood, having voted Liberal all her life in line with her small business parents in Coonabarabran.

But even more interestingly, she hates politics. She said:

“I’m the least political person you know. Politics does my head in”. 

So Kylea, MP for North Sydney, what have you learned about how politics is played and have you managed to stop it doing your head in? And if so, how have you achieved this goal?

Kylea: Oh Margo, that’s the magic question, isn’t it really?

If I had to summarise my key learnings, one of the things I would share is that every day in this job actually feels like three. So even though it’s been a year in this role, I feel like I’ve already done a term, because the learning slope was so steep and there wasn’t a lot of internal resources set to help people like me – independents – navigate what it meant to actually become a part of the Parliament. So the first six months were incredibly difficult, but thankfully being born in the bush I’d never give up, so you just kept slugging away. 

And then the last six months have been incredibly enjoyable to be honest, Margo, because I think what I have learned is that while politics has been done a certain way for the last, you know three decades, four decades, probably more, the truth is that if you go into it with a different mindset and a very clear intention of what you are working towards, you can do it differently. 

And I think we’re seeing that in the House. We have a government that thankfully is open to discussion and debate and discourse, which means the opportunities for somebody like me to actually speak directly to a minister about what they’re proposing legislatively, to challenge them, to suggest that there are other ways to do it. 

That actually all exists in this building at the moment – and we don’t always agree, I certainly don’t always win – but the wins I’ve had have been significant and have actually meant we’ve moved that dial further on things like climate, on gender equity, on integrity in politics and on the human rights front. 

So yeah, it’s been tough, it’s a baptism by fire. I still don’t like politics. I don’t like the old form of politics.

Margo: What don’t you like about it, Kylea?

Kylea: It’s the fundamental principle that there has to be two sides to every argument. So I really dislike question time, at Parliament. I feel like that is a waste of Australia’s taxpayer dollars, and plenty of times the waste of the time of the Parliamentarians. 

Because it’s a show, you know, and I don’t think Australians want that. I actually think Australians would really value an opportunity to hear how ideas are being debated and discussed, but the system believes that people want to see this conflict. And so therefore you have these ridiculous questions being flown across the chamber from one side to the other, and then sometimes equally ridiculous Dorothy Dixers coming from the government back to itself. 

So I do think that fundamentally we become a stronger nation when we all agree to work together towards better outcomes, and unfortunately what we still have at the moment, with a two-party dominance, is this idea that one party must be right and the other party must be wrong, and therefore never the twain shall meet. 

So it’s very rare that you’ll actually get the two major parties agreeing to a principle in general – unless it is that they’re voting against myself and my independent colleagues and the Greens, as has been seen recently on some of the environmental policies.

Margo: But what about the way politics is played in another way, that you’ve got to somehow get different people together and they’ve all got to have a win and you’ve got to be – behind the scenes there’s all sorts of pressures that, in a way, mean politics can’t be transparent because it is actually ugly. Do you know what I mean?

Kylea: Yeah, yeah, I do understand what you’re saying, but actually, I don’t even think what you’ve just described fundamentally isn’t happening very much in the House at the moment, unless it is the independents that are pushing for that sort of work. 

We have a government that is very focused on staying in government. They are very committed to doing exactly what they said they do in the campaign and nothing more, which means –

Margo: But you can see why, can’t you? 

Kylea: You’ve got to ask yourself the question, though. This government was voted in because people were tired of how we were being governed. I sincerely believe they wanted to see leadership. They wanted to see direction. They wanted to see optimism. And it really frustrates me that this government has failed to step into that opportunity, because I actually think if they stepped into that they would wipe the opposition off the face of the earth forever. 

At the moment, they’re still playing a game where it’s conceivable that the opposition can win points. And when I say opposition, I mean the Liberal National Party (and) that should not be the case, because they are not playing the game that the rest of Australians wanna be playing. Which is getting ahead of the renewable sustainable energy future, doing it in a way that really powers up our economy, both for our nation and our kids. They want to see us leading the way in reducing our emissions. They want to see us finally break down these ridiculous gender barriers and inequities that continue to wrack our society. They want to see us be compassionate as a nation and to actually play our role in what is the single largest human migratory disaster in terms of humanity’s lifetime. 

I think Australians want to see us mature as a nation and be everything we can be, but by continuing to play politics in this way where the two major parties are so worried about each other, they keep – it’s a game of fear. And I actually think politics and our parliament should fundamentally be about courage and optimism and leadership. 

So Margo I would reflect back to you that absolutely it’s about bringing people along in a discussion. And I think that’s what I’ve done in areas where we were arguing really strongly to get the single parent allowance lifted so that it was taken up and above eight year olds. That took a lot of work, but we got there, and I’m very, very happy that in the end, the government announced that as their idea. Because who cares who gets the credit if we get the public outcome: That’s what it’s all about. 

But at the end of the day there’s actually something quite fundamentally still broken in the two party politics system, because they are more obsessed with power and control than they are with really positive, optimistic public policy in many instances. And that is holding us back.

Margo: You made a couple of mistakes early, which is to be expected given your background, I haven’t got a problem with it, but I remember early on you said that a federal ICAC, if they find against an MP, they should be sacked. And that’s just not our system. And I thought what happened there? I was so pleased to see that you were staying with Kate Chaney in Canberra… because she’s got generations of that knowledge. How have you found that interaction among the independents of different backgrounds – although you still are a stand-out, which is one of the reasons I’m so happy you’re there. But how have you found that politics work, and being able to be close to people who’ve been around in it for generations and have the same belief as you, but have a deeper understanding, perhaps, of the forces at work?

Kylea: Yeah, look, I’m incredibly grateful. To be part of a crossbench that is 16 people strong, and to have seven independents cut from similar silk to where I come from is an amazing experience. It really is. And as you said, Margo, we’re all quite different, which I think actually means that when we have conversations, they tend to be really robust. We do debate ideas quite consistently, but we do it in a way that is respectful to each other’s backgrounds and understandings. 

You mentioned the ICAC thing, the irony is that I actually still fundamentally believe in my heart that if a parliamentarian has done wrong, then they should be able to be removed from the role. But what I’ve come to understand is that in the UK, for example, they have that system built in, they can recall a parliamentarian, they can go back to the polls. 

So I think what I’ve learnt is that you can have good ideas, but as you said you need to understand the wider ecosystem in much more detail to understand what changes you might be able to bring about.

Margo: Well it’s the system. 

Kylea: Yeah, it’s the system. And actually, Margo, I think that’s the one thing that Australians, and I, certainly weren’t aware of, is that the parliamentary system here in Australia relies incredibly – to a really large degree – on custom. You know, like it’s not written anywhere. It’s just known. It’s the way it’s always been done. 

And I actually think that’s something that would shock Australians, if they actually looked in and saw that many of our parliamentary processes are the way they are because they’ve been that way for over 100 years. And we adopted them from the British institution, which had been that way for even longer. So it is a really interesting environment to work in. 

I’m constantly learning, which is what I love about the job, Margo. The Speaker of the House is an incredibly generous man, and there’s more than one occasion where I’ve gone to him and said, ‘I want to do this, how do I do it within this system because it’s so different to anything else I’ve ever been within’. So there are plenty of people in the House who will help you to be able to navigate it, but it’s not an innate knowledge and it’s something that you have to be prepared to learn. 

But if I step back, Margo, we have to remember I never expected to win. I didn’t run to win.

Margo: I know, you thought,’ I’ll put my hand up because then other people might next time’, oh yeah.

Kylea: Yeah. I ran because I wanted to change the conversation of an election. That’s what I really wanted to do, was to really, really encourage other people like me to stop and consider what our responsibility is towards our democracy. I still get frustrated when I hear people complaining about governments and politicians and parliamentarians, because at the end of the day that government, those people, those parliamentarians, they’re there because we’ve put them there. We voted them. Everybody’s vote is of an equal share. 

So don’t complain, get active, actually accept the responsibility. If you think something’s broken, you’ve got to accept you’ve been part of breaking it. And if I could do one thing in my time in politics and parliament for however long that may be. I sincerely hope it is just encouraging more people to understand that the democracy is theirs. You know, we can take it and shape it and do with it what we wish, but we have to accept the responsibility that it is ours.

Margo: Yeah, my big thing is – the thing I just loved about the #IndependentsDay candidates, including you – is that it was genuinely wanting to serve. Like, you don’t want to advance in your career, you don’t want to get a big lobbying job, you’re taking a pay cut, you’re leaving behind a successful and happy life. It’s sort of that really old fashioned thing.

Kylea: Yeah.

Margo:  The #IndependentsDay MPs are all over the shop on votes, you split all different ways. But a common theme, which I believed would happen but not many people did, is that, as a group, you are very interested in lifting up the super poor. 

Kylea: Yes.

Margo: You really want to have a good welfare safety net. And you are prepared to consider tax changes and changes to housing that would, in theory at least, be against your political interests in the very wealthy seats you represent. So you seem to be modelling – dare I say it – almost a Menzien view of liberalism. What’s going on there, and how is your electorate responding to you saying, ‘Oh yes, let’s lift the sole parent benefit and let’s…’? How’s the electorate feeling about that and communicating to you about that?

Kylea: Generally really well, Margo, because what I would say about the political system, by and large, is that many communities, including my own, have been stereotyped. And we saw for many years that actually the Liberal Party held our seat, but it didn’t reflect our views. And I think that’s why, ultimately, the community was willing to embrace somebody like myself. The ideas I espouse and promote are very much my own, they are things that are very consistent with my values. But I feel really comfortable and confident doing that because I know it is what my community wants to see me fight for. 

The most frequent conversation I would have with people who live here in North Sydney at the moment is their sincere and deep concern for both generational and societal inequity. They see it. These people are living in an area where as their kids grow up and look to move out of home, they know their children can’t afford to buy in the same area that they’re living… economic policies shifted and housing became about an investment rather than a home. The truth is there are a lot of people sitting in properties who are shocked by the value of their properties. They didn’t buy here to get that value return on their properties, they bought here because they liked this part of Sydney. And the piece of the story that’s not often told, and I’ve actually had this conversation recently with a number of people, is the truth of it is, if you sell out of this electorate at the moment, it’s very hard even for yourself as a seller to get back in and stay in. 

I sincerely believe that the people I represent want me to be driving these discussions, particularly around tax reform, because it’s a really highly educated electorate. It’s dominated by people who have degrees and who work, so we’ve got a high work rate across the electorate. We’ve also got an aging community across the electorate, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to look at our tax system at the moment, and know it’s broken. 

Many of the people in my electorate are doing the heavy lifting. They’re the ones that are in that well off middle who are paying really large amounts of tax every year. But they know they’re going into retirement in the next 20 years, and they can see that the younger generation isn’t there in numbers behind them. And they also don’t think it’s fair – they don’t want to see the younger generation not being able to get into houses. So I think that conversation around tax reform and the shape, the form of society we want to be and how we want to deal with those who are most vulnerable is exactly the conversations Australians want to see being had at the federal level. 

And I’m able to do that (and) my take on what others on the crossbench are doing is for exactly the reason you said, Margo – we have no stake in this other than to speak truth for our communities. I’m not in line anytime soon for a ministerial ship – if an independent becomes a minister, we are going to have a very interesting time in politics in Australia. 

But what I am here is to be the absolute loudest voice I can be to try and nudge these two beasts who are sitting there very concerned about staying in control to say, sometimes you’ve got to be prepared to look harder at who we are and make the changes we need to make to be better off overall.

Margo: Yeah, it’s the strangest thing. I always think of – I actually quoted in Off the Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip this from John Ralston Saul, who said, ‘The elites do really well, they have a great life, so it’s in their interests to keep the society stable and a bit fair otherwise the whole thing falls apart’ (see footnote)

And at the 2019 election with franking credit reform and capital gains tax and negative gearing, there were swings TO Labor in the wealthy seats without exception.  Obviously we had a realignment at the last election, but with this group of independents they’re almost necessary to be able to get Labor over the line. I mean they learned a big lesson in 2019. Obviously from their point of view they want to stay in power so they can bed down some of these reforms. But without the independents’ presence I don’t think there would be any chance for civil society to – really what they have to do is give Labor permission to do big reform. To say, actually we’ve got a majority here. It’s you lot who are having to do that work. Does that make any sense?

Kylea: Oh, absolutely. I feel it every day. And in fact, I talk about it as ‘social license’, Margo. I feel like one of the things that people like myself in this parliament are doing really well is giving oxygen to topics that otherwise would be completely unpalatable to the two major parties because they wouldn’t be prepared to risk it. So in some ways it’s almost like I’m a bit of a focus group opportunity for Labor, because Labor can have somebody in the Chamber saying the things many people in Labor would like to be saying. I have to give them credit here. There are brave people on the back benches of both major parties, actually, but they have to play party politics.

Margo: They stood up on the dole, didn’t they?

Kylea: They did.

Margo: And it was good to have the wealthy seats saying, ‘We agree’, wasn’t it?

Kylea: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I think the difference is I can stand up and shout it loud and proud, and if I take a bullet and they don’t care. And then they go, ‘Oh yeah, okay, so that’s still an issue we can’t go near’. But if I stand up and go loud and proud and people actually go, ‘Oh, actually, that makes a lot of sense, we want that’, like on the single parent thing, then the government goes, ‘Oh, we’ve got social license, we’ll go there’. And that’s what we’ve seen. 

The other area at the moment where we’re seeing a lot of movement, largely influenced from the crossbench, is around issues related to women’s safety and domestic violence strategy, and how we’re going to move our nation forward away from this. Many of the things announced in the government’s plan a couple of weeks ago are actually ideas that myself and other independents had put forward to the minister, saying, ‘We really think we should go for this’.

Margo: Give me an example.

Kylea: Consolidation of law across the nation, so actually

getting the Attorney Generals to work harder together so that we don’t have these hard barriers between states. Originally that was something that was said would be too hard. But after prosecuting it and building momentum behind it I was pleased to see it included in the minister’s announced plan. 

The other one is our approach to perpetrators. I actually believe that we have to flip the entire system on its head so that victims or those experiencing violence are protected earlier and sooner, and it’s actually the perpetrator who’s removed from a situation. 

So let women and children stay in the house, but help them leave violence by removing the perpetrator from the home environment and then giving that perpetrator the help they need or whatever intervention is required. Originally that was nowhere on the agenda, and, in fact, I think the government was very concerned about stepping into that space, yet it’s in the plan as announced two weeks ago. They’re really tangible examples of how advocacy from people like myself is making a difference. 

The area that’s incredibly frustrating for me personally is still the climate fossil fuel debate, and I don’t think this government has gone far enough in terms of our emissions reduction targets. I don’t think the safeguard mechanism was bold enough. I don’t think the nature repair market is really going to do what we need it to do. 

And that’s a fascinating conversation to have with members of that Cabinet, which I have done, because they do see that as their kryptonite. After the UN announcement a number of weeks ago, where the UN Secretary General came out and said, ‘We are no longer warming, we’re boiling’, I actually was able to eyeball somebody really senior in the Cabinet and just because I had to, I literally had to have the conversation with them, which was, “You need to help me understand, do you accept that? Do you accept that science? Do you accept that call to action? And if yes, how can we still be approving new fossil and coal projects?’

Margo: Including where you grew up.

Kylea: Correct. Including where I grew up – 

Margo: I loved it when you went out there, Kylea. (My Twitter thread on the Liverpool Plains farmers meeting she attended is in the footnotes.)

Kylea: I loved being out there, and since then it’s great because Sophie’s gone out there, David Pocock’s out there at the moment. These are the things that people need to be able to talk about. And I’m sure I don’t have a lot of friends at Santos, and it’s not personal – I’m sure the people who work at Santos are good people. But the thing that made me say Yes when I was asked if I would run was the whole idea that there was a sector of our economy, namely the fossil fuel sector, that had way too much say in our public policy.

And we’re chipping away at that, but it’s still there. That Sea dumping bill that we saw come through the House about three or four weeks ago now, presented as a piece of environmental legislation but fundamentally enables new gas projects to try and capture their carbon to then offshore it under the seabed. That was a disgrace – you can’t call that environmental legislation when it’s polluting legislation.…People like to think the Climate Wars are calming down, but they’re not. We still have a really long way to go in this nation to continue to force that issue. We have more sun and wind than any other nation on the planet. Our solar cells generate, I think it’s three times as much as a solar cell on a roof in Germany. Yet we are still opening new gas reserves. And again, I just really call on our government, and to your listeners, please keep advocating to your local parliamentarian and to the government at a higher level that we need to go faster. We don’t have time to wait. We need to get this emission load down as quickly as we possibly can and then do heavy lifting for the rest of the world.

Margo: So it sounds like you’ll go to the election with climate change again. I was sort of shocked, and thrilled in a way, that Allegra recently said she’s going to take tax reform to the election, and I think she and Sophie want a people’s summit on housing reform, which is just an incredibly interesting topic. Where are you at on those things and where at this stage – halfway through – what are the issues North Sydney is saying to you they want you to go to bat for in the next election? What are the battlegrounds in your seat, do you think, policy wise?

Kylea: Cost of living – cost of living, I think for everyone. So I think that intergenerational equity we talked about is a really big thing for my community. It’s interesting, what we’re actually about to do is a process that we’ve never seen in North Sydney before called Deliberative Democracy. We are convening a people’s summit on the 29th of October to actually – 

Margo: Is this new? 

Kylea: Yeah

Margo: Just Wow. So you’re going to have a North Sydney People’s Summit on housing.

Kylea: Yep, yep, so that happens in October –  

Margo: And who was invited?

Kylea Well, because it’s a deliberative democracy model, what we’re literally doing is we will identify a thousand people on the electoral roll randomly and we will reach out to them and invite them to participate in this discussion. The sample will be geared so that it’s completely representative of our electorate in terms of age, socio-economic background, education. They don’t have to have had any contact with me previously. The aim is to then get 50 people who will at least commit to going through the process, and then over a period of about four weeks leading up to the summit themselves, that group of people will have the opportunity to engage with a number of think tanks in terms of what the think tanks are saying are opportunities for them. And then they will be convened into one kind of forum on the 29th of October to debate the ideas that they’ve heard. The other thing we’ll do is a general call across the electorate for people to submit their ideas. You know, if somebody’s got an idea, submit it. And then what we will do is put all of those ideas back through the think tanks to actually sanity check them to see whether they actually can be done.

Margo: Who’s doing this for you, who can organise this incredible thing for you, Kylea?

Kylea: So we’re doing it directly, but we’re working with an organisation called New Democracy. So they are coaching us on how to do this because the hope, Margo, is we will do this in housing at the back end of this year. but then rolling into next year we will do it on intergenerational equity, we will do it on climate. 

And so the plan for me is that in the back half of this term, what I actually do is make sure that whatever policy platform I’m taking to the next election is actually informed from the electorate of North Sydney. So they tell me what they wanna prioritise. I suspect that the tax piece will be there somewhere. 

I work closely with Allegra on that. I sit in on all of the round tables she convenes. In fact I’m going to one next Friday to hear what the next stage might look like. So I think what I value in the environment that I get to work in at the moment is that I’m not alone. 

There is an extraordinary group of people sitting on the crossbench who are prepared to have the hard conversations and people who are then very generous with the knowledge that they gather. So I don’t have to redo the work that Allegra’s done. I can trust that the work is being done and then leverage it further out. 

So yeah, if looking in a crystal ball I think climate is still an issue here in North Sydney. North Sydney is decimated by large infrastructure projects. We’ve lost a significant portion of our tree canopy in the last 18 months. We have people who are leaving the community to go and live in other areas as far flung as Armidale and New England because they see the decimation that’s happening. But also people of North Sydney see the business opportunity that is the renewable sustainable energy opportunity. And the recycling of plastics, the moving away from those substances – that economic opportunity is very real and live to the people of North Sydney. So I think climate will still definitely be there, but then I think it is the intergenerational equity, the housing, the money flow, how do we address those things? So cost of living. you know, we don’t feel these horrendous spikes that we are currently all surviving.

Margo: I gather that North Sydney is in danger of being changed because of the redistribution and one seat’s got to be lost and it looks like somewhere in that North Shore area. As the first term independent, that’s a bit scary. because there you are getting a relationship representing and then all of a sudden this new lot comes in. 

The other problem you’ve got – I must admit I was more worried about you than just about anyone else because in the seat of North Sydney, Labor ran a real campaign, clearly wanting to come second and knock you out. And I assume they will do that again. 

What’s your feeling on the ground? Is Trent going to come back? What have the Liberals learned about listening etc in North Sydney? How is Labor placed? And there you are in the middle and facing a redistribution. You are going to stand again I gather –

Kylea: Yes, yes, I am definitely going to stand. 

Margo: What’s the battlefield look like for you, do you think?

Kylea: Well, the redistribution will be interesting. My understanding is North Sydney stays no matter what because it’s one of the founding seats so it can’t actually be dissolved. I think there is a general push to move my easterly border closer in to the actual suburb of North Sydney. So to potentially lose some of that Cremorne, Neutral bay pocket (and) push me into Bennelong, yeah, into Gladesville. 

Margo: Well that could go any way couldn’t it?

Kylea: Yeah, it could go anyway. So I think from my perspective, I’m just gonna focus on doing the best work I can to connect with as many people as I possibly can to make sure I’m giving their voice. As to what the two major parties may or may not do at the next election, really, honestly, Margo, I’m not giving it any head space because there is too much for me to do on a day-to-day basis. 

And It’s not my job to look after them or what they want to do. I was actually, I was really grateful to have had the opportunity to run in a very real three horse race, because I actually think it makes the fact that I won it incredibly legitimate. There is nobody who can say, ‘Well, you only won it because Labour didn’t run’, or ‘You only won it because you were running against a hard right liberal’. I wasn’t. This, out of all the independent seats – three-horse race and it was an absolute clash of ideals around what democracy should look like. I’m hoping that in the rest of my term I can – 

Margo: Also Trent, I think, was the most intelligent of the opponents because he didn’t play lowball, he stayed focused on policy. He wasn’t stupid like Tim Wilson and Jason, and he did cross the floor. In a way it was the most impressive victory, I think. 

Kylea: Well, it was what it was in the end, you know, and I think you’re right – Trent was very well liked and is still well liked. I like Trent – we talked about this before. Trent and I basically agreed that the irony of it was if you put us both in a box and looked at the way we voted we probably would vote quite similarly on most things. The difference was Trent was doing politics in the box, that was the Liberal Party, which really confined how far he could go, whereas I’m doing politics out of the box. You might say Trent would make a great ‘teal’ if he wanted to leave the party structure and come into the independent framework. 

And on the Labor side, I imagine they’ll run again. I think the Prime Minister actually really, wonderfully, sent me a Christmas card this year as a constituent to say that he really enjoyed living in my electorate, that he had liked meeting the people when he stays in Kirribilli House. So – but you know that’s to be faced when the time comes, and my main focus in the next, the remainder of my term is to show people, and invite people, to actually become actively engaged in their democracy. 

We had a great experience recently, for example, around the HECS and HELP debt, where a Mum had reached out to me from the electorate saying, ‘My son has worked so hard to pay his debt down this year. He had a $20,000 debt, he’s paid it down to $8,000. He’s about to get hit with a 7.1 percent indexation rate and that 7.1 percent is going to be applied to the $20,000’. So this is a direct real world conversation and I listened to her and then went out and spoke to some other parents, spoke to some young people and then I took it to Parliament, and I took it to the Education Minister, and said ‘How can this make sense, this makes no sense, this is not fair’. 

And as a consequence Jason Clare – within 24 hours – turned around and was saying, ‘Tink’s called it, it isn’t fair, it doesn’t make sense. She’s called out something I didn’t recognise. This is good. Yes, I’m going to instruct the university’s accord to look into it, which they’re now doing.’

So it was great, it was a massive win. But I think even more than hearing the minister say that was me knowing, and then the woman who spoke to me knowing that that happened because of her. That’s the experience I’m trying to give for the people of North Sydney. Talk to me about what you see. Talk to me. Because the closer you are to the ground and the more you’re living real life, the clearer the opportunities for reform are. 

I do think that one of the biggest challenges we have in our political environment is that we don’t have enough diversity in terms of where people have come from. I do think, while I respect professional politicians, I struggle with that, because I really do think that the most important skill is to understand what is happening in the real world. 

I was only saying to someone the other day, I think there should be set terms for parliamentarians. I don’t think you should be able to sit around in parliament for 25 years, because while I can respect the learning you gather, I think you lose that capacity to understand what’s happening in the rest of the wider, real world. And I think real world – 

Margo: It depends, I mean wouldn’t you have wanted a Peter Andren to stay around as long as he did or a Ted Mack? There’re certain politicians that become elders… 

Kylea: Yeah, but Ted is a great example though, Margo, because you look at him, he did two terms at every level of government, never stayed beyond that. He was two terms at council, two terms at state, and two terms at fed level, because he believed he needed to keep moving. And so he is a really interesting example. 

I won’t name the politician, but I had a conversation early on with somebody who’s quite senior on the opposition side. Very pleasant conversation, but one of the things that was asked of me was how my children were settling in, how had my children coped. And I just sort of said, ‘Oh we’re fine, we’re learning how to make it work, but it’s all good’. And he actually responded to me by saying, ‘Well I don’t know how parents do it, I don’t think this is a job for parents.’ And I looked at him and said, ‘But you’re a parent’. And he said, ‘Yeah, but my wife raises the children’.

And I think that it’s little wonder that, when you’ve had somebody like that – and he’s been in the parliament for a long time – it’s little wonder that with that mindset in that seat for that period of time, we haven’t seen a lot of progress around things like paid early childhood education.

You can see where that disconnect takes place. And I think that’s why it is important that there is renewal and refreshment and real people, REAL people going into politics, not because they wanna be a minister, but because they wanna serve for that period of time.

Margo: That made me think of another way you’re different… my understanding is basically all the other new #IndependentsDay MPs have got very supportive husbands. And you’re on your own with three kids. You’ve sold your big house in North Sydney and you’re renting. This is just sort of personal, I guess, how do you cope with that? How do you divide your day and keep healthy and not go crazy? And obviously your corporate experience has been enormously helpful to you there, but how do you stay open and positive, and not overwhelmed by everything you’ve got to do in your life?

Kylea: Some days are easier than others. I’m very grateful to my family, to my kids, to my mum and dad. They are a never ending source of sanctuary for me, I guess, in those days where I did need to recruit – 

Margo: Did they vote Liberal at the last election, Kylea?

Kylea: I don’t know…

Margo: God!

Kylea: Actually, I haven’t asked them. I’ll have to check in. I laughed, my kids actually asked me if they were allowed to vote for me! I thought that was very cute. I was, like, ‘You’d better vote for me or I won’t be cooking dinner.’

Margo: I was so interested when I went back over that interview we did and you said ‘my parents are small business, they believe in aspiration, they believe in leadership, they believed in an opportunity for all to shine and so did I and I went off, I had a great life and I didn’t worry about politics and then I took a bit of time off to support my son during his HSC year and I looked around and I thought, ‘Oh actually that doesn’t really look like the Liberal Party’.’ And at first I was shocked and I thought, ‘Oh my God!’, as a political tragic junkie. And then I thought, ‘Someone is standing who’s actually like most people’, you know? Many people, they haven’t got headspace for that. 

There’s just something magical about what you’ve done. I’m just trying to get to what sort of a person does what you did and is still standing and wants to stand again? Like, is it really the country breeding?

Kylea: Oh, look, I think it’s a combination.

Margo: What is it?

Kylea: Honestly, it’s that I sincerely believe that every one of us has been put on this planet to try and leave the world a better place than we found it, and I was raised by people who taught me that you don’t give up, that if somebody is in trouble and they need help and you can give it, you give it. If something’s broken and you can fix it, you fix it. It’s a very pragmatic approach… 

So it’s a combination of the way I’ve been raised, it’s a combination of determination, and tenacity, curiosity. And perhaps just blind optimism sometimes.

Margo’s Footnotes: 

  • The actual ‘the elites’ quote, from The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense, is also quoted in my November 2003 piece, Hansonism: Then and Now, which seems, ummm, relevant to the impending referendum. Can our ‘two nations’ fruitfully communicate on the most difficult matter of all for our nation, the place of the first Australians in our constitution?

Every society has an elite. No society has ever been without one. The thing elites most easily forget is that they make no sense as a group unless they have a healthy and productive relationship with the rest of the citizenry. Questions of nationalism, ideology, and the filling of pockets aside, the principal function of an elite is to serve the interests of the whole. They may prosper far more than the average citizen in the process. They may have all sorts of advantages. These perks won’t matter so long as the greater interests are also served. From their point of view, this is not a bad bargain. So it really is curious just how easily they forget and set about serving only themselves, even if it means that they or the society will self-destruct.

There is no reason to believe that large parts of any population wish to reject learning or those who are learned. People want the best for society and themselves. The extent to which a populace falls back on superstition or violence can be traced to the ignorance in which their elites have managed to keep them, the ill-treatment they have suffered and the despair into which a combination of ignorance and suffering have driven them.

  • My Twitter thread on the Liverpool Plains farmers meeting Kylea attended