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

Kylea Tink’s speech at the Longueville Sports Club on Sunday, February 20 to launch her campaign for North Sydney

Good morning. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land which the federal seat of North Sydney now spans – the Cammeraygal and the Wallumedegal – and pay my respects to their elder’s past, present and emerging.

I also want to particularly thank Yvonne, Lex, Katherine, and Dan for speaking before me as well as my wonderful campaign team over here who have done a tremendous job for today’s event.

And finally, I just want to say how incredible it is to look at this sea of pink and know each of you is here today because you’re ready for change, just like I am.

You see I am not a professional politician. I’m not standing as the independent candidate for North Sydney because I believe I have all the answers or have any designs of grandeur. Rather I am someone who has always believed the fastest way to achieve anything positive in this world is to work with passionate and authentic people who are motivated not by what is in for them, but by what they believe they can do better, to help others.

I’m originally a country girl, from a small town called Coonabarabran in northwest New South Wales.

As the eldest of four kids, my parents raised me to have a strong sense of “right” and “wrong” and drummed into me the importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

Compassion, respect, reliability, personal responsibility, and persistence were all things that were expected of us, and my parents modelled these behaviours daily. Like most small towns, Coonabarabran was loaded with what I now recognise as community spirit.

As a 16-year-old though, I didn’t see that as a great thing, as in reality it meant I couldn’t get away with anything because everyone knew everyone else’s business – and more importantly, everyone knew my mum and dad!

But it also meant that some of my earliest memories are of my family chipping in to help others. It was just what you did. If someone needed help, you gave what you could. If something needed fixing, you did what you could – and you never expected anything in return.

It wasn’t about horse-trading or negotiating something better for yourself. It was about creating opportunity for everyone, and if you benefited, all the better.

When I look back now, the impact my parents have had in my hometown is extraordinary. Yet they’ve never looked for any sort of recognition or praise.

So today I do just want to thank my mum and dad. For everything they have taught me but perhaps most importantly for teaching me anything is possible, you should never stop asking “why” and that being told “no” or “don’t do that” is just another opportunity to find a way around a perplexing problem.

These lessons have guided me well through my life.

For 35 years, I’ve worked in all types of roles, with all kinds of people.

I’ve served behind counters in small retail businesses, waitressed tables and worked bars. I’ve started as the most junior person in a team and worked my way through to the CEO role of a multinational company. In that role, I worked with clients like Samsung, LG, British Airways and CSL, both here in Australia and internationally.

I’ve taken companies that were struggling and turned them around. I’ve sat on boards in the construction and care industries, and I’ve built my own businesses. And often, without even really noticing, I’ve been the only woman at the table bringing a unique voice, offering an alternative perspective.

Because again you see – thanks to the things I’ve learned along the way – I’ve always valued the opinions and views of others, both those more junior and senior.

It was one of my first bosses who told me the fastest way to success was to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, and I’ve lived by that advice from that day until now.

This means I am the type of person who argues for what I believe in like I know I am right, but I listen like I know I am wrong.

In 2008 my professional life took a turn I didn’t see coming, when someone I admired passed away.

That someone was Jane McGrath and, after helping with her funeral, I ended up leaving the commercial sector to run the McGrath Foundation for the next six years. I didn’t do it because I thought it was a fantastic career opportunity. I did it because once I saw the thousands of families dealing with breast cancer across Australia, who were not getting the support they needed, I just couldn’t turn my back on them.

Something had to be done, and I knew that if it was within my power to help, then I should.

Looking at what the McGrath Foundation is today, you may be surprised to know that the most common phrases I heard in the first three years, were: “you can’t do that”; “it’s not done that way”; or “that’ll never work.”

While the Sydney Pink Test is now arguably one of the most iconic sporting events in the world, when I first pitched the idea to the Channel 9 broadcast team they told me that while I was lovely, optimistic country girl, pink and cricket would just never mix.

Area Health Services argued with me that the funding we were offering was better used on machines, and the Federal Government tried to pull the funding just three years in because the Minister thought he wanted “that money” to go somewhere else.

Yet in the six years I was with the McGrath Foundation, we went from just three McGrath Breast Care Nurses to 100, who in turn were supporting over 30,000 families.

Building and running the McGrath Foundation was a life altering experience for me as ultimately, it showed me, in a very tangible way, what you can achieve, when you are working as part of a united community.

Since leaving the Foundation, I’ve continued to work to drive change across our country. I guess for me it just got addictive to get stuff done.

I’ve run campaigns to draw people’s attention to the treatment of refugees in Australian immigration centres. I got over 750 children released from these same centres in 2015. I’ve advocated for families with babies born prematurely and for our ambulance services nationally.

As CEO of Camp Quality, I helped ensure children going through cancer had the chance to just be kids again by attending one of their incredible camps with other kids just like them.

More recently, I’ve been working to support vulnerable young Australians to reduce the rate of youth suicide.

While I’ve never worked directly in politics, I have worked with all levels of Government – Federal, State and local – to get the changes that were needed and deserved.

And in this context I’ve also unfortunately had the opportunity to experience firsthand what has been happening at the Federal level:

• Partisan infighting
• Revolving door leadership
• Five Prime Ministers in less than a decade
• A complete lack of action on important issues, including climate, integrity, and human rights.

And in 2020, as we all faced the global COVID-19 pandemic, I became increasingly concerned our Government really wasn’t, and had no intention of, championing a better Australia — a place of promise, equal opportunity and optimism. Instead, they were telling us to be fearful, to stay small and to be okay with being less than what we could be.

Conversations with all sorts of people about our frustrations bubbled to the surface, and the phrase “can you believe it …” was being uttered more and more often. Our Government wasn’t working on the things that mattered to us, the things we knew would make a difference to everyday Australians, like you and me.

• They weren’t taking bold ambitious, action on climate;
• They weren’t holding themselves accountable to a higher standard of behaviour
• They weren’t leading us to be better versions of ourselves
• And they certainly didn’t seem to be doing any forward planning.

Rather, they were telling us to trust them: they had it all under control. They’d ordered enough vaccines. The right plans were in place to handle a pandemic that had been predicted for the last two decades. That it wasn’t a race.

But our trust was misplaced, our Government missed obvious opportunities to protect our community, and when we tried to hold them to account, or ask for reasonable explanations they spent an inordinate amount of time explaining to us how it wasn’t their responsibility after all: it was the States’ fault, the companies’ fault, other countries’ fault.

Over the last three years in particular things have gone from confusing to truly concerning. Australia has slipped further behind international standards on things as important as climate targets, the gender pay gap, workforce participation and basic human rights.

This Government, the one that is meant to epitomise economic strength, was making bad, wasteful business decisions. And finally, enough was enough. I couldn’t sit back and watch it unfold any longer.

I wanted the voice arguing for an optimistic future for our kids and their kids to be as loud and as powerful as the one championing fossil fuels.

I wanted to advocate for innovative, smart and transparent investment in sustainable and renewable energy.

I wanted to look at our Federal parliament and see an environment that reflected everything I believe we are as a country: which is diverse, vibrant and optimistic. But I realised for this to happen, I needed to accept responsibility for the role I had played, as a voter, in helping to create the system we now have.

The power in that realisation was the understanding that, if I was in part responsible for creating this dysfunctional system, then I could also, in part, accept responsibility for fixing it.

And just like that, as if the universe was listening, I was asked if I had ever considered entering politics by a group people who saw an opportunity to change the system from within. Just eight weeks later, I said YES to running as the Independent candidate for the federal seat of North Sydney because I could see that, together, we could do better.

The federal electorate of North Sydney is a vibrant, diverse community that draws in people from all backgrounds and all ages.

We are the thinkers, the doers, the feelers, the leaders, the believers and the achievers. Yet right now, our voice — represented by our member in Canberra — is lost in a two-party system that thinks that by voting for them, and sending them to Canberra, we have completely delegated our democratic right to be part of the decisions that will shape our future.

They believe we have sent them there with an unchallengeable mandate for three years, and we should sit back and let them do what they believe is right for our country, without acknowledging our ambitions or beliefs.

You need look no further than our own local Member to see party politics at play, because in the past 12 months, the North Sydney vote has been used to:

• block the referral of Christian Porter to the privileges committee;
• block debate on establishing a federal integrity commission;
• and block the tabling of Zali Stegall’s climate bills.

Those votes are meant to represent our voice.

Instead, they’ve allowed blatant disrespect of the rules and the delay of much needed, promised legislative reform. In fact, when you look at how North Sydney’s vote is cast in Canberra, it matches Barnaby Joyce’s – every time.

When we dare to voice our concern, our local member tells us there is little he can do, because he is just one moderate voice in the party.

Our Prime Minister has even had the audacity to dismiss us by saying, “We will not achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities.”

So here we are, our voice completely silenced, yet I believe that as a community we recognise we are at a tipping point – on climate, integrity, equality, and fundamentally, in politics.

And that’s why I stand here before you today and am excited to share with you all I have learned from speaking with people right across our community about the things you want to see done and what you want me to stand for as your representative in Canberra.

Overall, you want politics to be done differently. You want your voice and your vote to matter, and for the things we stand for to be truly, reflected at the level of the Federal Government.

  • I will do that.

1/ You want urgent climate action, led by facts, not politics.

  • I will push for a more ambitious, binding carbon reduction targets for Australia so we achieve at least a 50% reduction by 2030. I will work with local councils and the State Government to enable the Federal seat of North Sydney to become one of the first true net zero urban zones in Australia, as we transition to a fully electrified community.
  • I will ensure we listen to independent experts who advocate for evidence based climate action and the depoliticisation of climate policy.
  • I will add our voice to calls for the gradual removal of subsidies for coal and gas, and a stop to any new coal and gas extraction projects.
  • I will demand the Prime Minister be fully transparent with us regarding what commitments have been made by our federal government as it relates to Western Harbour and Northern Beaches Tunnel.
  • I will leverage Federal funding to push for the suspension of any further work on the Western Harbour Tunnel and Northern Beaches Link, until a robust assessment is undertaken – including a detailed assessment on the impact of air quality, traffic congestion and environmental impacts like the loss of green space and trees.
  • I’ll ensure all possible solutions to the transport problems of the Northern Beaches are explored, while also ensuring any infrastructure development does not result in higher tolls on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Harbour Tunnel crossings.
  • And I’ll push for true, constructive consultation to take place regarding a holistic transport plan for northern Sydney that supplies us with solutions for the coming century, rather than solutions proposed in the last century.

2/ You know it is not enough to just be the lucky country – you want us to be smart
as well, and you want to see a plan that supports a forward-focused economy.

  • I will push for investment for innovative research and support of development in high growth industries across our community.
  • I will fight for initiatives that foster a strong and diversified economy, powered by well-educated and highly trained young Australians.

3/ You want to see integrity restored to politics and corruption, dishonesty and discrimination tackled. You want me to stop pork barrelling and to push for greater accountability in how our public funds are spent.

  • I will add our voice, and our vote, to the push to support the establishment of a federal integrity commission with teeth.
  • I’ll make sure we are front and centre when it comes to advocating for legislative reform to ensure truth in political advertising and curtail the influence of money within the Federal Government environment.
  • And I will advocate for caps on campaign spending, caps on campaign donations and real-time reporting of donations.

4/ You believe everyone deserves respect and a fair go, no matter their background, and you want me to fight for equality for all.

  • I will push for greater support for families, with equal rights for parents to access paid parental leave and universal access to early childhood education.
  • I will work to see the recommendations of the Respect@Work Report into sexual harassment fully implemented.
  • I will add our voice and vote to calls for a reconciled Australia, with a true voice for our First Nations at the constitutional level.
  • I will call for the immediate release of all of those clearly identified as refugees who continue to be detained indefinitely by our government.
  • And I will work to advocate for a new approach to ensure better treatment of people seeking asylum in Australia.

5/ You want someone to advocate for a holistic and coordinated vision for Australian families and communities.

  • I will work to ensure there is priority funding for public education, and increased support for tertiary training and education.
  • I will push for the development of a clear process to identify and address the underlying systemic issues driving unprecedented mental health distress across our community.
  • And I will fight to revitalise and increase our overworked health and aged care workforces.

6/ And finally, you want a national vision in place to enable us to reform and recharge our health services.

  • I will work to see a healthy connected community where we take action to address immediate learnings from COVID-19.
  • I will push for the implementation of the National Preventative Health Strategy and ensure it is resourced appropriately.
  • I will fight to have a National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention established.
  • And I will push to see the Federal Government to lead the process of planning and coordinating how we, as a community, will cope with the cascading effects of disrupted regular health checks. We will know how women who have missed their regular mammogram will be captured. We will know how telehealth services will continue to be available to those needing ongoing support.

That might seem like a lot of work do, but I honestly believe it the least we should expect from North Sydney’s federal representative because it is a true summary of the things I have heard repeatedly from across our community in just the last five months.

After all, our representative speaks for us and our voices need to be heard.

People working within the current political system tout the rise of Independents as a risk to stability and predictability. They argue we lack ideology and that without a party line, all is lost and we will descend into chaos.

But you and I know that is simply not true. Independents don’t lack ideology. Indeed the ideology that drives myself and any other Independent I have ever met or learned of, fundamentally informed the creation of the Australian Constitution. When our Constitution was written, there were no parties. There were just disparate communities spread across a vast continent.

These communities recognised that for the nation to grow and evolve we needed a framework, and common meeting place, for their representatives to negotiate, by consensus, the best way for us to move forward.

It took eight years for our Constitution to be drafted. Two more years for it to be ratified on 6 July 1900.

And as the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act came into effect on the 1 January 1901, what is notable is that nowhere was there any input from, or mention of, a political party.

This document was written by the people, for the people. Parties came much later.

As an Independent, I am fundamentally driven by the beliefs that have been espoused by the incredibly strong and capable people that have come before me: right back to our constitutional creators.

We are lucky to have a strong history of these people within our electorate.

People like Ted Mack and Genia McCaffery, whose work and advocacy we all still benefit from today through our green spaces and public works; through to our current strong Independent leaders like Mayors Zoe Baker and Tanya Taylor; and most recently our NSW Willoughby By-Election Candidate, Larissa Penn.

We all can only rise on the shoulders of those that have come before us, and I believe the ideology every Independent lives by is best described by Ted Mack who said:

“… Government should be open to public scrutiny.… elected representatives should enable people to not only participate in all decisions that affect them but ultimately find ways to have people make decisions for themselves. … the very basis of democracy is that a decision taken by the public as a whole will be right more often than decisions taken by an elite group …”

But while this makes sense to me, this government says it’s “bizarre” that Independents like me want to challenge moderate voices in the Liberal party.

I say to them, what is bizarre is that these same moderates lose their voice, our electoral voice, whenever an issue that matters to us is up for debate.

Because they can only move as far as their party colleagues.

As North Sydney’s Independent, my presence in Canberra will ensure our community’s true voice is heard. Your voice. And I will stand for integrity, accountability and transparency because that is what you expect.

A crossbench of community minded Independents, holding the balance of power, can stop the erosion of the quality of our democracy, and will ensure the future for our environment and economy.

I won’t have to oblige a party, polls or lobbyists.

I’ll have just two masters: my community and my conscience.

As I said at the beginning of my speech today, I’m not running because I think I have all the answers. I’m running for everyone who believes we can, and must, do better — for our children and their children.

And having lived in the North Sydney electorate for over 15 years, I’m confident that we, as a community, can make a strong case for the changes and progress we want to see.

There’s a quote I’m sure you’ve all heard a million times from the famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

But there is another that I think speaks even louder to this moment for us all and it comes from JFK: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

It would be my great honour to be the first woman to represent you, the people of North Sydney within our Federal Parliament.

So come on North Sydney, let’s change the climate in Canberra!

Related: THREAD: Tink supporters sing a ‘new politics’ tune at #NorthSydneyVotes campaign launch

Featured image photo: Denise Shrivell