THURSDAY 26 MAY 2005
DEATH OF FATHER TED KENNEDY
Dr ANDREW REFSHAUGE (Marrickville—Deputy Premier, Treasurer, Minister for State Development, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [2.22 p.m.]: Father Ted Kennedy died last week. For more than three decades he was parish priest at St Vincent’s Catholic Church in Redfern. Ted Kennedy’s conscience was a goad to the mighty and a balm to the needy. It led him to where, before him, many would not go. It made him a landmark and a local hero. It drove him long miles to funerals in far-off homelands of what we might call his constituents. It made him beloved. It made him contentious. It put him at odds with the police. It stirred him to anger and mercy, sorrow and great forgiveness, and long nights of the soul.
If in these first heady days of Pope Benedict XVI there is a fast track to sainthood, Father Ted Kennedy should be on it. It was said of Ted at his funeral that he was a holy man, a living treasure, a pebble in the comfortable boot of the establishment, an untidy prophet and an enemy of cruel blindness and petty pomp who ended his life with empty pockets and dirty hands, his life poured out for all. Those words of eloquence are never stirred in remarkable disciples like Pat Dodson, Marcia Langton, Sol Bellear, and Sir William Deane without cause. Such eloquence is never stirred by mediocrity, by a man of empty gestures and no substance.
This was no cardboard cut-out saint. He loved poetry, food and wine, theatre, particularly Irish theatre and John Shaw Neilson, and the conversation that comes with these immense ingredients of civilisation. But his grim reality of his calling was never far away. He lived it in the streets, in the police cells and in the broken down houses. He was no mere armchair priest or theologian. What others might have called liberation theology was for him simple Christianity. He lived, you might say, the cliché of all the Spencer Tracy movies: the ministering angel with dirty fingernails, the good priest of the slums.
Today we acknowledge Sorry Day, the national day of healing. On this day it is worth remembering that Ted Kennedy was one of those who lived out reconciliation before it was spelt with a capital “R”. This humble priest was loved by knights of the realm, street alcoholics, and everyone in between. By them he will be remembered and sorely missed. In a place that seemed reserved for a particular despair Ted Kennedy was a friend of the oppressed, the deprived and the rejected. I share with his big adopted family the sorrow of his too early loss and commend his memory to the House.
Mr BRAD HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [2.25 p.m.]: The Coalition joins with the Government in reflecting upon the wonderful contribution made by Father Ted Kennedy to the Aboriginal communities of Redfern and throughout New South Wales. It is appropriate that we reflect on Father Kennedy’s contribution on this the National Day of Healing. Father Kennedy worked, as others before him had, with great vigour and enthusiasm for the betterment of Aboriginal people. We witnessed the sad passing recently of Bob Bellear, and a few years ago we lost Mum Shirl. Many of the heroes of the Aboriginal people have passed away in recent years, and to the people of Redfern Father Ted was, if you like, the equivalent of Mother Teresa.
Sadly, the disadvantage that he worked so hard to address continues today. One of the greatest reflections upon Father Ted’s contribution would be if the Government of New South Wales now did more to address the Aboriginal disadvantage that unfortunately continues. I remind the Government, without being unduly pointed, that there is much more to do. As Father Kennedy well knew, issues such as Aboriginal literacy, Aboriginal people being incarcerated at 15 times the rate of non-Aboriginal people, Aboriginal women dying in childbirth at two to three times the rate of other women, and Aboriginal children leaving school at 11, 12, 13 or 14 without having attained their higher school certificates are still to be addressed.
In memory of Father Ted Kennedy, Mum Shirl, and others who fought so hard for the betterment of the Aboriginal people the Government should start to deliver more for Aboriginal people rather than merely talk about doing so, and ensure that the lot of those people is improved dramatically. The Coalition reflects on Father Ted’s life and hopes that his work will be continued by those who come after him. However, it should not be forgotten that this Government has done very little in the past 10 years to address some of these important issues. We look forward to the Opposition and the Government working together to achieve some real changes for Aboriginal people.